As the government gears up to evict 60,000 families settled around Mau Forest complex in what is expected to be one of the most explosive issues in the country, a group of Rift Valley leaders are seeking to forestall the exercise.
The leaders are rooting for dialogue to avert a humanitarian crisis.
Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) leader Isaac Ruto has revealed that a delegation of leaders he separately led to meet former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi was the first of a series of planned consultative meetings geared towards resolving the crisis.
Politicians in the delegation included former minister Zakayo Cheruiyot, Franklin Bett, Musa Sirma, Langat Magerer, Paul Sang and a section of elders from the Kalenjin community.
The planned phase two of the evictions, which are expected to be carried out by the government’s multi-sectoral security agencies, comes a year after 9,000 families were evicted in Narok South.
Mr Ruto (former Bomet governor), said that following their meeting with both Mr Odinga and Mr Moi, they would now proceed to hold consultative forums with a wide array of local and national leaders.
“It should be made clear that the families affected are settled in a block that belonged to group ranches including Reiyo and Enakishomi. The land is not part of the 22 blocks forming Mau Forest complex,” said Mr Ruto.
“We will request for a meeting with Maasai elders and their elected leaders as it is only though dialogue that we can resolve this emotive issue without punishing innocent people, including children, women and the elderly, who in previous evictions have been subjected to untold suffering,” he said.
The outspoken politician made the remarks during an interview on Citizen Television on Tuesday night at a time the government has gazetted 650 title deeds it seeks to nullify.
Mr Ruto said the residents were not opposed to conservation of the forest but the government should instead roll out reforestation and provide tree seedlings for planting in private farmlands.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko and Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya have separately stated that families settled around the forest will be evicted anytime to pave way for conservation of the regional water tower.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have been accused of reneging on pre-election promises to resettle and compensate the families around the forest.
In the meantime, tension is high among the settlers targeted for the evictions.
They have threatened to boycott the national census to protest the looming evictions.
Five ranches, which are believed to have extended their land into the water tower, are targeted for reclamation. The second phase of the evictions targets Nkoben, Ilmotiok and Ololung'a, Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian areas, which are part of the 46,000-hectare that have been encroached.
The Nation Wednesday established that the settlers are living in fear, as they raised concerns over their fate following the issuance of the eviction notice.
"It is unfortunate that we are victims of bad politics. We were evicted in 2005 after the 2002 polls as well as in 2008 after the 2007 elections. Are we lesser Kenyans?" posed Mr Joseph Kimetto, the Nkoben village elder.
DUPED TO BUY
Nkoben area was also affected in last year’s first phase evictions.
He added "We want the government to sort out this issue once and for all. We are living with uncertainty since the government announced last week that phase two of the evictions will kick off soon." Some of settlers said they are victims of land owners who duped them to purchase land said to be part of the expansive Mau Forest Complex.
"We purchased the land and even have agreements and title deeds to show the deals. I have lived here with my family for at least 30 years," said Ms Josephine Nyandika, a resident of Ilmotiok.
When Nation visited the other targeted areas such as Ilmotiok, Ololung'a, Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian, tension was palpable. Some of the settlers were secretly fleeing as they fear that their property will be destroyed.
A number of residents of Nkoben, Ilmotiok Ololulung'a and other affected areas have also vowed not to take part in the national census unless they are counted as residents of Narok County. "We know these evictions are politically motivated, and we call upon President Kenyatta to intervene and have the matter resolved soberly. Otherwise we will boycott the census," said Mr David Kimutai, who owns 42 acres of land in Nkoben.
Another resident of Ololulung'a, Mr James olé Kilai, also expressed fear that the looming evictions may disrupt the national census and the reopening of schools.
Several people, who have been ordered out of the forest, claimed that they had also received threats from security officers to leave ahead of the impending evictions.
But Mr Natembeya has maintained that the second phase of the evictions is unstoppable.
According to the administrator, security personnel are waiting for Mr Tobiko's nod to kick off the exercise.
Last week, the State published in two local dailies at least 600 title deeds in the complex set for cancellation. The evictions come amid revelations that the government is yet to arrest and prosecute prominent people and group ranch officials linked to the Mau plunder a year after they recorded statements with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
However, Mr Natembeya in an interview with Nation revealed that files of those who recorded statements had been handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji for reviewing.
“Investigations were completed and the files handed over to the DPP for review before he initiates the process of prosecution,” said Mr Natembeya.
Narok leaders among them Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta have been pushing the DPP to intervene and institute criminal proceedings against those who plundered the complex.
Reported by Vitalis Kimutai, Eric Matara, and Samuel Baya