Mau Forest Saga: Raila Meant Well
Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga early this week re-visited the volatile Mau Forest saga in a move which the local political pundits termed as reconciliatory aimed at winning back to the fold his disgruntled ODMís supporters in the South Rift region.
|A Section of the Mau|
The latest trip by Raila Odinga to the contentious Mau Forest issue came in the wake of the mounting discontent among the 15,000 or so illegal settlers as the October deadline and ultimatum issued by the government for the eviction is only two weeks away. The PM, however, censured politicians in the region not to play politics with the life-saving Mau Forest issue.
Raila Odinga, sounded reconciliatory rather than his usual bullish style of handling issues and tough talking. Perhaps, this was fence mending with the residents of the Kipsigis region, and a community, which voted to the ODM on one to one basis during last yearís general election.
The Kipsigis, a sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin ethnic groups gave the ODM close to 1.3 million votes, the largest concentration of voting unit in the entire Rift Valley Province. The planned evictions of thousands of squatters from Mau Forest Complex, which is the only surviving water tower in the Eastern African region.
Raila assured the residents that the government will provide an alternative land to Mau settlers and that the government was only waiting for a report to be compiled by a taskforce appointed by him a couple of weeks ago to thoroughly audit the detailed account of the issues involved in the planned eviction before re-settlement commence.
But the Rift Valley politicians, particularly the local MPs have rubbished the taskforce, arguing that its composition does not reflect it as proper representation of the Kipsigis communityís interests.
Raila however, placed the blame at the doorstep of the previous KANU and NARC (National Rainbow Coalition) regimes for the Mau Forest problems, saying powerful individuals had sold parcels of land to unsuspecting buyers, who were totally ignorant about the legal issues surrounding the transactions.
Indeed if the Mau Forest is not saved in time, the nearby Lake Nakuru would dry up in the next eight years, adding that efforts should be made to save the forest because it is the source of lakes and rivers. Scientific reports say Lake Nakuru will be the first to dry up among many other lakes presently covered and protected by the Mau Forest water tower.
Mr. Odingaís tour came in the wake of the reported resistance by the local communities insisting that they donít have anywhere to go to, and that they should be compensated Before vacating their land for an alternative new settlement area.
Railaís tour was the second trip to the Mau Forest that has caused serious splits and divisions among the Rift Valley politicians, and which had wrecked havoc within the ODM partyís unity. There is undeniable fact that the ODM was rapidly losing the support of the Kipsigis region, where it had enjoyed a new fanatic backing, especially during the last yearís general election.
The Mau Forest Complex issue has become a thorn in the flesh of the coalition government headed by President Mwai Kibaki. It also surfaced during the two by-elections that saw the ODMís Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto break ranks and openly defy his party to campaign for rivals in the much rejuvenated UDM.
Despite the threats of possible revolt and pull-out of the ODM by the South Rift MPs, Raila stuck to his guns and maintained that settlement of thousands of families in the forest was illegal and even went as far as claiming that some of those who are very vocal. Politicians vehemently opposed to the planned eviction were the beneficiaries of the illegal land allocation in the area.
The conservation projects intend to force thousands of settlers out of the 400,000 hectare Mau Complex, which is the source of water supply to the 12 rivers including Nzoia, Nyando, Yala, Mara, Miriu and other smaller streams.
The Kenya government through partnership with development partners has promised to mobilize resources to restore the Mau Complex and prosecute those involved in the wanton destruction of forest. Without Mau Forest, lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, Baringo, Natron in Tanzania and Turkana would dry up.The forest provides support to tourism and wide diversity of wildlife that inhabit the Maasai Mara National Game Reserve, LAKE Nakuruís flamingos and other potential areas.
Economists argue, however, that the biggest percentage of Kenyaís economy, tea, dairy, horticulture, large and small scale farming are intricately intertwined with the Mau ecosystem.
By Leo Odera Omolo
Leo Odera Omolo is a Kenyan freelance journalist-cum-author
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