Raila in tough battle over Mau forest

As with everything else in Kenya, the conservation and destruction of the Mau forest is proving an intractable matter for one simple reason: too many vested political interests will ensure that nothing will change despite ongoing destruction of the forest and which can only be described as a looting spree.

A tea plantation (foreground) bordering part of the Mau forest. Excisions of the Mau forest have been driven by demand for farmland.

A tea plantation (foreground) bordering part of the Mau forest. Excisions of the Mau forest are driven by demand for farmland.

Many people wish for the Mau settlers to just pack up and leave to let the forest regenerate itself. With intensified settlements in the past 20 years, the weather patterns in Western Kenya have changed for the worse. Rivers have dried and timber has become a scarce commodity as vast swathes of indigenous forest were cleared for settlements. It is believed that restoring the Mau forest could improve water supplies and help attract rainfall.

Unfortunately, its not easy asking tens of thousands of people to leave a place they have called home for more than a decade. It is a political tinder-box with the capacity to not only ruin careers but also to spark instability in a part of Kenya notorious for ethnic clashes. It gets worse when politicians are the cause of the problem.

Excisions of the Mau forest began during the British colonial era. Tens of thousands of acres of land were cleared to make way for tea plantations and white settler farms. After independence, most white settler farms were allocated to Africans (for a fee) while the tea plantations remained in the hands of multinational corporations.

Between Independence in 1963 and 1990, there were several excisions done to create room for an growing population. However, the excisions responsible for the current controversy were done in the 1990s by former President Daniel arap Moi.

Faced with opposition to his rule after grudgingly accepting to register opposition parties in 1991, Moi needed support. As a practitioner of patron-client politics, this meant dishing out gifts in exchange for votes. That is how the Mau forest complex began getting sub-divided as a means of rewarding Moi’s cronies.

Initially, the beneficiaries of the plots were top government officials, senior security officers and members of Moi’s Kenya African National Union (KANU) party. Provincial Commissioners, District Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries, KANU branch chairmen, military commanders as well as clergymen benefited from the allocations. Of course, Moi did not forget himself and his land parcel was big enough for him to establish a tea estate.

The initial allottees subdivided their parcels and sold to tens of thousands of other people, mostly from the Kipsigis dialect of Moi’s Kalenjin tribe but also some Kisii. The politicians are believed to have made millions from the scheme as most of them were allocated the land almost for free.

Today, the politicians who made so much money selling forest land are at the forefront resisting the eviction of their settlers. That is to be expected considering their role in the saga. President Mwai Kibaki has, for long, wanted the settlers evicted and ordered an operation in 2005. However, Prime Minister Raila Odinga finds himself in a difficult position as most Kalenjin legislators are from his ODM party.

As a matter of fact, Raila himself used the Mau saga in his campaigns against Kibaki during the 2005 Referendum and the 2007 elections. Kibaki became unpopular in Kalenjin districts largely due to the brutality of the 2005 evictions. Raila capitalized on the Mau saga to win Kalenjin votes by promising that he would not evict them.

Reality was to come crashing on Raila in 2008 when the new Sondu Miriu hydro electric plant in his Nyanza home turf could not operate as the Sondu Miriu River was drying. Reason? The river’s source high in the Mau forest was affected by settlements. Faced with the spectre of a failed project, Raila quickly changed tune and began demanding for the eviction of settlers from the Mau.

Raila is having a difficult time with Kalenjin legislators because of his abrupt change of political stance regarding the Mau settlements. Only two years ago, Raila promised their continued stay in the forest but now, he appears to have sided with President Kibaki. The Kalenjin community sees the stance as the ultimate political betrayal considering the fanatica support they gave to Raila’s presidential candidacy back in 2007.

The Kalenjin were the most militant during post election violence, where they made it very clear that they did not recognize President Kibaki. For Raila to turn against the community is something that has not been taken kindly by the Kalenjin.

Certainly, the Kalenjin will never forgive Raila for the treachery and there will be major political ramifications on Raila’s political future as far as Kalenjin support is concerned.

For the settlers though, it appears their fate is sealed. Public opinion for their eviction is running high, largely due to water shortages caused by dying rivers. Even the international community has said that it would support the restoration of the Mau forest.

As debate rages on what to do with the settlers, illegal loggers have taken advantage of the confusion to engage in massive looting of timber and other forest resources. From reports coming out of the Mau, it would seem that by the time a hard decision is made, there will be very little forest left to conserve.


Picture of the Mau forest by sll627


3 Responses

  1. This article is full of lies. In 2005, and just before 2007 elections, Kibaki went to Mau forest and returned back the evictees who had been sent out by KImunya!!!! He personally gave them title deeds so as to win the referendum and the elections. Go to any newsroom or archives and you will find footage of these title dishing ceremonies. In sum, Kibaki is to some extent as culpable as Moi in th e destruction of Mau!!! Please get facts right!! During ODM rallies in 2007, it was made clear that the allotees might be asked to leave.

    • @Catherine

      Yes, it is true that Kibaki helped to return the people whose eviction he ordered in 2005. It all comes down to realpolitik: faced with an ODM onslaught which was using the 2005 evictions against him and faced with dwindling popularity among the Kalenjin, Kibaki felt that returning the settlers would boost his votes. Obviously, it didn’t work because Kibaki got very little votes from the Kalenjin.

      I am not an apologist for Kibaki but the point of the article is that the Kalenjin rightly believe that Prime Minister Raila Odinga has betrayed them due to his changed stance over the Mau saga.

    • The Mau saga is not only about the tragedy of global environmentalism but also about the tragedy of Kenya’s absurd, obnoxious and repugnant politics. Environmentalism, replete with profound interactions with continued existence of life, as well as intentional and inadvertent actions which have been sources of negative impacts, remains a sacrosanct aspect of human civilization. In Kenya, it shows how much our politicians, supported by a section of the media, are ready to obliterate everyone else for as along as they can continue cheating, bewitching, manipulating and killing their supporters so that they can continue stealing our right to our own life, to live as communities and to national sovereignty. Look at the Mau Politics and you can’t help crying if you are indeed a patriot. I have heard people using short term political grandstanding to manipulate both the Prime Minister and the President to support their greed.

      From a global perspective the Mau saga can not find a more opportune time as the planet earth’s life support structures are in great danger. The entire ecosystem is beleaguered from all positions, as blazes of environmental destruction have become the glaring phenomena. The subject of air pollution has moved from niggling episodes, confined to specific regions, to a global issue. Quality water for human consumption has become a luxury the world over. The global forest cover is diminishing at the rate of 20-40 hectares per minute. The most tragic thing is that in Kenya pictures of politicians thumping their chests run side by side with swam of peoples who are dying as a result of the collapsing environment.

      Before Kenya s great land rush that began at the beginning of colonialism, the region was an unspoiled showcase for the biodiversity of life. In this lush territory East Africa, there was hardly a break in the canopy of 20 feet, tall trees and virtually every acre was alive with green vegetation, wild animals, overflowing fountains of fresh water, inter alia. Then beginning in the 1900’s came the colonialists, slashing and burning huge swaths through the forests to create roads, towns and fields. They came to enjoy a “Promised Land”, and for a while it was even though they had planted the seeds of the feudalism-capitalism culture that had so much ascertained that Europe was devoid of anything natural. Then came independence with our land greedy independence fathers. Before long Kenya had developed an obnoxious culture of land aggrandisement, that never had a place for ecological sanctity. In the wake has been a network of devastation. …in the process, they are destroying an ecosystem and the millions of species of plants and animals that live in it. An estimated 80% of Kenya’s unique biodiversity is now gone. In the words of E.O. Wilson, the author of the Great Extinctions , ‘We are entering an age of mass extinction that threatens to rival the cretaceous extinction, 66Million Years ago, when 12% of the species resident on earth disappeared in spasmodic catastrophe.’

      The summary of the environmental challenges in Kenya, as linked with the global scenario, is a justification for adopting the most effective instruments for environmental protection not only for the present generation but also for the future. In that regard, the coalition government has made a good example of the Mau case. I only wish they would extend the same to all parts of the country. I only wish they would strongly add their voices to the global movement for environmental sanctity. And if they must loose the next elections because of their stand, they shall have died for something worth dying for.

      Another word of caution on the ethnic agenda that is taking in our political landscape like a storm. While a lot of Kalenjin who live even in Mau forest are aware of the need to preserve the same AND ARE ONLY KEEN TO PROTECT THEIR RIGHTS, AND RIGHTLY SO, a section of the mass media has taken it as a battle against the Prime Minister. Many Kalenjin’s know that Mau saga did not begin with Raila. Many settlers are aware that the settlement was not even right, however they will loose greatly if not compensated. Indeed they should be compensated. When some Rift Valley MPs oppose the PM on the same, the media reports that the Rift Valley Community has denounced Raila! May be there is a set of truth only told by the press and another that is out in the open.

      And another word for my brothers the Kalenjin. Why do some of your politicians believe that you will never need the support of other communities in the future? Ruto is probably the most presidential among the Kalenjin politicians today, and their will be more. They will need the Luo, Luhya, Maasai, Abakikuyu etc There is another angle to the Mau. A lot of Rift Valley people are worried about the collapsed environment and they are eagerly waiting for the government to be proactive, for the first time in protecting the masses!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: