The Mau Forest Complex conservation debate has always had its share of politics and ethnic undertones. It is unfortunate that the simmering ethnic tensions associated with the water tower have boiled over in the ongoing evictions.
The consequence has been deaths, injuries and displacement of hundreds from their homes, in ethnic clashes in Narok South.
Hundreds of children are out of school because schools have been burned down or because their families fled the clashes. This is despite the fact that some learners are expected to sit their national examinations starting next month.
If media reports are anything to go by, the situation is far from being contained, let alone the dispute resolved. While Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya has been at pains to assure residents that everything is under control, the truth is that the region remains a veritable powder keg of ethnic and political tensions that will take more than few arrests to defuse.
The government must go beyond just arresting and prosecuting the culprits in the skirmishes. First, political sponsors of the conflict must not be allowed to go scot free with the crime. Like many other conflicts in the country, utterances and actions of politicians may be responsible for inflaming passions among otherwise peaceful communities in Narok South.
If the authorities restrict their investigations to the foot soldiers, they will have merely treated the symptoms while the cause remains intact. In the newfound spirit of fighting impunity, politicians behind the Narok skirmishes must be held accountable.
Second, the government must solve the Mau problem once and for all. While the restoration of the water tower was initially purely a conservation matter, it has been contaminated by politics. That was the case in the 2009 evictions.
The politicisation of the issue makes it difficult to tell where genuine conservation and humanitarian concerns end and where political and ethnic interests begin. To conclusively solve the Mau problem, the politicisation must stop. Mau should be treated for what it is: need for a balance between people’s lives and conservation imperatives.
In the meantime, families in Narok South need to feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods. Class Eight and Form Four candidates should be in school preparing for their respective exams.