A fresh attempt to grab a huge chunk of Karura forest by faceless individuals has sparked controversy and brought to life memories of the 90’s when the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai fought the Kanu regime to save Nairobi’s largest gazetted forest.
On Saturday, the Kenya Forest Service was at pains to explain how 25 acres of the forest’s Sigiria block have been hived off with plans to construct a six star hotel under way.
The said block is right opposite the Belgium Embassy on the recently renamed Wangari Maathai road, which was previously known as Limuru Road.
It is unclear whether the said parcel of land that runs right into the middle of the forest is still gazetted or when it changed ownership but the Cabinet Secretary Environment and Natural Resources Judy Wakhungu said she does not know who its new owners are.
“The numerous attempts to claim land ownership within Karura Forest are known. I have not approved any development plans within Sigiria Block,” she said.
In court, a battle continues between York Worldwide Holdings, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) over the irregular disposition of 4.5 acres of the forest by a company associated with former President Moi aide just before he retired in 2002.
Sian Enterprises Ltd, where Joshua Kulei is a director, teamed up with Maasai Villas Ltd and Star Prime Ltd in, 2002 and sold the said piece of land to the company which also planned to construct a hotel.
However, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) obtained an interim court injunction stopping any construction on grounds that the parcel claimed by the investor was part of the gazetted area.
Further in 2005, the Ndung’u Land Commission, which inquired into illegal and irregular allocation of public land, recommended the revocation of certificate of title obtained by York Worldwide Holdings.
KFS maintains that the land that is being hived off is the same piece of land whose ownership is being disputed despite the fact that Sigiria is on the Western side of the forest and not near Unep as claimed.
“The Karura forest land in question (Sigiria block) was part of the 1990’s Karura land grabbed by the once powerful Kanu barons of which the late Prof Wangari Maathai spoke and acted to save,” it said in a statement.
“However this particular piece of land was sold to a foreign investor by a once powerful Kanu operative on the day the former President Mwai Kibaki was being sworn in as President in 2003. The current status is that KFS has stopped the development,” it said, adding that it has not approved any developments to take place.
“The land parcel is part of the other parcel’s that were grabbed then and which KFS handed to the National Land Commission (NLC) with the intention of revoking the title deed as per mandate of NLC regarding public land. Currently the matter lies with NLC for determination,” it said.
However, the civil society and Karura- Muthaiga MCA Kamau Thuo have rubbished KFS’s claims accusing it of trying to distort information.
“This is an old story that is not at all related to the current concession of Sigiria Block of Karura forest,” Mr Thuo told the Sunday Nation.
“The land in question that KFS intends to concession is in Sigira Block of Karura forest and not the one that is in court. The one in court is 4.6 acres along the eastern boundary of UNEP. Let KFS acknowledge its mistake, apologise to Kenyans and move on,” he demanded.
BLOOD AND SWEAT
Both the Friends of Karura, a lobby group that protects the forest and the Green Belt Movement, which was started by the late Prof Maathai have vowed not to allow the construction of the hotel to continue.
“If no concerted action is taken by the Kenyan government and the people, one of the largest urban gazetted forests in the world, which Professor Maathai shed her blood to save, could disappear,” said the Green Belt Movement’s Kenyan chapter Executive Director Aisha Karanja.
“Lest we forget, on January 8, 1999, Professor Wangari Maathai, leading a group of concerned citizens into a confrontation with thugs hired by lawless developers who were trying to grab the forest, shed blood fighting for this public space,” she said.
At 1,063 hectares, Karura is making it the largest gazetted forest in Nairobi but almost half of it was allocated to private developers during the Moi regime.
Huge chunks were degazetted by Minister of Environment Jeremiah Nyagah in 1989.
Between 1994 and 1998 a total of 564.14 hectares of the forest were secretly allocated to 64 different companies for housing projects.
The city has three other forests- Ololua, Arboretum and Ngong.