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Sunday, June 4, 2023

PACJA seeks caution in Mau eviction process

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) has called for sobriety and caution in removing encroachers from the Mau water tower in Kenya.

Maasai Mau settlers
Maasai Mau settlers

Speaking on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 when he read a statement to declare the organisation’s stand on the Mau evictions, PACJA Executive Director Mithika Mwenda said it was important to take caution while evicting the families that have lived in the forest for decades, and whose women and children risked suffering inhumane treatment from the security forces.

“We would wish to address ourselves particularly to the evictions happening in Maasai Mau forest; the communities settling in the forest are mostly victims of conmen who acquired land through illegal extension of ranches into Maasai Mau forest and later sold it to unsuspecting buyers,” Mwenda said.

The Kenyan government has been implementing the evictions for the better part of the year, and at some point gave a notice for those with titles to the land to return them. There was also a notice for voluntary exit from the forest before the government began forceful eviction.

Many of the victims of the evictions are thought to have been duped into selling their pieces of land in their homes, mostly in the Rift Valley, and buying at a cheaper rate land within the Mau forest, which they then occupied, farmed and in the end reduced the forest cover by a significant amount.

In the Maasai Mau Trust Land, an estimated 2,147 households were found to be residing inside the Trust Land Forest. This occurred due to illegal extension of group ranches beyond their adjudicated boundaries.

The extent of the conmanship that led to the disaster at the water tower was made clear on Wednesday as it emerged that up to 100 people bore photocopies of the same title deed, a matter that is under investigation. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions was on Tuesday said to have been handed the names of several corrupt Government officials suspected to have sold off the land.

PACJA and its partners on Wednesday also met the Narok DC Felix Kisalu and several Kenya Forest Services officers, and made clear their stand on the evictions.

The government, through the Environment and Forest Ministry, headed by Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, has vowed to clear the forest of encroachers and started an initiative to plant at least 10 million trees, some which will be sprayed down from aircrafts. The Government expects to achieve at least 75 percent germination of seeds that will be dropped from the air.

While on a fact finding mission in the Maasai Mau on Tuesday, Mwenda, accompanied by a team from Defenders’ Coalition and the Kenya National Human Rights, said it was important to be very careful not to punish vulnerable women and children “while the real perpetrators (conmen) who sold the land are walking free”.

PACJA and its partners were on Tuesday on a fact finding mission aimed at assessing the status of eviction from the Maasai Mau forest and come up with recommendations on addressing the forest encroachment issue. The mission comprised of a team of 10 drawn from PACJA, Amnesty International and Kenya National Human Rights Commission. Together with Ecosystem Conservator, they met the Narok County Environment CEC, a team from the county as well as journalists, and established that the county government lacked post-eviction plan in the whole exercise.

Mwenda urged the government to use its powers to use the fraudsters who duped a huge number of Kenyans into buying huge chunks of forest land and bring them to book. “The government has the mechanisms to identify the actual individuals who sold the forest land and even the government officials who went ahead and issued title deeds to unsuspecting buyers,” the climate justice champion said yesterday.

The meeting on Wednesday at the Mau complex was used to state the PACJA and its partner organisations’ position and push for the Government to be more humane as it evicts encroachers from the forest.

“Climate change response is not just about protection of natural resources, but it is also about the people and justice should be done even as respond to this crisis,” a joint communique by the team stated.

Recently, a team of politicians from Rift Valley region bought at least 24 acres land to accommodate victims of the Mau evictions after efforts to discourage the Government from evacuating the households failed.

PACJA and its partners have vowed to follow up on the evictions and appeal to the government to ensure dignity and the rights of the affected are not forgotten, including by helping resettle some of the cases that have nowhere to go.

“While acknowledging that the government has no obligation to compensate communities for land which is forestland, we are calling for a consideration of the poor victims of deceit through ex gratia payment so that they can build their lives again,” the joint statement reads in part.

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