Like a decade ago, the Mau Forest Complex has become a political hot potato that is threatening to bring another political marriage to an acrimonious end.
Ten years ago, it caused a bitter fallout in ODM, between the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Cabinet minister William Ruto, who disagreed on the plan to evict illegal occupants from the forest, one of the country’s main water towers.
Ironically, it was this split which eventually gave birth to the next most formidable political marriage between Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto, which has delivered two election victories in a row – 2013 and 2017 – under the Jubilee Party banner.
But exactly a decade later, another operation to evict squatters from the forest in Narok county is causing serious division in Jubilee, with some politicians allied to Deputy President Ruto opposing the manner in which the evictions are being carried out.
The Mau controversy started exactly ten years ago when the then Prime Minister Raila formed the Mau Task Force to conduct “expeditious and consultative appraisal of the situation on the ground and provide recommendations to the government”.
The Prof Fredrick Owino-led Task Force was launched on July 22, 2008 and was mandated to provide effective management structure to stop further degradation of the forests as well as provide long-term solutions to uncontrolled human settlement.
It was also asked to suggest a way forward and modalities for relocation of people who had encroached on the forest.
The Task Force traced the current problems in Mau to 2001 when the government announced plans to curve out some 61,587 hectares to resettle members of the Ogiek community.
This, however, opened a window for government officials and top politicians in President Daniel arap Moi’s government who allocated themselves, friends and families huge tracts of forest land.
By the end of the allocation, more than 107,707 hectares of land, representing 25 per cent of the forest had been cleared.
In its report, the Task Force said its biggest challenge was managing the uncertainties and ethnic tensions brought about by fears of eviction and relocation of people who had illegally settled in the forest land. The Task Force’s fears proved right.
In far-reaching recommendations that split the political class, the Task Force recommended that all title deeds that were irregularly issued numbering about 20,000 be revoked and government officers found culpable charged.
Key figures in Moi’s government, including his son Gideon and former Baringo Central MP Sammy Mwaita, were mentioned in the report. The Task Force also said Kiptagich Tea Factory, which is associated with the former President is also part of the forest land. The Moi family has denied the report findings.
The reverberations from the political fallout, which mainly affected the ODM wing of the Grand Coalition Government, partly determined the outcome on the 2013 election.
Peter Cheruiyot, who represented the Ogiek community in the Task Force, has urged politicians to stop politicising the issue and support the government’s efforts to restore the forest.
“Politicians should support the President and stop causing confusion in Mau,” he said.