The ongoing Mau Forest evictions pose a problem for Deputy President William Ruto who already faces a fresh rebellion in his Rift Valley bastion.
The crackdown on illegal settlement —to save the water tower — has opened a new battlefront between the DP and his critics.
A group of lawmakers has faulted the evictions that they call harsh and want those removed compensated. They say houses are torched and people threatened.
There are fears the government’s decision to flush out illegal settlers could ignite a confrontation that could hurt the DP.
A falling out among the region’s leaders could strike a blow for Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and his loyalists. Gideon is battling for the Rift Valley vote ahead of 2022.
Before last year’s election, Ruto toured Narok and assured residents they would not be evicted.
Some leaders from the region have now said the operation is harsh, ill-timed and part of political machinations in which settlers are used as pawns.
“We don’t understand why he [Ruto] has turned around to lead the evictions,” Kanu secretary general Nick Salat said yesterday.
Salat, a key Moi ally, said the DP was reneging on his promise to the families after he told them a caveat on ownership and validity of land titles had been lifted.
“Other families evicted more than 10 years ago from Kuresoi North and South constituencies have yet to be compensated,” he said.
Last month, Ruto ordered settlers to conserve the 675,000-acre forest — the largest water tower in East and Central Africa.
“Those who live inside the forest will be moved out. We have planted tea to separate the forest and the settlement area. We have to conserve our environment,” Ruto had said at an inter-denominational church service in Narok.
His remarks were a stark contrast to his vehement objection to previous government’s plans to flush out illegal settlers.
Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui said the evictions are inhumane. He said the families have no alternative land and suffer in the chilly weather.
“The weather is not favourable at all, especially for children. We all know July and August are cold and rainy. If we continue this way, we’ll be endangering their lives,” Tonui said.
Court of Appeal victories by rebels Alfred Keter (Nandi hills) and Kangongo Bowen (Marakwet East) — Ruto’s critics — could complicate matters further if they rally behind the families.
The pair, backed by Silas Tiren of Moiben, has promised to fight for the interests of the region.
In 2009, Ruto had opposed eviction of squatters from the Mau and accused then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga of orchestrating a crackdown meant to score points geared “at some conference in Copenhagen.” He referred to a global summit on climate change in the Danish capital.
Raila and his allies later said the Mau issue was raised to deny him the Kalenjin support. The community had voted for him in the 2007.
The ex-PM has never regained his hold on the region since then. But his fortunes could improve if Ruto is blamed for the evictions.