NEWS 2009

November 29, 2009 

Why MPs are keen to keep Mau flame alive

By Juma Kwayera

The standoff in Government over Mau forest eviction is boiling down to tussle for political support with the fate of evictees and conservation relegated to the backburner.

Party National Unity and Orange Democratic Movement MPs who turned up for the fundraising for the peasants at Panafric Hotel, Nairobi, where Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta was the chief guest, were apparently motivated by a desire to isolate Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The harambee was largely an assembly of landowners and speculators, who two UN agencies say are determined to scuttle the conservation report to coerce the Government into buying them out.

A comprehensive report in custody of the UN could soon be released to the public to illustrate the extent of impunity.

The 200kg classified document, portions of which The Standard on Sunday has had access to, shades new light on the controversy that pits Raila against a section of Rift Valley MPs, a number who the report says are beneficiaries of the 1997 excision of the largest water tower in Kenya.

The Report of the Government Taskforce on the Conservation of Mau Forests Complex, which was adopted by the Cabinet and Parliament in July after minor amendments, details the scramble for the water tower by ministers in the current and past Governments. 

The complex has dwindled to about 350,000 hectares, from 700,000 at independence. Portions were hived off to reward and retain political supporters.

Most significantly, it demonstrates how former State House operatives that included Permanent Secretaries, provincial administrators, magistrates and high court judges, civic leaders and ministers were behind ‘ballooning’ of a settlement scheme set aside for the Ogiek — a community threatened with extinction and which identifies the forest as their cradle. ‘Ballooning’ is used in the report to describe illegal extensions, which translate into nearly 19,000 hectares of land in southwest Mau settlement scheme, besides nearly 15,000 others that are designated as irregular in Maasai Mau Settlement Scheme that was part of trust land under the custody of Narok County Council.

It says: "Prominent Government officials and political leaders were allocated land beyond what ordinary and deserving allottees were allotted … in some cases companies (belonging to political operators) were also allocated large land parcels."

The prominent people the report mentions are among politicians who are crusading for "humane resettlement of the peasants". 

The companies and group ranches in Maasai Mau Settlement Scheme identified in the report are all linked to former State House operatives — some are sitting MPs from Rift Valley.

The eviction of near 20,000 people is also proving to be ample political fodder for rivals in ODM and PNU, which is keen to wrest the region from the grasp of the PM. 

Vocal voices 

Details of excision of the forest and land ownership in the Mau point to a correlation between the most vocal voices in the conservation controversy and illegal settlements. The report, which Rift Valley MPs now disown after voting for it in Parliament, names Roads Minister Franklin Bett as one of the main beneficiaries, having acquired a huge parcel of land at Kapkorich in southwest Mau Forest.

The first phase of eviction took place in southwest region, where the report links Bett to joint ownership of Sambret Tea Company, which lies on a 212 hectares of land excised from forestland in 1997, when Bett was Comptroller of State House. Also listed as stakeholders in the company are Kuresoi MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, former Unilever Tea Corporate Affairs Director Reuben Yegon, former spymaster Noah arap Too and Bett’s successor at State House the late Wilson Chepkwony, who the report links to ownership LR9932.

A former Cabinet minister in the Kanu administration is said to have been allocated land in southwest Mau in the Mauche Settlement Scheme. The minister was allocated 10.4 hectares of Plot No124, which has since been sold to third parties.

The peasants are piling pressure on the politicians who took their land to resettle them.

The report says a number of irregular acquisitions were given to the peasants in exchange for what they owned where they originally came from.

Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa says the politicians who are inciting the peasants to stay put are under pressure from evicted settlers to give them back the parcels of land they traded off before moving to Mau.

"These people came from their homes. They are willing to return to those homes, but politicians are inciting them to ask for compensation," says Dr Wekesa, whose ministry is spearheading Mau reclamation. 

Wood products 

Roads Minister is also linked to Frankway Sawmill, situated on a parcel of land on the periphery of Kericho tea-growing zones, which the report says has not been surveyed. It says the registration of the parcel of land was irregular. 

The report says the sawmill was the source of wood products to a timber firm owned by a senior PNU minister from the Mt Kenya region. 

The minister played a leading role in the Wednesday fundraiser at Panafric Hotel to collect money for evicted Mau settlers who, at the behest of local politicians, have refused to leave the forest without compensation. 

The biggest harvest of irregularly acquired land went to former Lands Commissioner, who is Baringo Central MP, Sammy Komen Mwaita.

In what it describes case of impunity, the report demonstrates how Mwaita, one of the harshest critics of the Mau evictions, has used seven different names against one national identity card number to acquire 77 hectares.

Asked about name variation against one national identity card number, the MP admitted to using different names to register what he owns.

He put what he owns in the forest at 23 hectares, saying, "I was given the land by the Government. Like any other Kenyan I have a right to own land."

The UN agencies accuse the landowners of inciting the peasants against moving out of the forest. Mwaita, however, was not categorical.

"Our stand on Mau evictions is based on succession with representation concept," he told The Standard on Sunday.

The report accuses the MP of blatant abuse of office during his tenure as Commissioner of Lands. It was then that about 54 hectares of the forest was excised.

The Rift Valley, a cosmopolitan province with a population of more than 10 million people, is turning out to be critical to current political realignments that are emerging as the country finds itself in a premature pre-election mode ahead of the 2012 General Election.

The Mau forest eviction saga has deepened the already uneasy relationship between the Office of the Prime Minister and Rift Valley MPs. 

Various Government agencies that have been camping in Mau to assist the evictees corroborated reports that the number of bogus settlers, encouraged by MPs, has been swelling as the clamour for compensation grows. 

A Ministry of Forestry official, who spoke off record, says the Government is still unable to provide humanitarian assistance to the people camping on roadsides when its officers came up against resistance from the local leaders.

"The camps swell during the day. The number of people asking for compensation is growing," says the official. Wekesa