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October 22, 2018

Mau evictions, land and incitement at centre of Njoro clashes

Some of the displaced families camping at  Musegekwa primary school. Eastern Mau, Nakuru county on September 13, 2018. /BEN NDONG'A
Some of the displaced families camping at Musegekwa primary school. Eastern Mau, Nakuru county on September 13, 2018. /BEN NDONG'A

Six people lost their lives, 17 injured as houses in the villages gutted during the tribal flare-ups in three wards within Eastern Mau in Nakuru County last week.

Four people are still hospitalized at the Nakuru Level 5 Hospital after the arrow fight that lasted for three days.

Trading centres, stores and houses were reduced to ashes.

Consequently, politicians, local administrators and individuals have been arrested, charged and locked up in police cells.

They are Nakuru deputy speaker Samuel Tonui, Njoro NG-CDF chairman William Lagat, Tiritagoi Primary School headteacher Danson Nyangare, former MCA aspirant Christopher Samoei, Nessuit assistant chief Nicholas Lesingo and his Sigotik counterpart Sammy Kirui.

The most affected wards are Nessuit, Mariashoni and Mauche.

Some of the residents interviewed by the Star say that it all started with hearsay, then tension built up, and small flare-ups, which ballooned into an arrow fight that has now left tension and memories painful to narrate.

The violence which started on Monday last week intensified on Wednesday night after the two communities, which have long lived in harmony, clashed over occupation of land on the edges of Mau Forest.

The communities started blaming each other for livestock theft in the area, especially those that graze in the forest.

In what is alleged to have been a spill-over of clashes earlier witnessed in Narok County, the tribal clashes between two communities started with allegations of cattle theft, before taking a more frightening land dimension.

EVICTION NOTICE OF 40,000 SETTLERS

"The tension lasted until Tuesday night, when war cries rent the air and the two communities started attacking each other and burning houses,” Grace Kamore, a resident, said.

"The biggest problem that has caused all these problems is not about alleged cattle theft. It all boils down to land issues and looming evictions. Sadly, leaders seem to have ignored this, despite it being the key issue," Peter Kipkemoi said on Thursday.

"I bought land here five years ago and have all the required documents as most of the people who live here," Ken Korir, a resident at Mauche ward, said.

 He, however, said that their counterparts have been blaming them, saying they grabbed their land and want them to move out forcefully and with immediate effect.

"This happened immediately after the government issued an eviction notice to people living in the Eastern part of Mau Forest," he added.

"Most of these people sold their land. Others sold land without titles and are coming out publicly to support the eviction. The clashes are a bid to drive out those who bought land so that initial owners can repossess it," he said.

However, others disagree.

"We supported the evictions because of the continued destruction of forests, especially by our counterparts who encroached deeper into the forest land. Those who did not support the eviction, however, started the war, stealing our livestock in a move to stop the evictions," said Korir.

Ogiek Council of Elders chairman Joseph Kimaiyo said the tension between the three communities started after a forest eviction notice was issued in several parts of Teret, Likia, Nessuit and Mariashoni.

The government is targeting eviction of more than 40,000 settlers living in the forest.

Conservationists have said that more than 300 families have encroached into the Mau while 3,000 others are living in various settlement schemes hived off the forest. Ogiek community chairman for lands John Sayaya said matters to do with land had been a source of conflict in Mau over the years.

"Surveying and demarcation of land in this area started in 1994, but stopped in 1997 after the introduction of caveat after influx of racketeers who took advantage of the goodwill. Some of those who had been allocated parcels started selling them, while others moved deeper into the forest," he said.

He added that when a blanket caveat was enforced, restricting land transactions, those who owned land started selling it without documentation, a trend that continued, attracting more people into the forest land.

 He said the existing caveat, unclear boundaries and eviction notices might have ignited the clashes.

BUFFER ZONE

Although the initial buffer zone was in place, others went past it while others created imaginary cut-line, bringing in more confusion.

 In 2001, the government excised more than 67,000 hectares of forest reserve land, mainly in the Mau Complex.

The largest excisions affected the Eastern Mau Forest Reserve and South West Mau Forest Reserve, where 35,301 hectares of forestland, representing 54.3 per cent of the forest, was excised to create settlement schemes in Mauche, Nessuit and Marioshioni wards.

 Mau land issues have over the years stalled, with many cases in court.

The Ogiek also have several cases on Mau land issues. We have two cases awaiting implementation, others pending determination, while others are still new.

"The National Land Commission is aware of all these issues, but seems to have failed to implement the cases. The ruling of the African Court case is yet to be implemented," Joseph Towett, the Ogiek Council of elders chairman, said.

Recently, officials from NLC toured Nakuru County while on a mission to issue title deeds under the National Titling Programme. They, however, kept off Mau land due to the caveat.

The eviction notice targeted more than 300 families who encroached the forest at Kiptunga, Kapsita, Bararget, Nessuit, Tachassis, Likia, Saino Teret and Vikingi Mpya. The families living beyond the cut-line, a more than 20km buffer separating the forest from human settlement, started moving out after the notice, while others stayed put. 

The residents urged the government should hasten the process of settling Mau land issues to stop further disputes that might erupt as a result.

INFLAMMATORY REMARKS

Njoro deputy county commissioner Wambua Muthama blamed the situation on incitement after the eviction notice, saying politicians and local administrators had made inflammatory remarks.

"Some weeks ago, we had talked to those who had moved in beyond the cut-line to move. Political leaders seemed to have told them not to leave, which also sparked the skirmishes. We are warning politicians not to wade into the issue," Muthama said.

Last weekend, the government banned political gatherings in the area and security personnel were given firm instructions not to allow any politician to hold meetings or address rallies.

 Rift Valley regional coordinator Chimwaga Mongo further ordered families to return to their homes, and schools to reopen on Monday, besides imposing a dawn-to-dusk curfew to restore order.

 Even as an uneasy calm returned in several villages, the residents expressed concern that the outstanding issues had not been adequately addressed.

"People still fear returning to their homes because of the mistrust. Evictions are still looming, buffer zones are still not clear and land ownership and documentation is still a stumbling block as a result of the caveat and the numerous court cases," they said.

However most residents from the three wards said that the two communittees have been good neighbours and there was need to solve these issues amicably instead of turning against each other.

"We should not fight. We both speak the same language and our children attend same schools. We have suffered, lives lost, counting losses and yet we cannot trust our neighbours again," said Peter Kipkurui, a local, said.

 

 

 

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