NEWS 2009

November 30, 2009

A sickening game, all in the name of Mau


A Kenyan colleague, back in the country for a couple of days, told me of his bemusement on turning on the TV on his arrival at his hotel last weekend to hear Paul Sang denying to those evicted from the Mau that there was a connection between rain and trees. 

Rain, he reportedly explained, comes from the sky. 

Trees, however, are on the ground. Ergo, the lack of rain cannot be explained by a lack of trees.

This is how my colleague confirmed that he was, indeed, back in Kenya. He laughed, but ruefully. 

Either Sang missed the geography classes that the rest of us went through — at primary school; or he has decided that his calling as a parliamentary representative means that he can say whatever he likes to his constituents.

And this is how base the political polarisation over the need to restore the Mau forest complex — our primary water catchment area — has become.

On the surface of things, there should actually be no need for political polarisation at all. 

It is obvious that Kenya’s forest cover — well below the global recommendation — needs to be increased to stave off the negative effects of climate change and ever advancing desertification. 

It is obvious that the Mau forest complex must be prioritised in that effort. 

It is equally obvious that equal attention must be paid to all other Kenyan forests.

That said, it is also true that doing so will necessarily entail the removals of human settlements — particularly on forestlands illegally or wrongly excised. 

It is obvious that effecting those removals will be difficult, particularly where illegal and wrongful excisions have been sold on down, sometimes several times, to Kenyans ill-equipped to find alternatives for themselves.

It is equally obvious that the fate of Kenyans who believe themselves to hold traditional claim to those lands — like the Ogiek in the case of the Mau forest complex — should be determined differently than that of those with later claim. 

But, except for those Ogiek still living purely as forest-dwellers (whose traditional livelihood is not, in fact, damaging to forests), even some of the Ogiek will have to be removed.

Finally, it is obvious that the concerns of those already removed have to be addressed. 

If they had crop ready, they should be allowed to harvest it. 

If their crop is being stolen by the security service personnel in the area, those personnel should be disciplined.

If they have yet to determine new options for themselves, the state should provide them with humanitarian assistance as options are drawn up collectively (meaning, with the support of the state). 

If whatever humanitarian assistance is given is stolen, those involved in the theft — whether from the provincial administration or the security services) — should also be disciplined.

These are basic outlines of the problem, basic propositions from which to start resolving the problem. 

Which is not to imply that resolution is simple — just that it is possible. 

And, resolution being possible, there is absolutely no need for those Kenyans now removed to be used as a political football.

Let us be absolutely clear about this. 

If the emergent, so-called Gikuyu, Kalenjin, Kamba alliance really wanted to assist with finding a resolution, that is the tone that its so-called leaders would all be taking — as opposed to peddling falsehoods about the link between rain and trees. 

Because real leaders would be standing for the nation as a whole in the long-term, as well as for any individual Kenyans affected in the short-term by what the nation as whole requires. 

Real leaders would stand for principle.

So why are the so-called leaders of the so-called Three Ks not taking this tone? 

A tone of seeking resolution where resolution is possible? 

Let us speculate. Could it be that several of them are actually officially and publicly named as being beneficiaries of the illegal and wrongful excisions in the first place? 

Could it be that it is easier to point fingers at the state (because the removals were a state decision, in the national public interest) for the plight of the Kenyans removed than to point fingers at themselves (for having blithely and unconcernedly themselves sold on some of the illegally and wrongfully acquired land to those now being removed)? 

Could it be that they are trading individual responsibility for the far easier option of state responsibility?

So what if the state pays twice — or several times over — for what it should not have lost in the first place? 

It is no skin off their backs. 

But it is skin off ours —because any payments will be with public funds — that is, funds from you and me and every Kenyan who pays taxes (unlike them).

Or is that speculation wrong? 

Could the reason for their warlike tone be something different? 

Warlike although carefully couched in the language of “peace” — “peace” between the impoverished and long-suffering smallholders from both the Gikuyu and the Kalenjin communities in the Rift Valley.

Could it be that the large-scale landholders in the Rift Valley, beneficiaries of both the Kenyatta and the Moi regimes, have found common interests to defend? 

Not just their landholdings — effectively untouchable, as they recently forced parliament to determine, at least without more public cash.

But also their plans for succession in 2012 — plans that might, in fact, unravel dramatically should the wheels of accountability begin to turn with respect to the violence of last year? Could it be, could it be?

Clichés come to mind. But clichés become clichés because they hold kernels of truth. 

The mediation agreements have been termed “an elite consensus.” 

But interests have shifted and so the consensus is shifting too. 

And the paramount motivation for the emerging consensus is impunity for last year (and all the years preceding). 

Not to mention succession. 

If those removed from the Mau forest complex in the national public interest can be the football in this new phase of the political game, that is what the so-called leaders of the so-called Three Ks will try to make them.

Kenyans are not stupid — it is just that so many of us are desperate. 

But, even in our desperation, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be kicked around. 

Let us resolve what needs to be resolved (the immediate and long-term needs of those removed from the Mau forest complex) and stall the possibility of this match at least.

And not all so-called leaders of the so-called Three Ks have the same interests to defend. 

They would do well to disassociate themselves now — instead of, amoral and sheeplike, looking to hitch their individual political fortunes on such an immoral consensus. 

The ride might be rockier than they think. Accountability is coming. And succession is far from guaranteed.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission