The land occupied by 60,000 squatters in Mau is neither gazetted as a forest nor a water catchment area under the Kenya Forestry Service, former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto has said.
Mr Ruto, who has been involved in talks to try and resolve the forest dispute over the past 10 years, believes the government is illegally “interfering with people’s land”.
“I have been against issues being pushed down from the top because I’d like a situation of clear discussion and engagement between the government and the local community,” he said in a interview with K24 TV on Sunday.
“This has never happened [even] once in the last 10 years. These engagements should involve leaders from Narok, Baringo, Kericho, Bomet and Nakuru.”
Back in 2009, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s task force noted that there is a distinction between the land available for settlement, part of which went to group ranches, forested land and water catchment areas to be conserved for common good.
But according to Mr Ruto, this was just an opinion of the taskforce, which should have been acted upon to show which areas of the Maasai Mau are critical for water-catchment.
“The government operates by law. If the statement was true, it would have been tabled in Parliament and developed as a Bill for enactment,” Mr Ruto said.
“Alternatively, there should have been a gazette notice that the Maasai Mau is a protected area due to its ecological importance. As of now, KFS has no business interfering with people’s land,” he said.
While the United Nations Environment Programme also recognises Maasai Mau is a vital water catchment area for Ewaso Nyiro and the Mara rivers, Mr Ruto maintains that this too, is just a finding that should be translated into a legal framework.
He said he has been pushing to get evidence that supports all these claims about the area.
“I have also been asking the ministry to show the studies that declare the Maasai Mau as a water catchment area,” he said.
The government has given the squatters a 60-day window to leave the water tower by October 31 and surrender all illegally acquired title deeds.
After this deadline, forest rangers and police will be deployed to push out those who will have refused to leave voluntarily.
The evictions are supposed to pave the way for the rehabilitation of the 46,000-hectare Maasai Mau Forest, which is one of the 22 blocks within the Mau Complex.
The areas targeted include Nkoben, Ilmotiok and Ololunga, Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian.
NO LEGAL BACKING
But Mr Ruto argued that only 21 forests are gazetted for protection by the government, stating that the Maasai Mau area is trust land for settlement because of its exclusion.
A Kenya Water Towers Agency report indicates that when verification of landowners was done in 2009, only 430 settlers in the area had genuine title deeds.
Phase one of the evictions, which saw 12,000 illegal settlers removed, was centred in the Reiya Group Ranch, with the KFS stating that more than 2,000 squatters deserved compensation.
Mr Ruto believes that all these numbers were under-stated then because there was no proper profiling.
“Even the 60,000 isn’t correct. This is an area with three MCAs, schools, assistant chiefs and several government infrastructure. Where should all these people migrate to?” he asked.