Efforts to restore the Mau Forest Complex, the country’s largest water tower, are threatened by budgetary constraints, the Sunday Nation has learnt.
While the third phase of the restoration targeting the Maasai Mau should have been initiated four months ago, a spot check indicated that the survey has not been completed.
And settlers were going on with their activities with no immediate concerns over impending evictions. Retired Senior Chief Christopher Bore, who was a member of the Mau Task Force but who declined to sign its findings, said settlers would not budge until they were compensated.
“Settlers are not going anywhere as they have nowhere to go back to. The government does not seem to have the money to compensate them,” Mr Bore said at Sierra Leone, an area which bore the brunt of the 2005 evictions.
And while government officials suggested that the August 4 referendum might have delayed the exercise, a member of the Interim Coordinating Secretariat (ICS), who did not wish to be named, said Treasury failed to honour its promise to budget for funds for the remaining three phases of resettlement.
“For me, the whole thing boils down to money. We need to be supported; we need money to resettle those who have genuine title (deeds),” the official said. The official, while expressing frustration at the pace of the restoration, said logging was going on unabated in various parts of the forests.
Efforts to reach the Kenya Forest Service for comment were unsuccessful as our calls were not returned. Reached for comment, ICS chairman Hassan Noor Hassan sought to downplay the funds crisis, saying the secretariat had not reached the point where they would need money for compensation.
“We are at the moment analysing data, and in a month’s time, we should be able to advise the government on how much it needs to compensate those who qualify,” he said in a phone interview. In any case the Mau restoration has other sources of funding besides the Treasury, he said.
In June Mr Noor was upbeat that Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta had made allowances in the Budget for funds to be used to compensate those with genuine land ownership documents. But while Mr Kenyatta gave the national climate change strategy an additional Sh13.4 billion and another Sh2 billion for the carbon emission trading scheme, it was not clear how much of these funds would trickle down to the Mau Forest restoration.
Mr Noor said his secretariat, in conjunction with the Treasury, was at an advanced stage of rolling out a scheme to raise the much needed money for conservation. “We have held three meetings, and I can assure you that once we roll this out, Mau restoration will not require a cent from the government. It will sustain itself,” he said.
According to a document entitled Rehabilitation of Mau Forest Ecosystem, the ICS needs Sh7.1 billion for the exercise. Mary Ombara, deputy communications director at the Lands ministry, downplayed the delay in the survey but confirmed that surveyors were waiting for money to continue with the exercise which, she said, was half completed.
According to the restoration timetable, titles should be ready now for South Western Mau, Transmara, Olpusimoru and Maasai Mau blocks. Some 15,000 people are settled on the 46,278- hectare Maasai Mau, which is a trust land of the Narok County Council. Past evictions in the area have been acrimonious.
Another group of settlers, some of whom are still living in camps, were last year removed from the South Western Mau in a forceful manner that attracted a lot of criticism from Rift Valley politicians and human rights activists.
On the perceived slow pace of the restoration, Mr Noor said the 24,000 families in all the 22 blocks of the forest cannot be moved in one fell swoop without causing unmitigated disaster. He admitted that some logging was going on and called for lifting the ban on plantation logging.
“The ban on plantation logging has gone on for far too long. It needs to be lifted to ease pressure on indigenous forests like the Mau,” he said. Indiscriminate degazettement and encroachment into the country’s biggest canopy forest over the last 10 years has led to the destruction of 116,000 hectares, which represents more than 27 per cent of the entire Mau Complex area.