Opposition chief Raila Odinga has spoken out about the environmental crisis in the country and the fight for Mau Forest that cost him politically.
He described the ravaging drought as symptomatic of Kenyan politics, which “is terribly wrong”.
Recalling how he was viciously fought for spearheading the conservation of the Mau Forest, the country’s largest water tower, Raila regretted that policy was sacrificed at the altar of politics, putting the future of Kenyans in jeopardy.
Raila claimed that Deputy President William Ruto’s now-defunct political machine, URP, was built out of stage-managed anger against the efforts to reclaim and conserve the Mau Forest.
“Now URP is dead and people are suffering. We can only cry for our country,” Raila told the Star in an exclusive interview.
He went on: “When policy is compromised because of who is pushing it and for [the next] election, then we have a serious problem as a country.”
The former Prime Minister spoke amid biting hunger, severe drought and drying rivers that have put over 3.4 million lives on the line.
The conservation of rhe Mau Complex was a Cabinet decision but President Mwai Kibaki took a low profile as his Mt Kenya MPs ganged up with Ruto’s men from the Rift Valley to wage political war against Raila.
In November 2009, President Uhuru Kenyatta, then Raila’s deputy PM and Finance Minister, attended a controversial meeting hosted by Ruto to raise funds for the Mau Forest evictees as the duo began their first steps to the 2013 General Election.
The Mau Forest turned into a frosty affair for Raila, in addition to the charges against Ruto at the International Criminal Court. It split ODM as Raila lost fanatical support that he enjoyed among the Kalenjin community from the 2007 election.
“The Mau Forest was one of the most consultative processes,” Raila recalled on Wednesday. But it [the current crisis] is not something we can celebrate about and just say I was right and they were wrong. The situation is too serious for that.”
In October 2016, Raila warned that the Sh6.8 billion Northern Collector Tunnel in Murang’a County would turn the Murang’a, Garissa, Ukambani and Tana River Delta regions into deserts, within five years of completion. The government dismissed the warning.
Former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale claims the DP and his allies then ran an extremist campaign that made the Mau conservation impossible.
“I was in Parliament then. Paul Sang, Joshua Kuttuny, Isaac Ruto and the current Deputy President ran rabid on the issue of the Mau. They wanted people to be allowed inside the Mau to decimate it,” Khalwale said on NTV on Tuesday.
NASA politicians have now turned their artillery on Ruto, saying he too must pay the political price for opposing the reclamation of the Mau.
“If Raila paid the price for his stand on the Mau, we would also like Deputy President William Ruto to also pay the price when he attempts to become President for the havoc he has caused this country,” said Khalwale.
But in a rejoinder, Ruto’s communication secretary David Mugonyi said the DP was not against conservation of the Mau Forest but unplanned eviction “by individuals who were pursuing a narrow political agenda”.
“Mau Forest cannot be the cause of what you call drought havoc. The current drought is a result of wanton destruction of forest cover all over the country,” Mugonyi told the Star.
Mau is the largest of the country’s five water towers. The others are Cherangany, Mt Kenya, the Aberdares and Mt Elgon, and the latter is hit by a wave of insecurity.
Last week, the DP suspended logging in all forests in the country for the next three months as the devastating effects of the environment sank home.
“I am today stopping the felling of trees in all state and community forests over the next 90 days. We cannot continue with this yet our rivers are drying up at alarming levels,” Ruto said in Bungoma County on Saturday.
Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, the new face of the Mau conservation crusade, described the destruction in the Mau Forest as “terrible”.
He told the Star that a private investor has set up a huge plant for mass production of charcoal inside the forest.
“We are no longer talking about 2-3 bags. These guys are doing a full acre, so they produce about 15,000-20,000 bags of charcoal daily. The rivers are drying,” he said.
The first-term Senator said the Ewaso Nyiro River is completely dry, while the Mara River is slowly drying. “All these rivers drain into Lake Victoria, so it’s not only affecting local people but the entire country,” ole Kina said.
The legislator said he doubted that the Jubilee administration was genuine in its efforts to reclaim the forest and claimed almost 80 per cent of the leaders in government, including MPs and Cabinet Secretaries, are involved in forest encroachment activities.
Raila warned that the effects of the destruction of the environment had been forewarned, including jeopardizing tea farming in Kericho and endangering the famous Masai Mara Park.
Thousands of livestock have died over the last few months as the drought became more intense. Among the worst hit areas are Narok, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Kajiado and Kilifi.
Similarly, in other parts of the country, several permanent rivers are fading away into trickles.
These include the rivers Nzoia, Lwakhakha, Sio, Yala, Isukhu, Munang’uba, Khalaba, Musila and Lusumu.
The Sondu Miriu hydro-power station, for instance, can barely build up enough water to run its turbines, while the River Nyando is completely dry in some sections, dealing a severe blow to rice farming in the Ahero and West Kano irrigation schemes.