Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kibaki succession hurting Mau conservation efforts

By Kipchumba Kemei Battles in ODM, judicial nominations wrangles, and the General Election expected next year, have complicated reclamation of the Mau Forest.
The vigour the Government, and especially Prime Minister Raila Odinga had displayed in saving water catchment, has since fizzled out. It may not be revived, may be until after the General Election.
Since efforts to recover the 400,000-hectare forest began in 2008, it is only the southwest part of it that has been recovered with the former settlers still living in makeshift camps awaiting resettlement.
The campaigns by Raila made him differ with some Kalenjin MPs led by Eldoret North MP William Ruto, dealing a severe blow to the support he once enjoyed in the region. Yet the desecrated forest is the lifeline of the region.
"It is quite unlikely the Prime Minister will push for settlers’ removal before the General Election in the hope Kalenjins will change their mind and vote for him," says Jackson Saika, the chairman of the Maasai Professionals Association.
The plight of the forest evictees has assumed a political angle. The Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka was recently in the southern west Mau where he was photographed taking tea in a makeshift camp.
The evictions were carried out at the instigation of Government, which has set aside Sh2 billion for their resettlement.
Tame Raila Raila, who shortly after that attended a burial in Molo, said the Government had set aside Sh3 billion for the process, contradicting the earlier figure the VP gave.
The Mau issue will remain forgotten and the remaining settlers spared for now. President Kibaki in his bid to undercut Raila has embraced the Kalenjin MPs to assist him in his mission.
"The issue of conservation has been pushed to the backburner. With elections approaching, and the President and his PNU brigades working round the clock to tame Raila’s national influence, it is unlikely that more than 60,000 settlers still in some blocks of the expansive forest would be evicted," says Saika.
He says it is sad the issue of conservation has been mixed with politics. He said no politician with presidential ambition or the President who is busy with his succession will want settlers, majority of them Kalenjins, evicted.
"The matter is complicated further with the emergence of tribal alliances in which the community is expected to determine the next tenant at State House," adds Saika.
The official says that even after the Cabinet agreed to remove settlers and compensate them, the President in his bid to tame Raila is dangling the issue like a carrot.
Saika says there is enough land in the Rift Valley and there is no reason the Government can play politics with a key issue like conservation.
Donors led by European Union had in 2008 shown interest in rehabilitating the forest, but with the political circus, it is highly unlikely the money and rehabilitation would be forthcoming.
Earlier, the Government had approached donors to fund the settlers’ compensation, but this has delayed. This week, however, the European Union and other donors pledged Sh120 million to facilitate the reclamation of the water tower.
Most of the settlers in the 416,800 hectare Maasai Mau block have neither title deeds nor land sale related documents. Vetting of the claimants is on going.
Narok South MP Nkoidila Lankas wonders what became of the Government plan to evict squatters. He blamed the delay on Kibaki succession politics and what he calls "wider plans to undermine Raila" to ensure he does not have a say in the implementation of the Constitution, and the Kibaki succession.
When Raila vowed to repossess all the land in the larger Mau, including the Kiptagich Tea Factory in the Southern side of the controversial forest that is associated with former President Moi, opposition to him soared.
When Heritage Minister William ole Ntimama was an influential Narok County Council chairman in the early 1980s, according to council records, Moi was allocated the land at Illpontol where the civic body still has a tea plantation. Nyayo Tea Zone was still at its formative stages.
Bite the bullet Ntimama, who now wants all the settlers removed, is said to have wanted the former president’s support in his fight against the then Office of the President Minister and Narok North MP, the late Justus ole Tipis, when he asked the council to allocate the land.
"When the matter was brought before the full council meeting I proposed that he should be given the land. That was after other Maasai leaders, including Tipis, and the late Stanley Oloitiptip supported the idea," said Shadrack Rotiken, who later became the council chairman.
Mr Lankas says the Prime Minister must now bite the bullet, even if it means abandoning his presidential bid to save the forest.
"He will be as popular as the man who invented fire if he sticks to his word to save the forest. World over, people who fight for humanity are always judged fairly. The Prime Minister should play in that league," says Lankas, a staunch PM supporter.
"The Prime Minister once said he was ready to abandon his mission and save the forest even if it meant losing his bid for the president and going to sell fish in Kibera. What became of the vow?" asks Lankas.
He adds it is ironical for the Government to spend taxpayer’s money to keep security personnel in the forest.
The chairman of the forest Steering Committee Hassan Noor said the Government has good intentions to save the forest from imminent depletion. He says the Prime Minister’s office pays over Sh50,000 monthly apart from salaries, for the upkeep of security personnel at forest entrances.
"We have done all within our mandate. Ours is not a political mission. Save for a few areas, we have done surveying, demarcation and valuation for parcels of land in the forest. I believe that for the sake of posterity, short term political expediency should not be entertained," says Noor.
"The area is fertile. We bought land on willing buyer-willing seller basis and there is no reason we should not demand Sh250,000 per acre," says spokesperson William Cheruiyot of Sierra Leone area.
The chairman of Friends of Mau Jackson Kamoe avers that political survival other than environmental concern have taken centre stage. He wants Government officials who were involved in the forest excision to be held accountable. Some of the Kalenjin MPs opposing Mau evictions own land in the water tower.

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