Deputy President William Ruto’s allies have now caved in to pressure from within President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, resolving to go slow on the emotive issue of the Mau Forest.
Under the Rift Valley parliamentary caucus, the leaders resolved to, instead, allow an independent team reportedly led by senior police officials to complete an independent audit of the forest boundaries.
“We are under one government run by one President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Deputy, William Ruto, in the same party — Jubilee. As a group, we are absolutely happy with the progress made by the government in solving this issue,” Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen told journalists at Weston Hotel on Tuesday night.
The Elgeyo-Marakwet senator was speaking following a meeting of the Rift Valley MPs, the second in as many months.
Mr Murkomen, who has borne the brunt of accusations of undermining President Kenyatta following his utterances about the Mau, said he had faith in the team "sent to the forest by the national government".
Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju had dismissed Mr Murkomen’s comments as personal. “On Mau Forest, a government must do what it has to do to conserve the Mau. If an individual politician, even if it is the Leader of Majority in the Senate, has a different position, definitely the position of the Executive prevails,” said Mr Tuju.
Earlier this week, Mr Murkomen insisted that the officers carrying out the evictions had gone outside the forest and were forcing people out of their homes, yet they had genuine title deeds. This followed a dispute over the Mau forest border. “The Mau is not about Murkomen, it can never be. It is about conservation. It is about the 4,000 children in 10 schools, who are not going to school. It is about the people being chased out of their homes with valid title deeds, and who are outside the forest,” the senator said.
At the Weston meeting, Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny led his colleagues from the Rift Valley in backing Mr Murkomen. “The statements Mr Murkomen made on the Mau do not warrant any movement from the party to ouster him from the Senate Majority Leader's seat,” Mr Kutuny said, warning, however, that leaders “should be mature and reasonable in their statements".
As if aware of what the statement might portend for him, and following a statement by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja that he had disrespected President Kenyatta over his stand on Mau, Mr Murkomen had on Saturday put his Senate leadership position on the line.
“I know the President cares for the people of Mau. So I want to tell you today, if tomorrow I get ejected from my job as Senate Majority Leader, it will because I talked on your behalf,” Mr Murkomen said, arguing that local officials had defied the government regarding the border.
And while the Rift Valley MPs met in Nairobi to strategise on a new approach on the Mau issue, Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony was finalising on a case he filed in court yesterday, seeking to stop the evictions.
On Monday evening, however, the court declined to issue conservatory orders stopping the evictions, with Justice Mohammed Kullow setting an inter-partes hearing for August 6.
The Task Force on Mau Forest Conservation traced the genesis of these settlements to 1999 when Sisiyan, Nkaroni, Enoosokon, Enakishomi and Reyio group ranches applied for permission to sub-divide their land — groups Prof Chepkwony argued in court had genuine documents and should not be kicked out. The task force said the land portions were increased multiple times and encroached the forest land.
Over 7,000 people have already been kicked out of the expansive Maasai Mau forest, part of the Mau Forest complex. The complex comprises Transmara, Olposimoru, Maasai Mau, Eastern Mau, Mau Narok, South West Mau, Western Mau, Mt Londiani, Eburru, Molo and South Molo forests.
A 2005 report dubbed Maasai Mau Forest Status Report prepared by the Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority showed that a total of 8,214 hectares of forest cover was lost inside the Maasai Mau Forest and about 31,755 hectares lost outside the forest boundaries between 1973 and 2005.
The destruction was so bad that between 2003 and 2005, Kenya’s biggest water tower was being wiped out at a rate of 1,963 hectares per year.
Mau forest is the source of all but one of the 13 main rivers west of the Rift Valley. Six of the rivers from the forest feed Lake Victoria.