Vested interests disrupt Eastern Mau resettling - official

Clashes in the water tower over land have claimed a number of lives.

In Summary

•Influential people have illegally taken possession of large chunks of forest and resist eviction; they don't live there but lease out the land.

• Every legal settler will get five alternative acres but that will leave vested political interests high and dry, so they obstruct resettlement.

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Lands CS Farida Karoney and Environment's Keriako Tobiko at Lake Naivasha Resort on September 21, 2020.
SAVE THE THE FOREST: Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Lands CS Farida Karoney and Environment's Keriako Tobiko at Lake Naivasha Resort on September 21, 2020.

Influential people with political interests are blocking government efforts to resolve longstanding land conflicts in the Eastern Mau forest.

"We are facing a challenge implementing the government's noble resettlement efforts in the Eastern Mau Forest bloc because of political interests," a senior official involved in the resettlement told the Star.

The officer, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said resettlement is being slowed down due to dishonest interests.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had wanted resettlement resolved before the end of the year.

Every settler with genuine land documents is to be given five alternative acres after they move out.

Individuals with huge chunks of acreage held and farmed by others will lose land and money, even if boundaries are shifted.

A Nakuru Environment and Land court issued conservatory orders dated December 18, 2020, restraining KFS, their agents and a multi-agency team from conducting land audits, adjudication, surveys, placing beacons and issuing titles within Mau Eastern block

The affected blocks are Mariashoni, Nessuit, Bararget, Kiptunga, Likia, Sururu, and Teret.

A case was filed last year challenging the evictions of settlers from the Eastern Mau forest.

On August 7, last year, officers from the Ministries of Lands and Environment were deployed to re-establish the 1997 forest boundary cutline. The aim was to implement the judgment of the African Court on Human Rights and People's Rights.

The multi-agency team chaired by Interior CS Fred Matiang’i had last year been given two months to resolve the problem.

The technical teams from the ministries while in Eastern Mau realised the boundary had not been demarcated and a new boundary had to be surveyed based on the 1997 cutline.

The areas along the cutline include Sururu, Likia, Teret, Nessuit, Mariashoni and Bararget forest stations.

The work commenced from Sururu through Bararget, about 83km along the boundary.

In Logoman forest station, the cutline has affected Teret and Nessuit where inter-communal clashes among the Ogiek and Kipsigis, Maasai and Kipsigis have taken place recently.

In Likia forest station, the cutline has affected the extension block on a straight line up to the border of Teret forest.

Ethnic clashes between Maasai and Kipsigis are insecurity threats normally reported.

Cattle rustling from the Maasai and Kipsigis is also normal.

In Sururu, the cutline runs all the way up to Enderit block.

On May 26, 2017, the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights in Arusha ruled in favour of the Ogiek community.

Following an eight-year legal battle, the court found the government violated seven separate articles of the African Charter in a land rights case that dates back to colonial times.

In October last year, the government said it was considering extending the Eastern Mau forest boundary to accommodate warring settlers.

Rift Valley regional coordinator George Natembeya said the government was trying to accommodate all the settlers.

“We will try and adjust the cutline to accommodate everybody. We will have a Cabinet paper before matters are taken to the National Assembly,” he said.

"The boundary is not cast in stone," Natembeya said.

He said the land registry should be closed because people were trying to beat the system in a "frenzy", getting title deeds backdated to 1977.

The Ogiek, 35, 000 of whom were plaintiffs in this landmark case, live in the Mau Forest Complex in the Rift Valley.

They are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and among the most marginalised indigenous peoples in Kenya.

They alleged eight violations of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture by the Kenyan government under the African Charter, to which Kenya is a signatory.

Since the Kenyan government had not disputed that the Ogiek have occupied lands in the Mau Forest since time immemorial, the court ruled that they have the right to occupy, use and enjoy their ancestral lands.

The Eastern Mau Forest block is one of the 22 forest blocks that form Mau Forest Complex.

It was proclaimed as forest reserve through  proclamation Number 57 of April 30, 1941, and declared a central forest reserve through legal notice No. 174 of 1964.

At gazettement, the forest measured 160,639 acres.

Eastern Mau forest block is one of the unique, mountainous areas with rich forest biodiversity, productivity, ecology and provision of environmental services.

It is also an important bird area, hosting several species of conservation concern such as the Cisticola Aberdare, a bird endemic to Kenya.

Other species of conservation concern include yellow-backed duiker, the African golden cat and Capys cupreus, an endemic butterfly.

The Eastern Mau forest block is a source of the Mara River whose source is the Enapuyapuyi wetlands situated in Kiptunga forest station.

Mara River Basin and ecosystem is a world-famous site for viewing the spectacular wildebeest migration and other tourist attractions.

Other Rivers emanating from this forest block are the Molo, Njoro, Rongai, Nessuit, Makalia and Enderit which feed Lake Nakuru and Lake Baringo.

Despite its importance, the forest block is faced with many challenges,  the most pressing  being human encroachment.

The Kenya Forest Service says settlement within Eastern Mau did not adhere to the procedures of altering forest boundaries.

"As early as 1994, the purported settlements where titles were issued in the Eastern Mau Forest block had commenced even before alteration of forest boundaries was effected.

"The illegal settlements started without prior alteration of the forest boundary, survey and demarcation of the intended settlement boundary within Eastern Mau forest," KFS says in a document.

KFS says the Ogiek community was uncomfortable with allocation of the forest land to other communities.

They protested and sought court intervention against the settlement in 1997.

In 2001, the then Minister of environment attempted to gazette 87,230.70 acres, part of Eastern Mau block through gazette notice No 889 of February 16, 2001, and legal notice No. 142 of 2001 affecting 87,230 acres of forest reserve.

The Ogiek community challenged the alteration of boundaries.

Prior to the contest of legal notice No 142 of 2001 and the 1997 injunction, nine irregular settlements schemes had been established within the Eastern Mau forest block.

These are Sururu, Likia, Teret, Nessuit, Elburgon, Mariashoni and Bararget.

(Edited by V. Graham)