The dramatic evictions from the Mau and the resultant political fallout are back to the news. In fact, it was only a matter of time before it did. Caught in the middle of it are thousands of people huddled in uncomfortable spaces staring at the bleakness of their situation. It also happens to be the coldest time of the year, and what a bad time to sleep under the stars. And the little children are bearing the brunt, unable to go to school and unable to eat, sleep and play comfortably. In the political din that has followed their eviction, nobody has mentioned their plight of the evictees. They have been left to their own devices.
The issue of the Mau is extremely complex, emotive and controversial. The politicisation of the matter by opposing camps is further worsening the situation. What is lost in the avalanche of reasons, is the actual truth about the situation. We must, therefore, debunk the myths and half-truths that nobody cares to speak about.
HALF-TRUTH #1: IT’S ABOUT CONSERVATION
This is perhaps the biggest and most inconvenient half-truth. There is no bigger myth than the fact that the evictions were carried out for the sake of the environmental conservation. The encroachment of the Mau was the result of political maneuvering on the part of certain politicians, and the settlement of thousands of peasant farmers was meant to achieve certain political ends. Conversely, the eviction of the same people is also meant to achieve certain political ends. When President Mwai Kibaki asked Prime Minister Raila Odinga to undertake the eviction of Mau settlers, it was meant to achieve certain political ends and the same is true about what Uhuru is doing. If it was about conservation, Uhuru Kenyatta would have ordered the evictions on his first month in office in April 2013. Or better still, he would have ordered for evictions while on the campaign trail last year. But he campaigned there and said nothing. Besides, it was his government that built schools and roads there and also drew the ‘cut-line’, even planting tea around the exclusion zone. The convenient excuse for eviction then becomes conservation, which is just a half-truth.
HALF-TRUTH # 2: THIS IS NOT ABOUT TRIBE
By far the largest majority of the settlers are migrant Kipsigis from the neighbouring Bomet and Kericho counties. Their coming and settling in the predominantly Maasai Narok county (from as early as the 1920s) has consistently unsettled the Maasai for many years. They have also upset the delicate political scales in Narok and already a number of them sit in the county assembly and also in the National Assembly. The name ‘Kipsigis’ means the reproducing ones, and they have a much higher birth rate than the Maasai. Population pressure in Kericho and Bomet saw many of them migrate to Narok. Many also went there due to the eviction from their own lands to create the tea industry in one of those documented historical injustices that the nation is not keen on addressing. But the reality is that at their current rate of growth, Narok could be another Kipsigis county in the foreseeable future. The influx of Kipsigis migrants has profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in Narok and the fact that the Emurua Dikirr parliamentary seat is under a Kipsigis, Johana Ng’eno, is part of this emerging reality for the Maasai. Narok South, where the many evictions are taking place, is already under threat of falling into the migrants. This is why many a Maa politician is overtly or soundlessly indifferent the eviction.
HALF-TRUTH #3: IT IS NOT ABOUT RUTO
Deputy President William Ruto has lately come under sustained pressure by those against his presidential bid. Still smarting from a public (and private) declaration by some of his erstwhile allies that they would not support his 2022 bid, it is difficult to imagine the evictions were not meant to worsen his political woes. So sustained was the pressure that he had to publicly state that nobody owed him anything and that he had no political debts owed to him.
His statement was considered the declaration of a détente with his political enemies if only to ease the pressure. But the evictions followed immediately, knowing full well what it meant to him and what had happened in the past. In fact, a video clip of Uhuru castigating Raila about the Mau evictions and even leading a fundraiser for Mau evictees in 2009, has been doing the rounds on social media. He even said he had even been cautioned against attending the function but he gallantly defied Kibaki. He probably did not understand that Kibaki was coldly killing Raila politically. Now the shoe is on the other foot. How predictable.
HALF-TRUTH #4: IT IS NOT ABOUT THE HANDSHAKE
In March this year, around about the time of the handshake, President Kenyatta instructed Ruto and the newly appointed Environment CS, Keriako Tobiko, to embark on a Save-the-Environment mission. They issued a logging ban and proceeded to stop the charcoal business, among other edicts. They never spoke about evictions. Then the chemistry between Uhuru and Ruto went bad after the handshake and the President now began to cannibalize his deputy.
It began with what was thinly veiled as the war on corruption and lifestyle audit. Then followed the humiliating arrest of senior Kalenjin managers at the Kenya Power much to the ire of Energy CS Charles Keter. Just before the dust settled, came the Mau evictions. Then a pattern began to emerge. It became clear that Ruto’s political fortunes were deliberately being pulled south. Senate Majority leader and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, seeing the potential political damage, flew into the Mau and tried to stop the evictions. But it became quite apparent to him that he was fighting a useless war. There was someone much more powerful than he, that was truly determined to have the Mau settlers removed. He folded his tail and watched as the evictions continued and he was quick to blame it on the handshake.
There are those who agreed with him and those who castigated him for it, but if you trace the point when the rain began beating UhuRuto, it has to be March 9.
HALF-TRUTH #5: IT DESTROYED RAILA IT WILL DESTROY RUTO
The Mau has been the Waterloo of many politicians. It was in foraying into the Mau that Prime Minister Raila burnt his fingers badly among the Kalenjin. But if the evictions from the Mau were meant to destroy Ruto, then it will not achieve the purpose. The manner it was carried out as well as the timing, presented itself as a ploy to make Ruto look bad in his base and to lose popularity. Then his arch-rival, Gideon Moi, who is on very friendly terms with Uhuru, moved fast to make himself look good by siding with the evictees.
But Ruto is not Raila. Not being a Kalenjin it was easy to identify him as an aggressor outsider which Ruto cannot be. Raila went into the Mau as an outsider, while Ruto, who has not recently publicly said anything about the evictions, is an insider. But then, the Law of Unintended Consequences has seemingly kicked in. The whole Mau saga has had the effect of galvanizing Ruto’s base back at home and quietening his home enemies. There was a sobering reality about the whole issue.
THE GENESIS OF THE PROBLEM
As usual, it’s the poor who suffer the most while the rich get away with it. Most of the evictees are people who sold their holdings in the main Kipsigis country and moved to Narok in the hope of getting more land. Much of the land was under group ranches that had been de-established and subdivided into hundreds of plots and quietly increased their acreage by expanding further into the forest.
The genesis of the Mau problem was the idea of group ranches created by the government partially to deal with the problem of pastoral nomadism. Some of the proprietors of the ranches got the idea to commercialise their holdings and so sought permission to subdivide the huge tracts of land that bordered the forest. With little or no clear boundaries, these ranches easily went beyond their stipulated acreage. Much of the affected area was under the Sisiyan, Reyio, Enakishomi, Enoosokon and Nkaroni Group Ranches.
THE BALOONING GROUP RANCHES
Powerful political individuals representing powerful political families controlled these group ranches. The Sisiyan Group Ranch for instance, ballooned from the initial 1,105 acres to 3,000 acres.
Parcels of various sizes were quickly curved out and sold to many unsuspecting non-Maa (read Kipsigis) migrants. There were also individuals from Kisii and Nyamira. Others such as The Nkaroni Group Ranch ballooned from 3,946 acres to 13,793 acres. The unscrupulous individuals were quick to get it off their hands and there was a ready market. It made sense, therefore, for a Kipsigis man to sell his two-acre piece of land in Kericho and get ten acres of this land. Many sold and got the genuine titles, but many more got fake titles. Many had been conned of their hard earned money. The evictions have affected the Sierra Leone, Chemogoi and Kosian sections of the Mau which affects even the local administration.
WHAT THE EVICTIONS MEAN
As the evictions go on, nobody is speaking about the directors of the group ranches. Nobody is talking about the surveyors, the Narok county land officials who processed the subdivision and the politicians involved. Now what looks like a localised problem, indeed affects almost all of the Kipsigis because many bought land from those who rushed to the Mau to find cheaper (bigger) land but have now been evicted. They too are jittery because they parted with their money to facilitate these people to settle in Narok and could return to their former holdings.
Caught in the middle of these are the Ogiek, who for centuries, had lived in the forest area with no conception of or interest in holding individual titles. They too have been affected and it was really much of their land that became part of the ballooning group ranches. Besides, there is a quiet and delicate political balance in the Narok government that could easily unravel as a result of these evictions. Besides, the Maasai are undergoing tremendous changes. The death of Moranism and the gradual death of pastoral nomadism — thanks in part to settlements, is changing the Maa socio-political landscape.
Enid Lakemann in her book How Democracies Vote: A study of Electoral Systems states, “The rulers whom the people are expected to obey should not only rule in their interests, but also rule according to their wishes; and that the rulers should be accepted by the ruled — this acceptance being no mere acquiescence but conscious choice.”
She pretty much sums up the position of Ruto among the Kalenjin, and which informs his standing in the geo-political scheme of things in the Rift Valley. And this is what whoever hoped the Mau issue would destroy him did not understand. He is their leader by no mere acquiescence but their conscious choice. This is really what was the difference between Raila and Ruto with regard to the Mau. Ruto has captured the collective aspirations of the Kalenjin people and this cannot be his Waterloo. If they had designed it to be his Waterloo, it failed. But they almost succeeded.