Mau Forest: Ruto, PM rift narrows as Cabinet meets

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The battle to save the largest water tower, which is the fountain of 12 main rivers, was half-won as the list of beneficiaries was made public ahead of the Cabinet meeting today.

It was the culmination of strident debate by politicians, religious and conservation groups, as well as the media, on the need to save Kenya. Never before have Kenyans debated an environmental issue with so much fire and passion, after years of treating global climate change as an alien ‘animal’ in outer space that would not affect them.

The triumph of conservation therefore appeared to take its place on the list of what should worry Kenyans — even as those who tried to inject the poison of fractured politics mellowed.
It was also the turning point in the war that had been spiced by politics, largely between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto. The two leaders appeared to strum same strings and sing same tune.

Apart from releasing the names, Raila told Parliament the momentum to clear human settlement and end farming and logging in the Mau was unstoppable and he would not be intimidated.

The popularity of the decision, tucked away in Mau Forest Task Force awaiting Cabinet discussion and possible adoption, was discernible from the foot thumping that greeted Raila’s statement in Parliament when he said he was standing on the side of the truth.

But the struggle appeared half-won when the biggest hurdle was surmounted — with Ruto maintaining the peasants have to be resettled, but not the big firms and the VIPs behind them. Raila, on the other hand, said all title deed holders would be compensated, the process would take long, but will be systematic, and the big beneficiaries are on their own.


Raila spoke on Mau Forest settlement in Parliament with confidence, which appeared to suggest he had outfoxed his Rift Valley critics. "I will not be intimidated. I will not be blackmailed. I am ready to pay the price. I am doing this for Kenya. It is a matter of national interest. I am on the side of the truth and it never fails," said the PM, adding the momentum to remove human settlement from the largest water tower was unstoppable.

He was explicit: "In my meeting with Rift Valley MPs we agreed everyone with a title deed, whether legal or illegal (but given by the Government) would be compensated.’’

Raila then drove the knife behind his critics’ backs — the MPs who were criticising him were dishonest and seekers of cheap political publicity. That sent Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto and Cheragany MP Joshua Kuttuny, asking more questions.

That was in the afternoon, but in the morning Ruto seemed to climb down on his no-eviction-without-compensation stand — saying instead that perception he was against the evictions was false.

Water tower

"We are not madmen to oppose the conservation of Mau water tower. We know and feel the consequences of destruction. Any efforts to portray Rift Valley MPs as opposing conservations are cheap and primitive," said Ruto.
Ruto then dropped the bombshell: "Those ones with hundreds of acres are on their own. They do not have our support."

Raila also said the net would be cast wider: "Environmental degradation is not in the Mau only. We will tackle each case with the seriousness it deserves. We are going to pay attention to other water towers as well. But the Mau problem is acute and serious".

He added:" The entire ecosystem is now under threat. The destruction of Mau is a symptom of weak enforcement of the law... The Government is acting now but we don’t want a repeat of 2005 when security forces were sent to terrorise people. We want to be more systematic and humane."

Ruto, on his part, said: "The Government cannot afford to be inhumane by evicting small scale farmers who genuinely acquired land. What we are asking is that they be compensated and offered alternative land. On this I stand by my statement."

He added: "I wanted to set the record straight. Political detractors are taking advantage of the debate to drive a wedge and brand a section of Rift Valley MPs as tribal chauvinists who are primitive and insensitive to conservation."

Big question

With Raila and Ruto agreed on who should be compensated and who should not, and on the biggest question of the day which is human habitation and activity in Mau has to stop, the ball is now squarely in the Cabinet’s feet. The only factor remains time — or the questions when and how? And so the stage was set for the replanting of Mau Forest’s trees to cover the patches that are now tea, maize, bean and sukuma wiki farms. Eldama Ravine MP Moses Lessonet appear to capture the mood of the 18 Rift MPs when he rose the PM, "and so where does Mau Forest start and end...?

Raila’s responded with glee: "I don’t know whether you want longitudes or latitudes. I have presented a map and the Hon Member can look at it."

Probably he asked the question after weighing the possible extent of the upcoming removal of human settlement in the forest that was parcelled out to peasants and high-profiled personalities who squeezed their names among those of squatters and other landless groups — including Ogiek’s forest community — to get a new home and thousands of acres to farm or simply add to his inventory of property empire. Prime Minister Raila Odinga was forced to table a list of hitherto faceless landowners in the Mau forest saga.

Raila said he was doing so "reluctantly" after Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale demanded it, asking the Chair to deal with the PM for ‘evading the question’. The PM also tabled maps detailing the water towers’ destruction.
The Public Accounts Committee chairman had told the House the Government degazetted parts of Mau in 1996, marking the beginning of the destruction.

"Powerful individuals formed companies to get a share of the Mau," Khalwale said. "Because of the chest-thumping by some politicians, I ask the PM to table the list of original allottees who are the genesis of this problem."
Thanks to Standard