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November 15, 2018

Mau conservation debacle is perilous and ecological catastrophe

Mau Forest
Mau Forest

 

Kenya has been blessed with abundance in natural resource endowment.

The country has been the bastion of ecological balance for the region for generations. The fulcrum of which has always been the Mau Complex. The Complex stretches from the North Rift all the way to the edge of Masai Mara in Narok county. The Mara and Serengeti ecosystem relies heavily on the Mau ecology and so is the rest of the country and the East Africa region.

It is because of its centrality to the economic processes of the region that make Mau a hot potato in the political discourse. Over the years, the Mau Complex has faced unchecked encroachment and exploitation challenges. The government, out of pressure from local and international conservation groups, has made fickle attempts to restore the complex to its optimal levels. Corporations and individuals have irregularly acquired large chunks of the Mau for private enterprise. Initially, these were presented by the government as benevolence in settling otherwise landless citizens.

However, it later turned out that it was a gimmick to reward ethnic loyalty and lubricate the wheels of political patronage. The Mau Complex comprises mostly of forests and rivers and is home to rare fauna and flora. There have been efforts by various government officials at different times to reclaim the lost portions of the fragile ecosystem. These efforts appear to suffer from internal discord in government operations and at best have been seesaw in execution.  When it is convenient, the government would make a declaration to evict illegal settlers in the forest. At other times, especially during elections, more people would be invited and allocated land within the forest. It is this flippant approach to an otherwise delicate environmental issue that has seen the Mau continue to lose its balance. The consequence has been monumental and catastrophic. A plethora of reasons have been responsible for the gradual but steady the degradation of the forest.

All players and everyone within the complex agree the Mau is a heritage that must be protected at all times and costs. However, the conservation efforts have greatly suffered from myopic perspectives of some key leaders. Mau is a national and natural resource bequeathed to humanity by God in the geographical boundaries of Kenya. The country has a responsibility to protect and nurture it for posterity. The leaders are tasked with the noble responsibility of carrying out this duty on behalf of the people. The internal contradictions of Kenya’s national politics have come into play and thus grossly undermined the conservation activities. The communities surrounding the complex, through their leaders, view the Mau as theirs and exclusive resource. This narrow perspective has benefitted from tribal jingoism in Kenya’s political fabric. Any attempts by government officials to enforce directives on conservation are met with resistance from local community leaders. They go out of their way cheapen the environmental discourse in the most of simplistic terms.

Not long ago, some prominent leaders from the Rift Valley wondered aloud in a public meeting whether rain came from the trees or sky! The crowd promptly roared back in unison “sky!” The crowd was right because literally, rain drops from the sky and in any case this narrative would justify their continued logging of Mau trees and stay in the forests. The Mau debate has cost some high profile politicians premium office while building others at the same time. After the electoral amnesia, reality dawns on the same leaders soon enough as their communities face starvation owing to unpredictable weather patterns. They find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They fumble and engage in incoherent arguments about environment and the benefits of tree planting in public places, especially schools. Time runs out fast in their favour and within a short period, the country is in another election period. Hordes of peasants are encouraged to move into protected forest areas, ostensibly to find land for farming and shelter. They push the view that since they are indigenous to the Mau, they can’t just marvel at their God-given resource, while suffering in poverty.

The other factor undermining the Mau stability is corruption.  The county has established in its ranks some of the most effective and callous corruption networks in the region. They would entice and connive with government mandarins to hive off large chunks of the forests. The reasons proffered would be to establish a public utility facility or to settle peasants squatting on some road reserves or private lands. Other times it would be to provide land for some strategic investor.

The strategic investor would in turn create employment opportunities for the youth and generate the much needed foreign exchange. Once the relevant government agency accedes to these overtures and the land annexed, none of those objectives is pursued. Instead, the land would quickly be subdivided into smaller parcels and registered into fake tittles. These fake tittle deeds in private hands would then be used to dupe unsuspecting citizens into buying the parcels. Kenyans are renowned for unbridled appetite for land and therefore gullible to the land cartel conmen. The cartels make their quick bucks and disappear into thin air. When the government mounts its usual halfhearted operations to flush out forest squatters, the land owners feel the heat. They discover to their horror the titles they hold are fake and the sellers cannot be traced. These land cartels do not care about the harm they visit on the national economy by destroying the Mau ecosystem.

The factors that contribute to the continued degradation of the Mau also feed on the public ignorance of environmental concerns. Generally, citizens do not link their suffering in terms of famine and poor health to the state of their environment.  They fail to relate the prolonged droughts, extreme cold winters and floods to the deforestation of the Mau. The influx of respiratory and water borne diseases are hardly associated with the quality of air that they breath. The increase in immune-suppressed and lifestyle diseases are likely to be attributed to bad luck and witch craft instead of the condition of the environment. The paradox of heavy and prolonged downpours and dry Ndakaini Dam during the last long rainy season was explained in terms of sabotage. The leaders together with their legions of supporters are unable or unwilling to connect these conditions to change in the weather patterns. The issues of global warming and increasing desertification are complex matters for the academia. The citizens have been made to believe that these are not worth their precious attention. Instead, they are usually regaled with tales of “our turn to eat”.

Political leaders twist the argument that in any case, every community has some forest that they can protect, if they so wish. In the fullness of time the Mau Complex will be wiped out if the degradation is not stopped. Not only should the government halt the environmental abuse and rape of the heritage, but proceed to reclaim the grabbed parcels. If Kenya should lose the war against the scramble for the Mau, then the region’s ecosystem and ecological balance would be dislocated irreparably.

The economic and social stability of families would be disrupted considerably. Therefore, for posterity and future generations, the government must fully implement and conclude the current exercise to restore the Mau.

 

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