Mau restoration team has little to show - Daily Nation

Mau restoration team has little to show

Friday June 24 2011

The Mau Forest. Photo/FILE

The Mau Forest. Photo/FILE 

By JULIUS SIGEI, [email protected]

Barely two months before a secretariat charged with restoring the country’s biggest water tower winds up its activities, most of its objectives remain unmet.

A survey and interviews by the Saturday Nation reveal that half the target goals of the Mau Interim Coordinating Secretariat, set up in August 2009, have not been achieved with a high percentage of its tasks glossed over.

The secretariat is charged with establishing the Mau Forest Complex Authority and implementing the recommendations of a report by the Mau Taskforce.

It was given a fixed term of not more than two years.

According to the restoration time table, titles for South Western Mau, Transmara, Olpusimoru and Maasai Mau blocks should be ready by now.
In a candid interview on Thursday, the secretariat’s chairman Noor Hassan Noor admitted that time was running out.

“We are waiting for directions from the Office of the Prime Minister, which employed us, on what to do next,” said Mr Noor.

Asked why the restoration had not progressed beyond the first and second phases, he said there were financial handicaps.

“For the last eight months we have been ready with data. We finished the survey, profiling and data analysis for the third phase and we have told the Treasury how much we need to carry out the evictions and subsequent compensation, but nothing has been forthcoming,” said Mr Noor.

The secretariat says it needs Sh7.1 billion for the exercise.

He said the funds allocated in the financial estimates that were recently read by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta were meant to cushion people evicted from South Western Mau in 2009.

“It is not for compensation as they did not legally own the land. It is for humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Mr Noor absolved the government of blame for the delays, saying the drought that hit most parts of the country since last year shifted attention and resources from the restoration of the Mau to mitigating the effects of the drought.

But in an earlier interview, a senior officer in the Mau secretariat who requested not to be named, told the Saturday Nation the restoration had stalled because of high level politics.

“The political climate in the country is now highly charged and this does not favour evictions,” he said.

He admitted that restoration of the Mau Complex was way behind schedule but said there was nothing much the secretariat could do about it as the dynamics were beyond its control.

“The Treasury failed to honour its promise to allocate resettlement funds for the remaining three phases.

For me, the whole thing boils down to money. We need to be supported, we need money to resettle those who have genuine titles,” said the official, adding that political rivalry between ODM and PNU was to blame.

According to the Mau Taskforce chaired by Prof Fredrick Owino, encroachers in the 400,000-hectare forest should be removed immediately with third party purchasers being paid compensation where appropriate.

“All titles that were either issued irregularly, or not issued in line with the stated purposes of the resettlement schemes, or issued in critical water catchments and biodiversity spots should be revoked,” reads the taskforce’s recommendations titled: “Report on the Government Taskforce on the Conservation of the Mau Forests Complex.”

The report further recommends that officers involved in illegal land deals in the complex be barred from holding office and prosecuted.

“Land registry management systems should be computerised and linked to an accessible central data base,” it says and adds that the executive and entire provincial administration should not be involved in land allocation.

The long term measures include establishment of a Kenya Forestry and Wildlife Commission to ensure accountability in the forest and wildlife sectors. “This will reduce infighting over resources, sharpen core vision of the institution and promote prudent management of forests and wildlife,” further reads the document.

It also recommends the integration of community interests in the management of Mau Forest Complex.

None of these recommendations have been implemented.

The Mau Forest Complex supports the livelihoods of millions of people in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya.

In the tea sector alone, there are approximately 35,000 jobs while 50,000 small farmers supporting close to half a million dependants benefit from the ecological services provided by the forest complex, according to government estimates.

In 2007, revenues from entry fees alone amounted to Sh650 million and Sh513 million for the Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru national park, says the Ministry of Tourism.

The forest is also the source of more than 10 rivers, some of which have begun drying up due to human activities.

Rift Valley Water Services Board chairman Bartonjo Chesaina has warned that unless something is done urgently, towns and villages downstream will soon go thirsty.

“We  have secured Sh1 billion from the Japanese government to boost water supply to Narok town but all that money could go down the drain if the Mau is not conserved urgently,” he said after a tour of the region.

Next election

However, given that it is just a year before the next election and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been spearheading the drive to conserve the forest is on a charm offensive in the region, it is unlikely he will be in a hurry to evict the settlers.

Indiscriminate settlement in the country’s biggest canopy forest over the last 10 years has led to the destruction of some 116,000 hectares, which is more than 27 per cent of the entire Mau Complex area.

Most of the forest has been lost to group ranches and ad hoc requests for allocation of forest land to develop public facilities. The size of the land requested in most cases is far in excess of what is required, exposing such land to grabbers.
The major cause of forest cover loss, though, was through excision at the pretext of resettling landless Ogiek people and victims of the 1990s ethnic cleansing. Many non-deserving people, including senior government officials, were allocated land in this way.

Planting trees

Mr Noor said his secretariat had done much to restore the Mau “which was not necessarily equivalent to evicting people.”

“We have completed survey work at four forest blocks and recovered 24,000 hectares of forest,” he said.

He said government focus at the moment was on reforestation of areas with no human settlements. He said the secretariat, in conjunction with the Kenya Forest Service, was planting trees in these areas.

“I am calling on institutions and organisations to come forward and adopt sections of the forest for reforestation. Its reclamation cannot be done by any one organisation,” he said, adding that the drought in many parts of the country was a result of climate change which could be curtailed by reforestation.

He named organisations which have come on board and signed agreements with the KFS as African Wildlife Foundation, James Finlay (K) Ltd, Malaika Ecotourism, Coral Cay Conservation UK, Save the Mau Conservation Trust and ministries of Defence and Energy.

Mr Noor said the government was also rehabilitating the banks of six rivers with sources in the Mau through the ‘Kazi kwa Vijana’ initiative. The rivers are Makalia, Njoro, Nderit, Naishi, Perkerra and Molo.

Narok South District Commissioner Chimwaga Mongo confirmed that communities living around the complex had been educated about the need to plant trees.

“Our latest brief is to mobilise communities to own this forest and assist the KFS to protect it. We have provided tree nurseries on the new forest boundaries in Sagamian, Nkoben, Chepalungu, Mosonik and Chepalungu areas,” said the DC.

This tactic has angered some leaders in the region who have been calling for the removal of the settlers.

Narok South MP Noidila ole Lankas said it was unfortunate that such a noble exercise as the conservation of the key forest had stalled because of political expediency.

“If you can allow a water tower as important as the Mau to be destroyed for political expediency, then we are headed in the wrong direction. My humble appeal to the PM is that he soldiers on with this work to its conclusion. He started it, let him not abandon it midway,” he said.

He said a lot of money was used to produce reports which were gathering dust in government offices.

“We had agreed that blocks like the Maasai Mau were very critical and something had to be done fast. Now all we see is charcoal and timber coming out of there,” said Mr Lankas.

Some 15, 000 people are settled in 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 still living in camps, were two years ago removed from South Western Mau in a way which attracted a lot of criticism from Rift Valley politicians and human rights activists. They are now set to be resettled after Lands minister James Orengo said he had received the funds.

Mr Noor had earlier indicated that after the Maasai Mau evictions, focus would turn on the 2001 excisions in which some 61,000 hectares were carved out of the water tower. He said preliminary reports indicate that prominent people used fictitious companies to acquire land in Mau in the run-up to the 2002 general elections.

“Most of these people will not get a cent as they are not paying taxes and their companies are phantom,” he said.

Conservationists have complained that while the third phase of the restoration should have been executed one year ago, the final nail came after Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta failed to allocate funds during the 2010/2011 financial estimates.

Should the Mau restoration fail, it would not be the first time evictions have been stopped for political reasons.

In 2005, when the government was seeking votes to pass the then Wako constitutional draft, President Kibaki allowed settlers back to their farms and did the same in 2007 as he sought re-election.

Then Mr Odinga was the government’s fiercest critic, telling the settlers that if he were to be President, he would ensure they lived peacefully on their farms.

Opposition to the PM’s efforts to conserve the Mau gained momentum after the Mau Taskforce listed Kiptagich Tea Estate, which is associated with retired president Daniel Moi, as a beneficiary of irregular allocations and recommended its repossession.

Energy Assistant Minister Magerer Langat, a close ally of the PM, has told his Rift Valley colleagues not to politicise the conservation efforts.

“No leader, even those making noise now would ask settlers to invade the forest. They are just resisting anything the PM does to settle political scores. If they are genuine, let them solve the other cases of landlessness in Mt Elgon, Marmanet and Maili Tisa in Eldoret that have nothing to do with Mr Odinga,” said Mr Lang’at.

Political analyst Kipkirui Telwa said the Mau has been and will be a key political card in the Rift Valley for the foreseeable future.

“In 2005, the region voted en masse against the Wako Draft as a way of protesting the brutal evictions that occurred that year.

In 2007 they voted almost to a man for Raila because he rallied behind them in the controversial issue.

ou saw what happened during last year’s referendum on the new constitution and it will be no different for Raila in 2012,” Mr Telwa said.