Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto and a section of leaders and elders in the South Rift region have called on the government to halt the planned eviction of 60,000 families settled along the Mau forest complex.
They said the eviction would result in a humanitarian crisis “of unseen proportion” and that the government would be violating people’s right to own property and settle anywhere in the country.
The leaders, led by the former Bomet governor, accused the government of disregarding petitions filed in court seeking redress on the validity of title deeds.
“It is not only hypocritical, but insensitive to the rights of the people, that the government is litigating on the matter in the day and evicting settlers in the disputed area at night,” said Mr Ruto.
With less than two weeks to the end of the two-month ultimatum given to settlers in Enoosokoni, Nkaroni, Sisian, Enagishomi and Reiyo, the leaders claim the exercise already started in earnest.
“Security officers deployed to the area have brought down buildings at Sierra Leone trading centre, destroyed houses owned by the settlers, brutalised the people and committed human rights abuses,” claimed Mr Ruto.
Mr Ruto was speaking in Bomet on Friday after a meeting with a cross-section of leaders from the South Rift including former Kericho woman representative Ms Hellen Chepkwony, member of the Kipsigis Myoot Council of Elders led by Mzee Bartai Milgo, among others.
The leaders say evictions have disrupting learning in schools and denied children the right to education at a time national examinations are set to start.
“It is a shame that the eviction and human rights abuses is happening as the human rights crusaders and government institutions set up to protect the rights of the people and the rule of law watch in silence,” said Mr Ruto.
Ms Chepkwony said: “It is dehumanising for the government to evict families settled on their private farm lands in the guise of environmental conservation yet the mandatory procedures of conducting such an eviction has not been adhered to.”
Mzee Bartai said people were being disinherited of their property and kicked out of land they bought and settled in more than 40 years ago with the full knowledge of the government that gave them title deeds.
“Since the initial eviction in 2005 kicked off, numerous commissions and tasks forces have been set up to delineate the Mau forest boundary. The boundary has kept changing with each commission and task force even as the people continued to subdivide, sell and occupy the land,” he said.
“Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation tea estates which has for years been known as a buffer zone between private farmlands and government forest is in place and the settlers have not crossed it,” said Mzee Bartai.
He added: “We are shocked by the decision by government to disregard the boundary despite repeated assurance by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto that the families’ right to property would be respected.”
At the same time, the ex-county boss who also served as a chairman of the Council of Governor, seems to be changing tack.
Rather than the combative stance he took during phase one of the Mau eviction, he has adopted a diplomatic approach that seeks to engage in dialogue with the government.
He has brought together governors, lawmakers in both national and county assemblies and local elders in a bid to find a solution to the standoff over the forest boundaries.
Mr Ruto has also met with former Cabinet ministers Paul Sang, Langat Magerer, and Charles Kirui, and former Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot among others.
Governors that have been part of the talks include Kericho's Paul Chepkwony, Hillary Barchok of Bomet, and Rift Valley MPs led by Senators Kipchumba Murkomen of Elgeyo-Marakwet and Haron Cheruiyot of Kericho.
They have held meeting in Nairobi, Kericho and Bomet with the latest being a month ago at Nakuru’s Sarova Woodlands Hotel where they agreed to engage the government and seek for dialogue instead of confrontation so as to come up with a lasting solution.
Mr Ruto and a section of the leaders have since met ODM leader Raila Odinga and Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya, who is leading the steering committee that is charged with rehabilitating the Mau forest.
“We have opened a door for dialogue with all stakeholders including President Uhuru Kenyatta, senior government officers and representatives of the settlers so that we can have a common approach to conservation of the Mau complex without creating a humanitarian crisis,” said Mr Ruto.