Efforts to reclaim the 46,000-hectare Maasai Mau Forest by evicting illegal settlers have ran into headwinds after government-allied politicians ordered those evicted back into the forest.
And, in a new political twist, the politicians blamed Opposition leader Raila Odinga for the evictions that have seen about 9,000 people flushed out of the water tower.
Eight leaders from the Rift Valley allied to the ruling Jubilee Party, and who on Thursday toured a section of the forest, denied government involvement in the exercise claiming it was an orchestrated move meant to scuttle Jubilee Party’s 2022 succession plans.
"INHUMANE AND POLITICAL"
The legislators attributed plans to evict people from the Mau forest to the closing of ranks between Mr Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta. They accused Mr Odinga of being behind the evictions.
This comes hardly a day after Senator Gideon Moi’s KANU party led by secretary general Nick Salat waded into the evictions and termed them as "inhumane" and political.
In an interview with the Nation, Mr Salat said the evictions should be stopped until the government engages the settlers and finds them an alternative settlement. The criticism appeared to have opened a new battlefront between Deputy President William Ruto and his critics in the younger Moi’s Kanu.
Addressing hundreds of settlers evicted from the Maasai Mau section of the forest yesterday, the leaders, led by Senate Majority leader Kipchumpa Murkomen, said the President and his deputy were not aware of the evictions and claimed the opposition leader had an hand in it. “There are those people who came into government through the window with an agenda to remove people from the forest in order to embarrass the Jubilee government,” he said. Mr Murkomen was accompanied by Bomet Senator Christopher Langat, MPs Johana Ngeno(Emurua Dikirr), Ronald Tonui (Bomet Central), Beatrice Kones (Bomet East), Nelson Koech (Belgut), Japhet Kiptergech (Buret), Women Rep Lis Chelule (Nakuru) and Joyce Korir (Bomet).
Mr Murkomen, who announced he was sent to tour the forest by President Uhuru Kenyatta, asked illegal settlers from Kosia and Nkoben areas to go back to their homes immediately.
“I have word from President Kenyatta, and his deputy William Ruto…they sent me to tell you to go back and we will tomorrow come back here and deliver iron sheets from government for you to rebuild your houses,” he said. The Elgeyo Marakwet Senator castigated Narok county commissioner George Natembeya and the chief conservator of forests Monicah Kalenda for ordering the evictions, vowing to make sure the two were summoned to the Senate Committee on Security to explain where they got the orders from.
The legislators threatened 300 officers comprising Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Narok county government rangers, regular and administration police with disciplinary action for conducting the exercise and using force on innocent settlers.
In 2009, DP Ruto opposed a similar eviction order and accused then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga of orchestrating a crackdown meant to score points geared “at some conference in Copenhagen.” He referred to the global summit on climate change in the Danish capital.
Mr Raila and his allies have often claimed that the Mau issue was raised to deny him the Kalenjin support.
Interestingly, late last month , Mr Ruto while on a two days tour of the area, appeared to have given a directive for those who had gone beyond the boundary line to be evicted. Speaking at Sogoo High School,in Narok South, the Deputy President supported the eviction of forest encroachers: “In the Mau Forest we have a clear cutline. All those beyond the boundary line who have encroached the forest must move out. Mimi sitaki mchezo (I am not joking),” said DP Ruto. It is after the remarks that the evictions started.
At least 12,000 illegal settlers are targeted in the evictions that started last week. A multi-agency team of Kenya Forest Service, Administration Police and Kenya Wildlife Service are involved.
The DP said the government would issue title deeds to settlers and rebuild 15 schools that were demolished in the 2005 eviction but said that those who have encroached the key water tower will be evicted. Mr Ruto said the government has allocated Sh60million for to ensure the schools re-open.