The politics of the Mau Forest sunk ODM leader Raila Odinga’s presidential ambitions in 2013.
The Rift Valley was Raila ’s gift to power and because of the region’s total support in 2007 Raila had his best shot at the presidency, but a dispute arose and he was forced to share power with PNU's Mwai Kibaki. He was named Kenya's second Prime Minister but without executive power after weeks of post-election violence.
But the region also became Raila’s Waterloo when Deputy President William Ruto fought the PM’s efforts to save the Mau Forest.
The supremacy war between two former allies saw the two trade a series of accusations, which climaxed in Raila sacking Ruto from the Cabinet because of the maize scandal. Kibaki swiftly intervened and reinstated Ruto, who from there on started to turn Rift Valley against Raila.
Ruto then teamed up with Uhuru Kenyatta in 2012 and, with that action, Raila painfully lost the populous region’s support. Uhuru and Ruto then embarked on turning the ICC cases in their favour by painting Raila as a puppet of the West as the three campaigned in 2013.
The plan to conserve the Mau Complex had three components.
The first aim was to stop deforestation of the Mau immediately, since the logging that was going on was unsustainable. The second objective was to reforest the Mau and the third and final part of the plan was to compensate genuine landowners or people like the Ogiek, who had lived in the forest for years.
When the donor-funded plan was launched, President Uhuru Kenyatta was the Minister for Finance and was said to have delayed or refused to allocate money for the resettlement of those evicted from the forest.
The Cabinet would direct the release of the money and even fix dates and Treasury would confirm that they had the cash to facilitate the process, only for the money to be delayed.
Because the Prime Minister was leading the exercise, Ruto would go round the region telling his supporters how ungrateful Raila was and why the region should stop supporting him.
The Mau Forest Complex acts as a natural water tower for Kenya, storing water during the rainy season and releasing it during the dry season. Approximately 10 million people—not to mention countless wildlife species—depend on the rivers fed by the forest complex. But human activity, including agriculture, logging, and settlements, has reduced the Mau Forest to a quarter of what it once was, disrupting the forest’s role in storing and distributing water to outlying areas.
The African Wildlife Foundation, together with the Kenya Forest Service, the Community Forest Association, and other stakeholders, are reforesting areas of the Mau Forest with indigenous trees, including a forest block in the southeast section of the Complex that serves as the headwaters for the Lake Nakuru National Park.
The reforestation kicked off with the planting of 25,000 seedlings in early 2011. Less than two years later, another 160,000 indigenous trees were planted.