•The DP is torn between supporting the government’s conservation efforts and appeasing his supporters as he moves to firm up his 2022 presidential bid.
•The conservation of the country’s largest water catchment area has been thorny – politically. It has condemned many politicians – both from and without the Rift Valley – to oblivion and given others lifeline.
The looming eviction of families living in the Mau Forest Complex is turning out to be a thorn in the flesh for Deputy President William Ruto.
The DP is torn between supporting the government’s conservation efforts and appeasing his supporters as he moves to firm up his 2022 presidential bid.
His main dilemma is whether to publicly throw his weight behind the conservation measures, undertaken by the government which he serves, or sacrifice it at the altar of political expediency.
The evictions are a litmus test for the DP, who has been on the record terming himself as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘mtu wa mkono’ (principal assistant) and the coordinator of government projects and programmes.
The conservation of the country’s largest water catchment area has been thorny, politically. It has condemned many politicians – both from and outside the expansive Rift Valley region – to oblivion and given others lifeline.
In fact, political observers believe that it was the Mau factor that handed Uhuru and Ruto victory in the 2013 General Elections.
The duo capitaliSed on the evictions, spearheaded by the then Office of the Prime Minister headed by Raila Odinga, to beat him in the polls.
UhuRuto launched massive campaigns, portraying Odinga as a cruel person who was insensitive to the plight of the squatters. Ruto, particularly attacked Raila for betraying the people of THE Rift Valley, who overwhelmingly voted for him in the 2007 General Election.
“Ruto is in a serious dilemma. The Mau evictions are emotive and will remain so. How he will handle the current situation will determine whether he becomes the country’s fifth president or not,” University don Herman Manyora said.
Ruto, who has already declared his interest in the country’s top seat, is thus treading on murky grounds. How he handles the evictions will impact heavily on his chances of succeeding President Kenyatta.
If he will not intervene to stop the exercise, he will be viewed by "his people" as a powerless Deputy President, a situation that will put a dent in his bid to consolidate the vote rich Rift Valley for his 2022 ambitions.
About 10,000 families will be flushed out in the 46, 000-acre forest complex in the exercise aimed at restoring the country’s biggest water tower.
Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna on Thursday placed Ruto at the centre of the evictions after he disclosed that the Cabinet approved the exercise, although DP allies had claimed Environment CS Keriako Tobiko was acting on his own volition. The DP sits in the Cabinet which is chaired by the President.
“Eviction of people from Mau catchment areas has to go on to save this country, but this will happen in a humane manner. The right word is actually relocation of families and not eviction,” Oguna said.
“The process of saving Mau has to go on and that is the position of the government. It is legal and it will continue. That is the position of the government,” Oguna insisted.
However, the DP has remained tight-lipped on the matter. The last time he spoke about the evictions was a year ago.
On Tuesday, speaking at Moi Girls, Ruto only assured parents and school children in the targeted areas that their education will not been affected.
“Every child is entitled to be in school, na sio tafadhali (it is mandatory). Even those in Mau will not be left behind,” he said.
The government had ordered the closure of 15 schools domiciled in the targeted blocks, but beat a retreat and gave a 60-day grace period to allow children complete their exams.
But as Ruto remains mum on the evictions, his foot soldiers have been tearing into government, with some calling on the President to come clean on the exercise.
Others have challenged Uhuru to donate part of his family land to settle the squatters, as some claim that the evictions are targeted at frustrating Ruto’s chances of becoming President in 2022.
“It is not about tribes or regions, but a few individuals who are power-hungry…. and the issue of the referendum, lifestyle audit, corruption propaganda and now the Mau issue are all targeted at one person,” Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said.
“The evictions are a targeted campaign against the Deputy President to prevent him from becoming the president in 2022,” he claimed.
Senate Majority leader and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen turned the guns on Tobiko and Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya for unilaterally sanctioning the evictions.
He accused the duo of executing a personal agenda of diving the communities living in the Rift Valley.
“We have called out Tobiko and Natembeya for insubordination and carrying out a process not backed by a Cabinet decision. This is a decision by a single Cabinet Secretary and Regional Commissioner who are determined to incite communities,” he said.
MPs Ronald Tonui (Bomet Central), Dominic Koskei (Sotik) and Joseph Ruto (Kuresoi South) alongside Segemian MCA Wesley Koech accused the President of using his ‘personal differences’ with the DP to oppress Mau settlers.
But Cherenganyi MP Joshua Kutuny, a former Uhuru’s adviser and a fierce critic of Ruto, took the matter to Ruto’s doorstep, saying the DP’s office should be held responsible having been tasked with handling the Mau issue at the expiry of the Grand Coalition term.
He accused the DP of “letting his people down, despite holding the second-most powerful post in the country." He sought answers on how some Sh18 billion donor money for Mau restoration was spent.
“There was money from UNEP to a tune of Sh18 billion, for resettling the squatters and plant trees. Some groups were settled in Uasin Gishu, Kericho, and Nakuru. Since then, there has been no effort or a sustainable programme to resettle the people,” Kutuny said.