, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 8 – Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai has challenged politicians who own land in the controversial Mau forest complex to surrender their title deeds if they are serious about conserving the water tower.
Professor Maathai said the politicians should follow the example of ordinary settlers who have given up land they own in the Mau forest, which is Kenya’s largest water tower.
Less than two weeks ago, Nkotoi Deliga became the first Mau inhabitant to surrender a five acre title deed following a government appeal.
"It would be very encouraging if some of those big fish who have literally thousands of acres and who are the ones who partly sold the land to the little people who are returning their title deeds of several acres that they would provide the leadership so that they can actually demonstrate to those poor peasant farmers that the right value is to protect the forest," she said.
The Mau forest Interim Coordinating Secretariat under the Prime Minister’s Office set up 14 Title Deeds Surrender Offices in districts around the Mau in an appeal to the Mau settlers to give up their land ownership.
The 400,000 hectares Mau complex has been at the centre of controversy following a government plan to rehabilitate the depleted forest. But there has been a tug-of -war with the settlers, backed by some politicians, who refuse to move from the forest land claiming they are there legitimately.
Professor Maathai also urged Kenyans to start questioning the wealth of leaders so that they could stop exploiting the country’s natural resources.
"Unfortunately, stealing from the public has become very fashionable and indeed even we Kenyans highly respect people who have been able to steal sufficiently so that they can impress us with their wealth," she said.
"When we get to the point where if I know you stole from the public I can say I have no respect for you because I know all your wealth is stolen wealth, that’s when we shall start to turn the tables in this country," she added.
The environmentalist also expressed concern over the various tree planting exercises taking place in the country and questioned their viability due to the care needed to nurture the seedlings.
"I have been planting trees for a very long time and I know that there has to be a process of planting trees and especially the after-care of trees is extremely important." she said.
"Are they going to plant them and are they going to take care of them after they are planted or are they only going to be planted and abandoned?" she wondered.
She said there was a lot of financial support coming in for tree planting and now feared that some people were engaged in the process just because of the financial gain.
"What I have noticed is that there is a lot of money flowing into this country for tree planting and so I am wondering whether there is a commitment or people are just getting this money, they buy the seedlings, they go and plant but they do not have an after care plan in which case we will go back several years later and we will not be able to find the trees we planted," she said.
Kenya’s forest cover stands at 1.7 percent against the United Nations recommended cover of 10 percent.