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A year later, evicted forest settlers remain homeless

By Peter Leshan
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
Residents leave their settlements in the Mau Forest on September 1, 2019, to avoid forcible evictions by the government. Photo/PD/File
In summary
    • Jackson Kamoe, Friends of Mau Forest Conservation Trust chairman, says the weather pattern in Narok and South Rift in general, which had over the last three decades been disrupted by the invasion of the forest is slowly going back to where it was.
    • “The long dry spell and cold is slowly ebbing away. This year, for the first time since the 90s, farmers, have harvested wheat, barley and maize. If the regeneration continues, the pattern will change for good,” he said.

The forceful eviction of more than 10,000 families from Maasai Mau Forest one year ago has in its wake left a host of poverty-stricken families struggling to survive.  

Majority of households who perceived the 46,000-hectare forest as their home since 1997 have been rendered destitute and homeless.

Some are being housed by relatives as they struggle to find alternative places to live while others who had land elsewhere have settled albeit reluctantly.

Parcels of land in the forest were dished out to powerful and influential people in the Kanu government, who later sold them to acquire fertile soil in the forest.

Since first allocations were done, most parcels have changed hands more than 10 times. Establishing the initial owners is now a tall order.

In an interview with People Daily, victims who claim to have bought the parcels on willing-buyer, willing-seller basis; say they are still struggling to find places to settle.

They have expressed hope of seeing an end to their suffering and returning to their former settlement.  

“It has been one year since we were evicted from Maasai Mau Forest where we had lived for more than two decades,” says William Cheruiyot, formerly of Sierra Leone settlement in the forest, who now lives with his family in Olenguruone area in Nakuru.

Cheruiyot is a former Kanu branch official in Narok South. He sold his 10-acre land in Bomet in 1997 to buy a 20-acre piece in the forest, which is under the trust of a politician from Narok. 

Frequently visit

He now lives in a three-acre piece of land where he has put up a grass-thatched house, which he claims his uncle reluctantly gave him temporarily as he seeks an alternative place.

“Those who were first given huge chunks of land later sold them and since then they continued to change ownership.

Most of those who were evicted last year, were small people who were tiling the land for daily survival,” says Cheruiyot, who does odd jobs to fend for his family.

He adds the government issued title deeds to first beneficiaries who transferred ownership to other individuals who later bought the parcels. Cheruiyot says the government later claimed the documents were fake.

When the victims were kicked out, they had planted crops, unfortunately, their crops were spoiled in the farm because  of delays to harvest them.

Residents have  now lamented that politicians, mostly from Rift Valley,  who they had banked all their hopes on have abandoned and no longer care to find out how they are fairing.

Kipruto Marsin, another victim, says he has found it difficult to settle, adding that even relatives have refused to accommodate his family because they consider him a burden. 

He says were it not for coronavirus  pandemic, his five school-going children would have been out of classes following him and their mother, Eunice Chepkorir, in search for food, shelter and pasture for their 11 cows.

“It will be difficult to find another place to settle and start life again. We have withstood series of evictions since 2005 but with the hard economic times almost everyone is facing today, it will be difficult for me and most of the evictees to find stand on our feet again,” says Marsin who lives in a rental property in Saptet, about five kilometres from his former home in Kaplelach area inside the controversial forest.

He castigates the government for using them as political pawns in 2013 and 2017 elections and later threw them out of the forest.

“Since 2013, then aspirants who are now in charge of the government assured us that we were rightfully in Mau because of the Kalenjin votes they badly needed to win.  We are saddened that we don’t matter anymore,” he says.

He adds:”Even politicians who used to frequently visit us and speak against the intended eviction and also give us money and food are nowhere to be seen.

We have been left on our own. Probably, they will start looking for us when the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and other political contests will be on.”

This time, he says they would not be available for them after realising that they only matter whenever there is a political contest.

When he visited Bomet recently, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga said all Mau forest evictees would be resettled.

After they were first kicked out of Maasai Mau in 2005, the Kibaki government later, when it was campaigning for passage of the Kilifi Draft on the proposed change of the Constitution, altered boundaries between settlement zones and the forest to allow most of the evictees back in desperate hope that they would vote for it in the referendum.

After it failed, they were kicked out again and later allowed back before the 2007 General Election when Kibaki was facing a stiff political battle with Raila.

Since then there have been subsequent evictions in areas of the forest, which is part of the 400,000 hectare Mau Complex that is owned by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Distant relatives

Joan Chepleting Chesimet, a widow and a mother of six and who now lives with her distant relatives in Mulot area in Narok West, says during the eviction and now continued transition to life after Mau Forest, children and the elderly have been exposed to diseases especially upper respiratory tract infections.

She claims that some infants died in the cold after contracting pneumonia, charging that majority of people who sold their parcels elsewhere to go to the forest are still suffering with no assistance from politicians and the government forthcoming.

“We were moved out when cold was biting hard. Children and old people bore the heavy brunt. Most of us still believe that one day, we will be allowed back to Mau which was like the biblical Canaan because of soil fertility and rain throughout the year,” she says.

Naanyu ene Karia, formerly of Nkoben area of the forest and who lives with her family in her parents land in Nkareta area, says she since moved on, adding that she is among the lucky few who had alternative places.

“When we were given notice to leave in August last year, I started moving my cows and other belongings out of the forest.

A few weeks to the eviction, I was already out. My children are enrolled in various schools here,” says a single mother of four.

Mwai Muraguri, Narok KFS Ecosystem Coordinator and the head of the Joint Mau Forest Security team that comprises KFS, Kenya Wildlife Service and the police under the Rapid Deployment Unit, says since the settlers left, they have been having a hide and seek game with loggers and illegal cattle grazers.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, had in September warned that the ongoing exercise to reclaim the larger Mau Complex was bearing fruits, adding that the government would not renege on the mission to save the largest water tower in the country, which  he said was on the verge of depletion.