Three government investigations spanning the past 15 years point to blatant impunity, contempt for the law and primitive greed in the plunder of Kenya’s most important water tower.
Though the investigations were carried out by markedly different teams, their conclusions are remarkable in their similarities — the rich and well-connected used all tricks in the book to get a slice of Mau, the largest closed canopy forest in East Africa, at a great ecological and economic cost to the country.
Years of Mau Forest destruction has caused an environmental disaster, resulting in a reduction in rainfall, the drying up of rivers and the near-collapse of agriculture and other economic activities downstream.
And as the government battles to save the soul of Mau, the prominent beneficiaries — some of whom made millions by selling land to the thousands of peasants who are currently being kicked out of the forest — are enjoying their wealth without worry.
Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, former Baringo Central MP Sammy Mwaita, who was at the time the Commissioner of Lands, former presidential aide Joshua Kulei and former Permanent Secretary Zakayo Cheruiyot are some of the 25 powerful individuals fingered by a task force commissioned by Prime Minister Raila Odinga in 2009.
As the Daily Nation exclusively reported at the time, the 25 were given 500 hectares of Mau Forest, with many of them getting 20 hectares, way above the five recommended as the standard size in settlement schemes. Some, such as Mr Mwaita, were allocated several pieces.
The allocations started in 1996 under the pretext of resettling the forest-dwelling Ogiek community and families displaced in ethnic clashes.
At the end of the free-for-all, more than 60,000 hectares of forest cover had been destroyed and turned into farmland, with very little going to the intended beneﬁciaries.
A former Cabinet minister, a permanent secretary, ﬁve MPs, and a former provincial commissioner were allocated land at Ngongongeri.
At Mariashoni, 18 companies were allocated portions ranging from four to eight hectares each in 1998 alone.
At Kiptagich, 20 groups, among them two parastatals, a secondary school and a church leader, were some of the beneﬁciaries of portions ranging from 2.8 to 23 hectares.
Most allocations were not for development, but as political reward and for speculative purposes, the investigations concluded.
Huge chunks of the Mau Complex were excised by public officials who had no legal authority to do so.
Chiefs, district officers, district commissioners, provincial commissioners and departmental lands and forest officers beneﬁted.
“The activities of these personalities signify the complete breakdown of the rule of law and order in land allocation. The various officers acted with such impunity and disregard to wider social, economic, ecological and development interests of the country,” the task force notes.
A number of beneficiaries were registered under several names, making it possible for them to get multiple plots. For instance, a document seen by the Nation shows that one national identity card number featured under eight different names with nearly similar first names.
Retired President Daniel Moi in 2010 admitted that he owned a stake of the Kiptagich Tea Factory, but insisted it stands on the edge of the Mau Forest and not inside the water tower.
He said it was allocated to him by the Narok County Council.
The Prime Minister’s Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forest Complex, which was chaired by Prof Fredrick Owino, had recommended that all settlers be cleared out of the forest, with smallholders being given alternative land.
The prominent people were to be evicted without any compensation.
Its findings, as those of the "Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Public Land" (popularly known as the Ndung’u Commission after the lawyer who chaired it), however, remain largely unimplemented.
According to the Ndung’u Commission appointed by President Mwai Kibaki in 2003 to investigate land allocations, politically connected people grabbed more than 4,500 acres of land set aside to settle squatters, including members of the Ogiek community.
Also embroiled in the Mau fiasco are hundreds of soldiers who served in UNAMSIL, the UN peacekeeping mission to Sierra Leone, in 2001.
The military personnel reportedly sank their earnings from the mission into the Maasai Mau and Ol Pusimoru sections of the vast forest, the largest of Kenya’s ﬁve key water towers.
The soldiers reportedly bought the land measuring 2,900 hectares from a Cabinet minister from the Rift Valley in the Ol Pusimoru area.
One of the villages in the area is named Sierra Leone after the country where the soldiers served. This area has borne the brunt of multiple evictions.
Another report, the "Maasai Mau Forest Status Report", details how the establishment of the Ntutu Commission (named after its chairman Paramount Chief Lerionka Ntutu), opened the door for an irregular increase in the sizes of the group ranches far in excess of their registered areas, one of the earliest incursion into the 400,000ha forest.
According to the Presidential Commission on Boundary Review of the Maasai Mau Forest, as the Ntuntu Commission was officially known, government officers, politicians and private surveyors took advantage of the boundary review to sell forest land to unsuspecting outsiders.
“In 1975, the Ministry of Lands, at the request of the Narok County Council, initiated the adjudication of the northern part Ol Pusimoru Forest Reserve. The adjudicated area covers 20,155ha,” reads the Prof Owino report.
The chairman of Narok County Council at the time was William olé Ntimama, who in later years relentlessly championed for the eviction of squatters from Mau.