(Xinhua) -- The Mau forest complex which is the
largest water tower in Kenya has become a flashpoint as state
officers and lawmakers take divergent positions regarding
eviction of settlers in the biodiversity hotspot.
Eviction of communities who settled in
Mau forest following a presidential directive to boost its
conservation has elicited sharp reaction from elected
representatives in the counties.
The lawmakers affiliated with the
ruling Jubilee Party have protested the manner in which eviction
of Mau settlers has been conducted by administrators from the
Kipchumba Murkomen, the leader of
majority in the Senate, during a visit to Mau forest condemned
the ongoing eviction of settlers terming it a violation of their
The senator from Elgeyo Marakwet
County in north rift region faulted state officials who ordered
removal of settlers from their farms, alleging that they had
title deeds to prove ownership of land on the edges of Mau
“We condemn in the strongest terms the
forceful removal of families that have legal ownership of land
in the Mau forest and urge the state to intervene speedily
before a crisis erupt,” Murkomen said.
He was accompanied by lawmakers from
the Rift Valley counties of Kericho and Bomet where majority of
Mau settlers trace their roots.
The political leaders while addressing
a public rally on the sidelines of Mau forest complex vowed to
push for a halt on the eviction exercise while promising support
to communities to help them construct new homes.
As the Mau eviction exercise widened
the rift within the ruling Jubilee coalition, top officials
moved with speed to clarify that it was in line with the party’s
manifesto to promote conservation of water towers.
Raphael Tuju, the Secretary General of
Jubilee Party and Minister without Portfolio, downplayed the
likelihood of a major fallout as a result of eviction of
settlers from one of the most strategic water towers in the
“Our position is that removal of
settlers who encroached illegally on the Mau forest is purely a
conservation issue that should not be politicized at this
moment,” Tuju told reporters on Sunday.
“The top party hierarchy including the
president and his deputy have reaffirmed their commitment to
conserve this national asset and we believe sideshows are not in
the best interest of the country’s forest conservation agenda,”
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his
deputy William Ruto had earlier endorsed eviction of settlers
from Mau forest complex that occupies an area of 273,300
hectares to pave way for its restoration amid rampant depletion.
Conservation of this ecosystem that is
source of rivers which support millions of livelihoods in
downstream counties of Rift Valley and Western Kenya, remains a
hot button issue due to political interference.
The Mau forest that was for centuries
inhabited by indigenous communities, who were hunters and bee
keepers, is currently home to a large multitude of new comers
who were allocated land there by post-independence regimes.
Massive clearance of this forest
complex to pave way for settlers has put the livelihoods of
downstream communities on the line thanks to drying of rivers
and siltation of hydro-power dams.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) in a
report launched in July 2008 said that Kenya could lose
nature-based assets worth 300 million U.S. dollars if
destruction of Mau forest was not contained.
In 2009, the Kenyan government and
UNEP launched a 400 million dollar appeal to help save Mau
forest complex that had already lost an estimated 107,000
hectares to illegal settlements.
A taskforce to fast-track restoration
of degraded portions of Mau forest comprising senior
policymakers, industry executives, representatives of bilateral
agencies and civil society is already in place though its
activities have been muted due to political rhetoric.
Benson Ochieng, a Nairobi based
environmental lawyer, said that politicization of Mau forest
conservation is detrimental to Kenya’s green and sustainability