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January 19, 2019

KFS fights to reclaim 1,000 acres of Karura

National Lands Commission (NLC) Vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya-Mukolwo during a public hearing on Karura forest at ACK gardens yesterday. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
National Lands Commission (NLC) Vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya-Mukolwo during a public hearing on Karura forest at ACK gardens yesterday. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

The Kenya Forest Service wants the more than 1,000 acres hived off Karura forest returned.

KFS says four years after the death of environmentalist Prof Wangari Maathai, land-grabbers are back and are targetting even the sections the Nobel Laureate had helped repossess.

KFS has now written to the national land commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri asking him to revoke the illegal title deeds.

NLC last week said it has started reviewing those grants and leases.

Karura Forest was protected in 1932 and originally measured 1,063 hectares (2,627 acres), making it the largest preserve in Nairobi. A legal notice of 1956 excised 18.62 hectares of the forest for field headquarters of survey leaving the forest with 1044.08 hectares. However, illegal developers have over the years cut the actual forest’s size almost in half. Only 564 hectares (1,394 acres) remain, according to the 2005 land report by lawyer Paul Ndung’u.

“According to our records, Karura forest covers approximately 1041.091 hectares despite excising 2.783 hectares for ICRAF in 1986,” says Evans Aluda, KFS officer in charge of survey and mapping.

The gazetted forest includes 23.8 hectares being utilised by Muthaiga golf course, 8.7 hectares utilised by Utalii houses and another 5.8 hectares currently housing the Kenya Institute of Survey and Mapping.

Aluda says said the attempt to hive off nearly 50 per cent of the forest was conceived in 1996, and culminated in the issuance of freehold title covering approximately 564.1 hectares.

“This was issued to PS treasury to hold it in trust for PS environment and natural resources. This title left out an area of 477 Ha which has been illegally and irregularly allocated to public institutions and private developers,” Aluda says.

KFS says apart from being a carbon sink for Nairobi, Karura is also a catchment area for Rui Ruaka, Karura, Getathuru and Thiririka rivers, streams and springs.

He said they are now challenging the illegal hiving off of the 50 per cent of the forest.

“We are challenging how it was allocated as the procedure is illegal as it is (the forest) gazetted and hence protected,” he says.

He appeared before the NLC last week accompanied by KFS legal officer Laura Yego.

Aluda says Karura forest is critical in providing a clean environment to Nairobi residents as it acts as a carbon dioxide sink for the city population, hence should be guarded jealously.

“This is in complete contrast with the intended purpose of hiving the areas for residential purposes,” he says.

“Inside the forest are Karura caves, family trails and beautiful scenic waterfalls hence the reason it has been fenced with electric fence.”

Fencing was sponsored by the Friends of Karura Association, who co-manage the forest.

“The forest sees an average of 14,000 visitors per month. It has provided jobs to 28 scouts, five gate collection clerks, environment officer and many casual jobs. The government has an inalienable duty to protect Karura forest against harmful actions,” Aluda points out.

NLC vice chairperson Abigael Mukolwo said most of the “owners” of Karura plots do not know where “their” land is because the forest is fenced.

“Alienated government lands are public land and they can only be allocated to individual, company after they are made available for allocation. We will determine legality of the parcels and make decision,” Mukolwo said.

She said a forest has to be degazetted before it is re-allocated.

Other environmentalists also want the illegal titles revoked.

Lilian Muchungi, the community mobilisation officer for Green Belt Movement – the organisation Wangari Maathai founded - says grabbing of Karura forest gathered pace in 1990s.

“When we do not have trees especially at a city like ours. pollution of air is likely to be an a big issue and that is why we have gone a long way in protecting this forest,” she said.

Muchungi says Nairobi’s industrial area and parts of Eastlands have become are highly polluted.

In March, the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology conducted in partnership with Gothenburg University in Sweden and Columbia University’s Earth Institute released a report showing Nairobi’s air is poisonous and can cause serious ailments including heart and lung diseases as well as cancer.

Muchungi said the study showed that the amount of cancer-causing elements in the air was too high.

She has no sympathy for those duped into buying illegal forest land.

“It is unfortunate that people just buy any piece of land without doing due diligence. Proper search has to be done whenever one is purchasing a piece of land,” she says.

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