A dispute over Maasai Mau Forest boundary has put Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya on a collision path with Rift Valley leaders who accuse him of creating a new cut-line in the ongoing evictions.
While Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and a host of region Jubilee MPs argue that the cut-line should be the Nyayo Tea Zone as espoused by Deputy President William Ruto, Mr Natembeya insists that the only legal boundary is the one set out in 2009.
Mr Ruto, while announcing the evictions on June 24 said that the cut-line will be the tea buffer zone.
But in an interview with the Nation, Mr Natembeya said the tea zone cut-line was only to separate the Ol Posimoru Forest and the Maasai Mau and not to determine the boundary.
“The Maasai Mau Forest is under the county government of Narok. The Olposimoru is under the Kenya Forest Service. When the tea was planted in Olposimoru, those evicted came to Maasai Mau,” Mr Natembeya explained.
NYAYO TEA ZONE
In the 2015 cut-line, the Nyayo Tea Zone planted purple tea in a 25 kilometre area creating a buffer zone in a bid to separate the Maasai Mau section of the forest under the county government of Narok with Olposimoru Forest which is managed by Kenya Forest Service, Mr Natembeya explained.
The Maasai Mau forest, where the eviction is on-going, was not captured in the list of zones where tea was planted to develop a cut-line.
“They are misunderstanding the DP’s directive. The true position is that this operation was not even ordered by the Mr Ruto. My team was ready for it, even before he spoke about it on June 24,” said Mr Natembeya.
It is still unclear if the DP had been misled about the tea buffer zone, because among the 15 schools he listed as “outside the cut-line” is Kitoben Primary School, the very same grounds where Mr Murkomen and his team landed twice in 72 hours to protest what he said was the removal of people who were outside the forest.
On Monday, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot differed with Mr Natembeya whom he said “had gone rogue.”
“It is not for Mr Natembeya to determine where the cut-line is. It is his job to just execute orders by government. The tea marking the boundary has been planted by government and all the schools in there were built by government. Who is Mr Natembeya to decide where the cut-line is?” Senator Cheruiyot told journalists.
Mr Cheruiyot also asked Jubilee secretary-general Raphael Tuju, who had thrown Mr Murkomen under the bus, terming his comments on the evictions personal, to apologise to the residents of Mau.
“Our collective protest is against the invasion of private land by rogue government officers in the pretext of conservation. I urge Mr Tuju to properly acquaint himself with the issues,” said Mr Cheruiyot.
Meanwhile, Mr Moi has backed Mr Murkomen’s argument of the tea buffer zone, saying the cut-line should be respected.
“I have come here, and I have seen that no one has crossed the cutline we were told. So, what is the problem? Majority of these people have title deeds, yet their houses have been burnt, children have gotten lost and old men are stranded at their demolished houses,” said Mr Moi when he visited Triangle in Narok South on Sunday
In defiance of Mr Natembeya, Mr Murkomen, speaking at the same school, vowed to deliver 2,000 pieces of iron sheets that he said will be used to rebuild houses of settlers he said were evicted outside the forest.
But Mr Natembeya blocked the delivery of the iron sheets. “We have confiscated the material,, the settlers are advised to pick them and go build their homes out of the forest.” he said.