The last group of illegal settlers who had encroached on the Maasai Mau Forest were Friday evicted as politicians from the Rift Valley region braced themselves for a face-off with the government.
Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko led a multi-agency team and wananchi in the restoration of Maasai Mau Forest in Sierra Leone area after the lapse of a 60-day notice issued to the settlers.
A day earlier, politicians from the Rift Valley had termed the Mau evictions a humanitarian crisis.
Mr Tobiko launched an initiative to plant 10 million trees in the forest.
The project – themed ‘Restore Mau, Save the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem, Save Lives’ — saw modern technology being used by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) to sow 1.5 million seedlings, with an aircraft employed for the aerial seeding.
Speaking at the event, Mr Tobiko said by Thursday, 96 per cent exit of settlers had been achieved, with the government assisting the remaining four per cent with tractors to move their belongings out.
Governors Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu), Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Stanley Kiptis (Baringo), Senators Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho), Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Marakwet), Christopher Lang’at (Bomet) and a number of MPs from the Rift Valley had appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta “to end the suffering”.
Mr Tobiko said the removal of the settlers was realised without the firing of a single bullet or burning of houses and destruction of property.
“Planting of trees in the Maasai Mau is historic. You all remember the sad history of this forest for the past three decades,” he said.
He said the Mau forest had become a hot potato, and whenever efforts to reclaim it were made, politics stood in the way.
“The hot potato is now buried and the Mau will never be a political issue to be used by politicians during electioneering periods,” said Mr Tobiko.
He said the painful decision to evict the settlers was arrived at since the forest is gazetted as a water tower.
He blamed MPs for lying to Kenyans that people are still in the forest. “They have moved out and the hard part of restoring the forest has begun today. We planted 200 trees manually and 1.5 million through aerial means,” he said.
Mr Tobiko dismissed claims that there is a humanitarian crisis, saying the operation did not employ any violence. “I think there is a big disconnect between politicians and [people on] the ground since the settlers moved out voluntarily without any force. Nobody is living outside in the cold,” the CS said.
He said fencing of the forest will follow immediately the government secures funding for 60km out of the targeted 119 kilometres.
Leaders who accompanied the CS, among them Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina and Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta, lamented that rivers in the Mara, Lake Victoria and the Nile basins, whose source is the forest, are drying up with devastating effects to millions of people who depend on them.