The man who dished out land in the Mau Forest Complex to firms and individuals, laying the foundation for the current problem, has come out to defend his actions.
“I have no apologies to make,” says Mr Sammy Mwaita, who was then-commissioner of lands.
“I followed the prevailing procedures and regulations as prescribed at the time by the government. The land allocation was done as a government project,” he says.
Mr Mwaita, who says that he is open about his involvement in the Mau Forest Complex land allocations, admits that alongside the poor and landless who received land for settlement, powerful people in the Moi government also benefited from the allocations.
“Since independence, the unwritten policy for settlement was that 80 per cent of the land went to the targeted beneficiaries while 20 per cent was given to others,” Mr Mwaita says, adding that the “others” could be any Kenyan.
Just as in most settlement projects carried out by the government, the others turned out to be powerful people in government and politicians.
Those who benefitted included former President Daniel Moi, who is believed to be the owner of Kiptagich Tea Estate, and former powerful Nyanza provincial commissioner, the late Isaiah Cheluget, who received 10,000 hectares of the Mau Forest Complex.
Mr Mwaita admits owning 20 hectares of land in the Kiptagich Settlement Scheme.
“I was also a beneficiary of the land allocation, since like other Kenyans I was also land-pressed. You can’t slaughter a cow and fail to taste the meat,” he defends his actions.
The former commissioner insists that the process was carried out in accordance with government procedures.
“The laws of the land gave powers to the President to order excision of land to benefit the poor, landless, resettle people or to provide land for establishment of public amenities,” Mr Mwaita, who is a former MP for Baringo Central constituency, says.
He says that other than his office, the provincial administration was involved in the controversial allocation.
“The first provincial commissioner involved was the late Ishmael Chelang’a, followed by the late Zachary Ogongo and then Yusuf Haji, who oversaw most of the allocations,” he recalls.
Former ministers who served in the environment department during the excision of the forest include Francis Nyenze (now deceased), Mr Noah Katana Ngala and Mr Henry Kosgey.
Insisting that he has nothing to apologise for, Mr Mwaita, who has lived a quiet life carrying out farming and business, is now back in the news following the recent uproar over the Mau evictions.
The evictions, which have split opinion down the middle, come 10 years after recommendations for revocation of title deeds and eviction of people from the areas highlighted in the 2009 Report of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forest Complex.
The Mau ecosystem, which has been degraded through irregular and ill-planned settlements, uncontrolled and illegal forest resource extraction and conversion to agricultural production, is the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya.
The Mau Complex, which forms the catchment of 12 main rivers that drain into five major lakes: Natron, Nakuru, Turkana, Baringo and Victoria, is the source of water supply to several urban centres and supports the livelihoods of millions of people living in the rural areas.
Its largest threat started on February 16, 2001 when Mr Mwaita announced plans by the government to excise 61,586 hectares of forestland in the complex.
The purpose of the 2001 excision was to resettle the victims of the 1990s land clashes and members of the Ogiek community, who had lived in the forest for over 150 years.
According to a report of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Forest Excisions dated April 2001, the settlement schemes that were to benefit the Ogiek people included Tinet, Ndoinet, Saino, Sururu, Marioshoni and Likia.
Kapsita (Elburgon) was to be used for the settlement of Chepakundi victims (survivors) of clashes of 1997 who surrendered their titles in Chepakundi in exchange for land in Kapsita, Baraget for Laare/Kiambogo victims (survivors) of the clashes of 1997 and Kapsita, which was to accommodate the spillover from Kapsita, Elburgon.
The others were Kibunja, which was to be used to settle displaced people following the expansion of Mary Mount School and Kibunja trading centre.
Other people were displaced following expansion of Soliat Primary School, Ainabkoi Secondary School and for the construction of a village polytechnic, market and health centres.
There was also Cheboror, which was to settle an unknown number of Dorobo community members, while settlement schemes whose beneficiaries were not stated were Teret, Sigotik and Nessuit.
By the time of the expiry of the excision gazette notices on February 16, 2001, the government had received 60 written objections, which it dismissed, stating that they were based on the assumption that the excisions were to affect forested areas yet according to it, all forested areas to be excised had little cover and had been settled upon.
The government further argued that “the proposed degazettement should in effect be seen as a means to enhance forest management and protection of the remaining forest”.
This was never to be. Instead, on October 19, 2001, despite a huge public outcry and the objection raised, the government went ahead with the excisions.
“All laid-down procedures were followed to the best of my knowledge,” Mr Mwaita insists, accusing some government officials and politicians of pushing for the evictions with the intention of crippling the political support base of Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Mwaita blames ODM leader Raila Odinga for engineering the 2009 report, upon which the current evictions are being carried out.
“Despite my role in the resettlement plans, I was never given a chance to appear before the task force to defend my actions. The report was biased and meant to punish certain individuals for political reasons,” he says.
Despite his defences, subsequent investigations have established that the exercise was characterised by a series of irregularities, with reports indicating that over 99 per cent of the title deeds were affected.
This resulted in non-deserving individuals such as government officials, political leaders and companies being allocated parcels of land.
During the subdivision and ballooning of the five adjacent group ranches, massive tracts of land were allocated to 13 companies and business names, out of which five have no records with the Registrar of Companies.
Mr Mwaita says the same government that was behind the issuance of title deeds in the group ranches has now turned back on valid title deed owners.
“It is wrong to evacuate individuals who have genuine title deeds issued by the government,” he insists.
He explains that the issue of subdivision of the group ranches started in the 1980s when the government, using the Land (Group Representative) Act, started the process of dishing out land mostly to senior and well-connected government officials as the country transitioned from being perceived as a socialist nation to one that embraced capitalism and by extension individualism.
“The land in the Narok Mau was either in group ranches owned by the Maasai community or as Trust Land, which was managed by the Narok County Council,” he recalls.
He clarifies that the Narok Mau Trust land was not a national government gazetted land but one that was managed by the Narok County Council, which was led by powerful county chairmen, the likes of the late minister William ole Ntimama and the late Justus ole Tipis.
“Although the surveying of the land was supposed to strictly be done by government surveyors, there was not enough manpower. This resulted in the use of private surveyors to demarcate the land,” he says.
The controversial use of private surveyors resulted in those who wielded power in the group ranches influencing the allocations to their own advantage.
“As a result, the land belonging to the group ranches was exhausted and the officials now moved to subdivide the Mau Trust land owned by the community but held in trust by the Narok County Council,” he says.
Mr Mwaita claims that some of the subdivisions and allocations of the land were part of a project supported by the World Bank aimed at benefiting the Ogiek community.
Mr Mwaita, who was the third civil servant to be relieved of his duties when the Mwai Kibaki government came to power, served from 2000 to 2003.
After leaving the land office, he has battled a series of court cases involving land matters mostly connected to the Mau excision.
“I have about 30 to 50 cases in court involving land disputes and other wide allegations on land matters. They are progressing well,” the former lands commissioner, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in project management, says.
There are about 300 suits involving former land bosses, namely the first African commissioner Raymond Njenga, Wilson Gachanja, Zablon Mabea and Judith Marylyn Okungu.
A number of these disputes involve controversial land allocations around the country.