New twist in Mau Forest evictions - Daily Nation

New twist in Mau Forest evictions

Monday August 6 2018

Maasai Mau Forest at Total area

An aerial view of Total, a section of the Maasai Mau Forest, where settlers have cut down trees to create farmland. The government move to evict them has been challenged in court. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By GEORGE SAYAGIE
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The government has ordered the Nyayo Tea Zones (NTZ) Development Corporation to stop picking or cultivating tea in the 25-kilometre buffer zone even as the Mau Forest saga is scheduled for hearing.

A government enforcement unit stormed the corporation's offices in Sierra Leone, Narok South, and ejected the workers.

"We have received orders from the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Keriako Tobiko, to stop all the operations at the tea cutline, and we are enforcing that order," Narok ecosystem conservator Mwai Muraguri said in Sunday.

By doing this, the government hopes to recover thousands of hectares of land owned by prominent beneficiaries of the Maasai Mau Forest Complex.

When the boundary was created in 2015, the parastatal planted purple tea on a 25-kilometre stretch, creating a buffer zone between the Maasai Mau Forest, which is under Narok County, and Olpusimoru Forest, managed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

STOP OPERATIONS

"We have reached the decision to stop the operations. The tea will be left to degenerate into bushes since the government is being accused of encroaching on the forest by tea," Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya said.

The 300-metre wide buffer zone lies between the Amalo and Ewaso Ngiro rivers, and is deemed the forest boundary by the dwellers and politicians.

It is located where the Mau Task Force in 2009/2010 profiled 7,989 settlers, who were allowed to remain in the forest until the government found a way forward. They settlers depend on the tea and forest products to earn a living.

Mr Natembeya accused the NTZ of extending the buffer zone's width from 100 to 300 metres by felling indigenous trees in Olpusimoru Forest without the KFS' consent.

BUFFER ZONE

"The buffer zone has also been a barrier for wildlife migrating from the Maasai Mau and Transmara forests to Olpusimoru Forest, causing great stress to the wildlife, especially elephants," Mr Natembeya added.

Meanwhile, a case filed before the Environment and Land Court in Narok by Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony is scheduled to be heard on Monday.

The Governor, 15 Mau Forest settlers and the officials of five group ranches, through lawyer Peter Wanyama, want the evictions of the more than 40.000 settlers in the Maasai Mau Forest stopped.

Two weeks ago, the court declined to issue temporary orders stopping the evictions. Instead, Justice Mohammed Kullow called for an inter-parties hearing, set for Monday.

By the end of last month, the government had secured about 12,000 hectares of the forest, ejected 7,082 people and demolished more than 1,700 temporary structures in the 46,000-hectare forest.

EVICTING PRIVATE OWNERS

Mr Chepkwony claims that the government is illegally evicting private owners of individual property comprising Reiyo, Enakishomi, Sisiyan, Enoosokon and Nkaroni group ranches, adding that the evictions are being done inhumanely.

The governor listed Cabinet secretaries Farida Karoney (Land) and Interior Fred Matiang'i (Interior), Commissioner Natembeya and the National Land Commission (NLC) as respondents.

The Nation also learnt yesterday that the emotive debate over the Mau Forest evictions would head to The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC). A source who sought anonymity revealed that the evictees' lawyers had written to the ICC over the violation of Article 7 of the Rome Statute.

LEGAL BOUNDARY

The dispute over the Maasai Mau Forest boundary has placed Mr Natembeya on a collision course with Rift Valley leaders, who accuse him of creating a new cutline in the ongoing evictions.

While some leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi, say that the cutline should be the Nyayo Tea Zones, Mr Natembeya insists that the only legal boundary is the one established in 2009. He said the Nyayo Tea Zone was only meant to separate the Olpisimoru and Maasai Mau forests.

While announcing the start of the evictions on June 24, Deputy President William Ruto said the boundary would be the NTZ.