A bid to end the destruction of the Maasai Mau – a part of the largest single block of close-canopy forest in East Africa and today the site of an unfolding humanitarian crisis – opened it for further plunder, a review of one of the most comprehensive reports on the ecosystem shows.
According to the document titled ‘Maasai Mau Forest Status Report’, the destruction of some 14,805 hectares (on average 1,139 hectares per year) of forest cover outside the Maasai Mau between 1973 and 1986 prompted the establishment of the Ntutu Commission to set the boundaries and help conserve the forest. The commission recommended the reclamation of Ol Posimoru A, Kamrar, Olokurto, Nkareta and Naisoya adjudication sections of the trust land, which temporarily slowed the destruction. However, pressure on the Maasai Mau would again pile up in 1999 when five group ranches adjacent to the forest applied for consent from the local land control board to subdivide their land among members.
After the consent was issued, government officers, politicians, private surveyors and influential people irregularly increased the sizes of the group ranches far in excess of their registered areas and sold it to unsuspecting outsiders.
By 2005, illegal extension into the forest due to expansion of group ranches had created 1,962 parcels of land, amounting to 14,103.7 hectares of the forest, reads the document authored by the Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forests Working Group and United Nations Environment Programme.
In total, while the registered land was 3,975.5 hectares, another 14,103.7 was fraudulently annexed. Forest destruction within the boundaries increased exponentially from less than 40 hectares a year before 1995, to 1,755 between 2003 and 2005.
There was a temporary lull after the 2005 and 2009 evictions, but the destruction would resume with abandon in subsequent years. And while the annihilation has not been documented, more forest cover has been lost, with aerial photos of the once thick canopy painting a pale shadow of its lost lustre.
The report insists the encroachment on the Maasai Mau did not follow the ideal adjudication procedure. “For instance, no resolution to give away the forest land was made by the (defunct) Narok County Council as required by law. The title deeds in the Maasai Mau are not genuine because they were not subjected to land adjudication process,” the report concludes.
The findings mirror those of the Ndung’u Report, the most influential document on the governance of land issues in Kenya.
The report, released in 2005, revealed that most allocated forest land was excised without considering social, economic and ecological implications — and in total violation of existing legal provisions.
The commission defined an illegal title as one issued for a piece of land that’s not legally available for allocation while irregular titles are those where land is legally available for allocation, but the allotment flouts administrative procedures.
“The commission discussed a number of scenarios that may have to be confronted in relation to titles that have passed on to third parties, and whose land has been developed, and concluded that each case would have to be dealt with on its own merit,” an analysis by Africog, a civil society organisation, reads.
Critics of efforts to remove settlers from the Maasai Mau have always insisted it is the local leaders who sold much of the land. They point out, for instance, that the encroachment of the forest began as early as the 1970s when the Narok County Council, then under the chairmanship of William ole Ntimama, excised community land and allocated it to private individuals including former President Daniel arap Moi.
Mr Ntimama would in later years be the face of the anti-settlement campaign, building his profile on the back of Maa nationalism, a position he defended to his death in September 2016.
The fate of Mau settlers has often seesawed with the ebb and flow of national politics and the dilly-dallying by successive administrations has seen populations balloon.
By 2009, 15,000 people were settled on the 46,278-hectare Maasai Mau. Today the numbers have risen to more than 60,000, or 90,000, depending on who is counting, and their removal proving to be a monumental task. Environmental disaster aside, the influx into the forest over the years has altered the ethnic demographics of Narok, and local politicians view this as a threat to their dominance in a culture where votes go along ethnic lines.