The government has intensified the eviction of illegal settlers from Mau Forest in Mariashoni area, Nakuru County.
More than 30 Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers urged members of the Ogiek community to move out of the depleted forest. The forest land had been turned into maize and potato farms and grazing fields by the community.
They then moved to Kaprop and Sachangwan trading centres and ordered traders to move out. Boda boda operators and tractor owners made a killing by transporting the evictees to Nessuit trading centre.
Many evictees were forced to distribute their animals among their relatives as they pondered their next move.
Pastors of make shift churches in the forest, including King’s Outreach and Full Gospel Church, had a hectic time removing their property.
The community urged the government to extend the eviction orders to those who had been allocated large chunks of forest land in Ngongongeri in Njoro.
Mr Johnson Mayopi, a former civic leader said the evictees support the removal of illegal settlers from the forest.
“Eviction should continue and we are behind the government. However, the KFS should have given us more time. They should extend eviction to the big fish and stop burning illegal structures until the people remove their belongings, “said Mr Mayopi.
Ms Roseline Chebet urged the government to resettle the forest evictees.
“We can’t block the government from evicting illegal settlers from the forest, but it should resettle us,” said Ms Chebet.
Nearly 5,000 members of the Ogiek community who had encroached the forest face eviction. At least 1,326 members of the Ogiek have so far been settled by the government, leaving about 4,801 who are still waiting for their resettlement as per the Arusha Court order.
The KFS officers ordered the illegal settlers to move out peacefully. And as they moved the KFS officers set on fire their grass-hatched houses. Area MP Francis Kuria Kimani condemned the torching of houses.
“I support the move to evict those destroying Mau Forest, but burning people’s houses is not the best way to address the issue at hand and I condemn it,” said Mr Kuria.
He said he had raised the matter with the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya who assured him that the evictions would be done humanely.
However, Mr Natembeya defended the move to evict all the illegal settlers from the forest.
“These illegal settlers had leased the land and most of the people who were farming there were from Nyandarua County,” said Mr Natembeya.
He said the government has no plans to resettle the evictees as they had deliberately encroached the forest.
“Nobody allocated them that land. They know where they came from and where they should go. They are not so desperate for land. The majority of evictees are ready to move out,” said Mr Natembeya. He defended the burning of huts after the illegal settlers had removed out.
“Why should the illegal houses remain in the forest when the illegal settlers have moved out? Once they are evicted, they will never come back to use the illegal shelters,” said Mr Natembeya.
He said the settlers had been given enough notice to move out of the forest.
The chairman of Ogiek Council of Elders Joseph Towett said more than 400 households had been evicted in the past one week.
“The KFS were forcing the Ogiek out of their homes and then setting the houses on fire,” said Mr Towett.
He said some powerful individuals in the government who had illegally acquired the forest land were frustrating efforts to resettle the community.
Mr Towett said Ogiek won a land cases in 2014 and 2017 in Nairobi and Arusha, compelling the government to resettle the community.
“The government should implement the court rulings which ordered that Ogiek community be resettled. We support a fair eviction that also cancels illegal title deeds issued to powerful individuals in the government who own huge chunks of land in the Mau Forest,” said Mr Towett.