Kenyan MPs, Premier in Row Over Forest Evictions
Text of report by Lucas Barasa entitled: “10 Rift Valley MPs reject Raila plan on Mau” published by Kenyan privately-owned newspaper Daily Nation website on 17 July, subheadings inserted editorially
Ten MPs have rebelled against Prime Minister Raila Odinga over the Mau forest [southwest Kenya] evictions and told their constituents not to leave the area by October as agreed at a meeting on Tuesday [15 July]. The move by the ODM [Orange Democratic Movement] MPs was in disregard of party leader, Odinga, who has been leading a campaign to protect the water catchment that is also the source of numerous rivers.
On Tuesday, Mr Odinga said the destruction of the forest was a national issue. He said it was time to act to stop further destruction of the Mau Forest. On Wednesday, the 10 leaders, some of who had attended the Tuesday Mau stakeholders forum which resolved that those living in the forest leave by October, said the decision was “political”. They were led by Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto.
Others were Magerer Langat (Kipkelion), Benjamin Langat (Ainamoi), Elijah Lagat (Emgwen), Julius Kones (Konoin) and Sammy Mwaita (Baringo Central).
Mr Moses Lessonet (Eldama Ravine), Mr Joshua Kutuny (Cherengani), Ms Peris Simam (Eldoret South) and Mr Luka Kigen (Rongai) were also present at the press conference at parliament buildings in Nairobi. Bureti MP Franklin Bett left before the press conference started.
Their statement of defiance came as it emerged that the inauguration of the 12bn-shilling [about 179m-dollar] Sondu Miriu power project [in Nyanza, western Kenya] had been postponed after the water levels dropped in the river feeding the turbines used to generate electricity. The river has its source in the Mau.
The Tuesday meeting at KICC [Kenyatta International Conference Centre], which was attended by 10 cabinet ministers, 15 MPs and other representatives of various groups, resolved that only 1,960 people living in the Mau forest who had title deeds would be given alternative land.
MPs urge forest occupants to stay put
But the 10 Rift Valley MPs told “their people” to stay put and not leave the forest “until a negotiated solution was found”.
“The feeling among Rift Valley MPs is that the so-called stakeholders forum chaired by the prime minister comprised of busybodies and activists”, said Mr Magerer, who read a statement on behalf of [the] MPs. He said that while 100 people were from Narok County Council, other civic authorities falling under the Mau ecosystem including Nakuru, Kipsigis, Bomet and Buret were not represented.
Asking the government to rescind the resolutions, the MPs – most of whom have been agitating for the formation of grand opposition in parliament – said the resolutions were part of a wider plan to punish the Kalenjin community.
They also cited the locking up of suspects arrested over post- election violence, killings in Trans Mara District and skirmishes in Molo as other examples of how the community was being oppressed. The MPs vowed to use “other means” to fight for the interest of their community if the government evicts people from Mau forest.
“We need dialogue on issues concerning Mau. A decision of such magnitude cannot be reached at KICC The situation at Mau deteriorated over the years and cannot be solved in a month,” Mr Ruto said.
According to them, the eviction was a political decision and they proposed that the government uses a “community-friendly” way to address problems facing the fragile ecosystem that also provides sustenance to the world-famous Maasai Mara game reserve which was last year described as one of the “seven new wonders” of the world.
Land for resettlement of those ejected from Mau should be identified and social amenities provided to cater for them, the leaders said.
United Nations “alarmed” by forest destruction
The UN Environmental Programme is among key organisations alarmed by destruction of Mau forest. It says the destruction poses a threat to the well-being of millions of people and animals.
The 10 MPs move rekindles their earlier criticism of Mr Odinga over cabinet appointments in grand coalition. The MPs stand also puts them at loggerheads with Agriculture Minister William Ruto and other Rift Valley leaders supporting the conservation of the Mau forest and resettlement of those living in it.
Narok North MP William Ntimama said resolutions reached on Tuesday should be supported by all communities. Mr Ntimama, also the minister for national heritage, said Mau was an important resource in Kenya and that the country risked being faced with an ecological disaster “if we don’t act now”.
He said there was already flooding in areas surrounding Lake Victoria due to cutting down of trees at Mau.
Lake Nakuru, known for being home for the world-famous flamingos, was also drying drying up as the river flowing into it – River Njoro – was also drying up. The river has its source in the Mau.
“It is better for us to annoy a few people than let millions die”, Mr Ntimama said on Tuesday. He said the Mau was a vital water catchment for the entire country. “Twelve rivers emanating from Mau go to Lake Victoria, Lake Baringo and Lake Nakuru”, the minister added.
The government tried to resolve the illegal allocations that have seen 25 per cent of 400,000 hectares Mau complex destroyed in 2005 but retreated as it was a thorny issue during the referendum [November 2005] on a proposed new constitution.
Lands Minister James Orengo said the encroachment over the last 15 years was the result of bad governance and impunity.
“Laws governing water catchment areas and trustland were not followed. This is fraud and abuse of office,” he said.
Originally published by Daily Nation website, Nairobi, in English 17 Jul 08.
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