A fresh storm has erupted over the Mau Forest Complex after illegal settlers were on Thursday given a notice to vacate the water tower.
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Narok Commissioner George Natembeya, Kenya Water Towers Agency and the county government ordered the settlers to pull down their homes and leave.
This is not the first time such orders have been issued. In July 2005, the government decided to evict all beneficiaries who had title deeds for parcels of land at the water tower but, because of political reasons in the preceding years, they were allowed back.
Although Thursday’s order was seen as an intervention by the government to safeguard natural resources, it rekindled memories of politics of conservation that has made efforts by successive governments to stem destruction of Mau Forest fail.
Politicians have been engaging in blame games over protection of the water tower.
KFS Chief Conservator Monica Kalenda and Mr Natembeya accused the settlers, a majority from the Ogiek community, of encroaching on Kosia, Sasimua and Ilpolton sections of the forest.
Speaking during a meeting between the government agencies and the settlers at Centre 1 near the forest, the two officials said some illegal settlers have been going further into the forest and causing more destruction.
However, the notice was not specific on whether illegal occupiers include those who bought land from holders of illegal title deeds, and those who hold genuine titles for public forest lands.
Two residents who spoke in the meeting, Mr Wilson Ngosilo and Mr Salaton Nadunguenkop, criticised the order, saying some of the settlers have title deeds for the land, and they are not destroying forests.
But Ms Kalenda, who delivered Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko’s message that the forest must be conserved at all costs, said the illegal settlers have been frustrating the government’s efforts to rehabilitate the water tower, and they should start leaving before they are kicked out.
“KFS has demarcated boundaries in sections of Mau Forest under its jurisdiction to deter encroachment, but people are still pushing further, and we can’t allow this,” said Ms Kalenda.
Mr Natembeya said he will enforce the order next week.
DWINDLING WATER LEVELS
He said the destruction being witnessed in the forest has contributed immensely to the dwindling water levels in the Mara River and Nile basins.
“There has been unprecedented encroachment on the forest, which has seen huge tracts of forest land cleared. We are telling the illegal settlers to move out before we arrive,” said Mr Natembeya.
The county commissioner said the settlers were working in cahoots with timber merchants and charcoal burners, causing more damage to the water tower at a time when the government has embarked on seeking solutions to restore the environment.
“There are also security agents working with these cartels to destroy the forest. They will be replaced by those who will implement the conservation directive. I also order all power saws within the forest to be confiscated,” said Mr Natembeya.