How 40,000 were duped into settling in Mau Forest

Monday July 30 2018

Mr Geoffrey Langat, a businessman at Kipchoge trading centre rummages through the debris after security officers torched a section of shops in the ongoing eviction of settlers living around the Maasai Mau Forest. PHOTO | VITALIS KIMUTAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Mr David Rotich sold his four acres of land in Mulot, now famous for its sim-swapping gangs, to settle in Sierra Leone, a village deep in the Mau Forest, named after the west African country.

He was looking for a haven for his two wives and 25 children. That was enough motivation for him to part with Sh1.05 million for four acres of land, a decision he regrets.

" My house and other property were burnt twice and I had to start from scratch. It has been 18 difficult years,” Mr Rotich says in reference to the 2,000 and 2,007 evictions.

Mr Rotich, like 40,000 others targeted in the ongoing eviction, is cursing prominent people who duped him into buying land in the forest.

Those who fell victim sold their lands in their places of origin to come to Mau because the land was 'very cheap.' No one mentioned a forest border leave alone showing them where it was.

In interviews, the settlers narrate how members from prominent families in Narok sold to them the pieces of land in Sierra Leone and Kipchoge areas in the contested Maasai Mau Forest.



We learnt that the area got its name from one of the soldiers, a Mr David Kones, who was among those who went to the Sierra Leone for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, bought land in the area and set up a posho mill which he named ‘Sierra Leone.’

These individuals took advantage of the group ranches to encroach into the forest, by hiving big chunks from the forest and later selling to willing buyers, most of them from outside Narok County.

They are now playing hide and seek with authorities in a game that has led to depletion of the water tower, ruining livelihoods of forest dwellers and millions more across eastern Africa who depend on the ecosystem.

The eviction is supposed to pave the way for the conservation of the 46,000-hectare Maasai Mau Forest, which is one of the 23 blocks of the Mau Complex. That will not be easy as the 40,000 settlers, some of them with title deeds, have vowed to stay put.

A Kenya Water Towers Agency report indicates that when verification of landowners was done in 2009, only 430 settlers in the area had genuine title deeds.


Those who spoke to the Nation fear the joint enforcement security team comprising of Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service officers, Narok County rangers and police from the Rapid Deployment Unit will kick them out by force as was witnessed in a similar exercise in 2005 and 2007.

Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya has maintained that it will be difficult for the joint security team to effectively protect the forest if Sierra Leone and Kipchoge settlements remain.

"The settlement should be removed and all routes sealed to secure it," said Mr Natembeya during a recent press briefing.

Another resident, Mr Josephat Langat also from Sierra Leone said he got into Mau and bought land in 1999.

He however denied having encroached into forest land.


“We are always shocked and disturbed to hear that we are squatters. Before we bought the land, we did a search at the Ministry of Lands. The parcels of land we bought had title deeds,” he said. He wants the Lands registry in Narok to be held responsible for being part of the scheme.

He said in 2005, the government placed a caveat on all title deeds issued to claimants, saying they were irregularly issued. But in 2014, a section of politicians claimed to have lifted the caveat only to woo them to vote them in 2017.

Maasai Mau Forest CFAs Chairman Mr Kantau ole Nkuruna supported the victims argument and would not hesitate to say one of the people implicated in the land was a family of a late paramount chief.

"Some people used to make decisions on behalf of the community the way they deemed fit. The outsiders inside the forest are there because they were brought by some enlightened people from the community who had some vested interests," he said during an interview with the Nation at his home in Nkareta, Narok North Constituency.


"If my memory does not fail me, they were brought by a family who were deemed superior in the community," he said.

According to him, the people who were sold the land first brought in their relatives and friends further encroaching into the forest.

He said the beneficiaries used to be 'rewarded' with pieces of land during elections so that they could vote favourably for their 'host'.

"Relatives, friends and the extended families were beneficiaries in this scam," he said.


A mansion stands out in middle of the Mau Forest Kuresoi district. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

While some have genuine title deeds, others do not have. It emerged that those who first bought the land subdivided it further and sold it to other 'outsiders' even without the title deeds.

And so the transfer of the Maasai Mau Forest is one long, unending chain in which the casualties are the millions of people who depend on the Mau Complex for livelihood as well as the settlers who may lose both money and land.


The collusion, confusion, blackmail and betrayal of the buyers of the Maasai Mau Forest land by some influential individuals from the area can hardly explain the pain of the settlers, who have vowed not to move an inch.

While the government requested those who have title deeds to return them to the Narok County government so that they can be compensated, most do not have title deeds and therefore legally they do not own any land.

They fear that those who sold the land to them and still hold the genuine title deeds will present them to the government for compensation. Others fear that if they return the title deeds, they will lose both the vital document and thus their land, as well as the compensation.

In other parts of the Mau Complex, other settlers just grabbed land. "I have 10 acres in two different places," said 38-year-old Hosea Langat, who settled in the Mariashoni area, Eastern Mau, 10 years ago.


He explained that his father, originally from Bomet hived a piece of forest land at the Mariashoni area, and so are hundreds of other forest dwellers who do subsistence farming.

During a tour around the Mau Complex, the Nation established that the destruction is the same in the Maasai Mau, Eastern Mau and South Western Mau Forest.

"The introduction of the forest border was a way of trying to legalise ownership of land by illegal settlers," said Moitalel Ole Kenta, the Narok North Member of Parliament.