Kenya evicts thousands of forest squatters in attempt to save Rift valley

Mark mark at
Thu Nov 19 16:01:05 GMT 2009

Where the survival of underpriviledged peoples' squatting conflicts
head-on with concerns for environmental protection in Kenya... question
is, reading between the lines, it is no doubt vested capital interests in
the tourism, tea and energy industries acting to primarily protect their
interests - not altruistic concerns of environmental protection:

Kenya evicts thousands of forest squatters in attempt to save Rift valley

Tourism, tea and energy industries threatened after a quarter of huge Mau
forest destroyed in 20 years

by  Xan Rice in Nairobi
The Guardian, Wednesday 18 November 2009

Several thousand people who had settled illegally in Kenya's most
important forest have left their homes at the beginning of an eviction
plan designed to end rampant environmental degradation in the Rift valley.

Security officers this week entered the Mau forest, the country's largest
water catchment basin, in the first stage of a government operation that
will eventually see up to 30,000 families leave. More than a quarter of
the 400,000-hectare forest has been lost because of human activity over
the past 20 years, threatening Kenya's crucial tourism, tea and energy
sectors and the livelihoods of millions of people reliant on the Mau

"We have no time to waste here," said Christian Lambrechts, a United
Nations environment programme expert seconded to the government's Mau
Secretariat. "The ecological services must be restored."

The dozen or so rivers that originate in the montane forest complex feed
the Masai Mara Reserve and Lake Victoria, as well as the lush tea fields
of Kericho. But in recent years the river flows have decreased or stopped
during the dry season. At Lake Nakuru, Kenya's most visited national park,
wildlife officials were forced to pump in water to supply the animals this
summer when all the feeder rivers dried up.

A serious drought that has led to water and power shortages across the
country was a contributing factor. But human destruction of the once-thick
Mau Forest, which has caused its aquifer levels to fall significantly and
seen soil erosion increase, played a major part. At its root, as so often
happens in Kenya, is politics and corruption. Before the 1990s, the forest
was a protected area. But then senior officials in President Daniel arap
Moi's government grabbed large plots of the highly fertile land for
themselves – Moi still owns a large tea farm in the Mau – profiting from
the timber they cleared. They also removed protection from other parts of
the forest where thousands of their supporters were allowed to settle and
begin farming. Many of the plots were subdivided and then illegally sold
on, sometimes to unwitting buyers.

Amid warnings that the entire ecosystem in the Rift valley and western
Kenya was in danger due to the rapid deforestation, Kenya's government has
made saving the Mau its number one environmental priority. A task force
formed by the prime minister, Raila Odinga, last year recommended that all
settlers in the forest be removed and that cleared areas be rehabilitated
through mass tree planting. Only genuine titleholders – many of the titles
in circulation are fictitious – are to be considered for compensation.

Some politicians from Moi's Kalenjin ethnic group, among them large
beneficiaries of the land grab, have opposed the plan, describing it as an
attack on their community. They have demanded alternative land for the
nearly 1,700 families – about 8,000 people – identified as illegal
squatters without title who are being targeted in the first phase of the
operation. About 3,500 of them had left the Mau by this morning after
being served with eviction notices. Some have complained they have nowhere
else to go.

The next round of relocations, due in the next few months, will focus on
those people with some sort of title to the land. The trickiest part will
be dealing with the large landowners, including the politicians, who are
unlikely to give up their farms without a fight.

It is likely that some forest dwellers, including a few thousand members
of the Ogiek ethnic group who have lived in the Mau for generations, will
be allowed to remain.

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