A storm is brewing over the Mau Forest Complex after the Ogiek community opposed plans by the government to evict “illegal settlers” in the country’s key water tower.
Leaders of the community say the eviction would violate a judgment by the Arusha-based African Court on Human and People’s Rights.
In its judgment dated May 26, 2017, the court found that members of the 35,000-strong, forest-dwelling community were illegally evicted from their ancestral land in the water catchment and that their rights were violated.
On Tuesday, Ogiek Council of Elders chairman Joseph Towett criticised government agencies and officers behind the notice of eviction.
Last week, 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 the forest.
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. Mr Natembeya said he will enforce the order this week.
However, Mr Towett on Tuesday threatened to go back to the Arusha-based court if the eviction takes place.
“I condemn the move which is a clear violation of the judgment issued last year by the Arusha-based court. I urge President Uhuru Kenyatta to personally intervene and avert the crisis,” said Mr Towett.
Other leaders from the community, including Mr Wilson Ngosilo and Mr Salaton Nadunguenkop, have also backed the legal option, should the eviction order be enforced.
In the landmark judgment, the African Court ruled against evicting the Ogiek from their ancestral land in the Rift Valley.
The court ruled that the Ogiek were not consulted about the eviction they suffered and ordered the government “to take all appropriate measures within a reasonable time frame to remedy all the violations established”.
The court also asked the Ogiek to file their request for reparations within two months
This is not the first time the eviction orders have been issued. In July 2005, the government decided to evict all beneficiaries who had title deeds for parcels of land in the water tower but, because of political reasons in the preceding years, they were allowed back.
Although the current order is seen as an intervention by the government to safeguard natural resources, it has rekindled memories of politics of conservation that has made efforts by successive governments to stem destruction of Mau Forest fail.