There was a heavy police presence in Bomet town on Saturday following the government’s decision to cancel a rally called by Rift Valley politicians to address the fate of 60,000 families to be affected in phase two of the Mau evictions.
Police in anti-riot gear patrolled the town and sealed off Bomet Green Stadium, where the rally was to be held but was cancelled after a county security committee meeting withdrew a permit it had issued to the organisers last Monday.
Governors, MPs, MCAs, clerics and others were scheduled to attend the meeting.
It was expected that the leaders would use the occasion to put pressure on the government to halt the planned evictions of the families living in the Mau Forest Complex.
South Rift Law Society of Kenya chairman Kipngetich Korir and human rights activist Tyson Ngetich, who had applied for the permit, accused the government of curtailing freedom of association and expression.
“The meeting was cancelled on security grounds and to allow students to sit for their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) [examination] without any sideshows. We have officially communicated the message to the people who sought ... the permit,” said County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding.
He added: “We would not allow leaders and political activists from other regions to come and disturb the prevailing peace and cohesion in the county. The eviction is being implemented in a neighbouring county and not in our region.”
“On security matters, we do not [leave] anything to chance. It is the right of the people to hold gatherings, but their security and that of others takes precedence,” added Mr Omoding.
Flanked by county police commander Naomi Ichami and several members of the region’s security team, Mr Omoding said at a prayer breakfast meeting hosted by Governor Hillary Barchok on Friday that security officers had been put on high alert over the cancelled rally.
Mr Korir said that following the withdrawal of the permit, and since the meeting was to be peaceful, the organisers had decided to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the police to respect the rule of law.
“It is a fallacy that Mr Omoding is citing the ongoing national examination for [cancelling] the rally, yet we all know that no exams are conducted on Saturday,” he said a press briefing.
He accused the Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko and Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya of playing politics with the evictions and disregarding the rule of law.
Mr Ngetich, on the other hand, said President Uhuru Kenyatta should speak on the issue.
“Why is it that the government can not engage the people instead of kicking them out of their private property in the guise of protecting the natural resource?” wondered Mr Ngetich
Bomet politicians, led by Governor Barchok, have urged President Kenyatta to grant leaders an audience to discuss the impending evictions.
“We have stood behind President Kenyatta since his failed presidential bid in 2002 and in the last two general elections, yet he has turned against our people, the same voters who backed him to the top. He has reneged on his repeated promise to resettle the families,” said Singorwet Ward Re Alfred Langat in a statement.
Dr Barchok said the government needs to respect the sanctity of land titles and the right of the people to buy and own property anywhere in the country.
“When people are told that they should leave their rightfully owned private property and return to their ancestral land, like what is happening in Narok South, we are setting a very bad precedent for the country,” he said.
Some Rift Valley leaders, led by governors Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu) and Stanley Kiptis (Baringo) and Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Kericho Senator Haroun Cheruiyot said on Thursday that the government was seeking to create a humanitarian crisis with the evictions.
Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto has been leading a diplomatic engagement with senior government officials with an appeal to the President to intervene and avert a humanitarian crisis.