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Tales of Mau eviction woe as round two targets 40,000 more

Friday July 27 2018

Mau forest

A child sits next to a house that was torched in Kipchoge area in Mau on July 26, 2018. A Kenyan lawyer has taken the government to ICC. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

GEORGE SAYAGIE
By GEORGE SAYAGIE
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BERNARDINE MUTANU
By BERNARDINE MUTANU
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The biting cold offers no respite for hundreds of families uprooted from their dwellings in the Maasai Mau forest.  Children shiver in the unbearable cold as their parents ponder their next move.

It is a never-ending cat-and-mouse game that is played between the evictees and the security team conducting the operation. 

While the area of operation has been declared a no-go zone, the evictees, a majority of them men, don’t mind taking their chances as they periodically sneak back in to check on their farms in a forest heavily patrolled by armed officers.

It is a sneaky game they play, furtively rushing back to their farms to weed, cautious not to be waylaid by the security officers.  The operation is tense, with a majority of the affected villagers perpetually on tenterhooks.

In the midst of these aggravating circumstances, villagers have resorted to congregating in trading centres talking amongst themselves and monitoring activities of the eviction team.

“Some of the security officers are brutalising us, they are burning our houses and we have to take cover, lest they ambush us,” said Mr David Chepkwony.

When the Nation team arrived at Kipchoge trading centre along the 2015 tea buffer zone which was established to separate Olpusimoru government gazetted forest and the Maasai Mau which is a trust land under the Narok county government, Mr Chepkwony's house was on fire.

He said uniformed officers burnt it down.

"I was at the “cutline" tending to the KFS tea when I saw an officer walking into my house and, in a short while, I saw smoke billowing from the thatched roof," said the father of six.

With sorrow, fear and confusion etched on his face, he said he bought his 5-acre piece of land 19 years ago after selling his parcel of land in Transmara.

Mr Chepkwony vowed he will not move out of the land, and so are other evictees who had congregated at the Kipchoge trading centre, Narok South, complaining that they have nowhere to go.

Apart from burning the houses, residents said the security personnel have been plundering their property and carting away their commodities. The security officers have evicted dwellers at Nkoben, Kosia, Arorwet, Olapa, Chemongei, Kitoben, Kiletweny and Cheptwech areas with the remaining group having been verbally asked to vacate their homesteads.

A mother of eight, Jessica Chepkoech, said she was not planning to move out despite having received orders to leave.

“Where am going to? I don’t know of any other home as I have lived here for more than 30 years,” she lamented.

She bought the land at Sh150,000 in the late 80s but was never issued with a valid document, pinning her hope on word of mouth from the seller whom she says she knows very well.

Mr Cheruyiot Rono, 32, claims his parents bought land in 1984 but were never issued with genuine documents.

For those interviewed, the deals were mostly finalised under a tree, with village elders appending their signatures to handwritten agreements. 

Their stories tell a familiar tale of a well-orchestrated land scam masterminded by powerful individuals who swindled them out of millions of shillings before vanishing into thin air. At least 50 homes have been razed by a multi-agency team, the residents claimed, while hundreds of others have been vandalised.

And things might get worse because the evictions are not about to end soon. Narok county commissioner George Natembeya is setting the stage for the second phase of evictions that will see 40,000 people thrown out of the forest.

Mr Natembeya said some 8,000 hectares of forest land had been encroached upon by companies and 1,000 hectares by individuals. He appealed to people with genuine documents to surrender them for verification.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, he said the targeted area is where the Mau Task Force profiled 7,989 individuals in 2009/2010.