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July 20, 2018

Postpone Mau Forest eviction over chilly weather, MP urges

Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officer looks at the massive destruction of the Maasai Mau Forest in Kosian area of Narok South sub county./KIPLAGATA KIRUI
Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officer looks at the massive destruction of the Maasai Mau Forest in Kosian area of Narok South sub county./KIPLAGATA KIRUI

A Jubilee MP wants the state to shelve plans of evicting squatters from Mau Forest because of chilly weather.

Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui told the Star it would be inhumane to kick them out when they have no alternative land to settle on.

He said small children and the elderly people would suffer a lot if the families are thrown out in the cold.

"The weather is unfavourable for eviction. It is raining, people’s lives will be endangered,” Tonui said.

The MP sympathised with the squatters who have lived in the forest for many years.

Tonui said unlike in previous evictions where people were allocated land or given cash, this time the state has not planned well and is rushing to remove people from the forest.

"It seems no one cares about the people. They are hurriedly being chased away,” he said.

Tonui wondered why the state was eager to flush people out of Mau yet there are other key forests countrywide that are occupied by squatters.

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The MP said if the government was not careful, it risks creating a humanitarian crisis because thousands of people would be left homeless.

Tonui said most of people who have been evicted have titles, yet the state did not consider that.

The MP appealed to well-wishers to donate food and offer shelter for the squatters as a solution is being sought.

At least 12,000 illegal settlers living on 146,000 hectares of forest land are being targeted in the eviction that started last week.

A multi-agency team of Kenya Forest Service, Administration Police and Kenya Wildlife Service are involved in the operation.

On June 26, hundreds of squatters began moving out of the forest following the eviction threat.

They carried their belongings and left behind the temporary shelters they had called home for several years.

Among the affected settlements are Kipchoge, Ararwet and Kaplelach where squatters have no legal claim over land.

Some condemned the eviction, saying they were not given adequate time to move out.

“We learnt that we were supposed to leave through the press,” said John Kibet from Kipchoge area.

Acting KFS chief conservator of forests Monica Kalenda said the squatters have homes and land elsewhere. They invaded the forest to burn charcoal and graze their animals, she said.

The eviction is aimed at halting further degradation of the forest and halt activities that hamper conservation of the vital water tower.

The forest has been devastated despite a national logging moratorium. The complex is the catchment source for Lake Victorisa and the White Nile.

It is also the source of numerous rivers, which carry Mau’s water throughout Western Kenya from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Natron in the south.

On June 14, KFS officials took journalists on a tour of the forest. From the outside, everything appeared in order but a kilometre into the forest loggers were at work, felling valuable cedar trees.

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