In Summary
  • Why must the evictions take place during the rains or the school term?

  • It is anyone’s guess why no one in government seems to care about these vulnerable groups.

  • What is clear is that the evictions have also been quite selective so far, with the poor being the soft target.

It is hard to argue against the conservation of Mau Forest, a vital water catchment on which about 10 million people in Kenya and other countries in the region depend.

The forest has drastically shrunk in size and value in recent years under the pressure of human settlement, government excisions, illegal logging and fires.

At the global level, the massive destruction of Mau also evokes fears about climate change.

PLAINLY WRONG

To its credit, the Kenyan government has rolled out a restoration plan, which also involves kicking settlers out of the forest.

But the manner it is going about evicting people is plainly wrong.

By failing to provide alternative settlement to the hundreds of thousands of targeted evictees, the government risks swelling the numbers of the country’s internal refugees and creating another humanitarian crisis for itself.

Many parts of the country are already teeming with internally displaced persons, including victims of ethnic clashes and election-related violence.

About 60,000 families will be affected by the latest and second round of evictions set to be enforced by October 31.

Some 12,000 people were kicked out of the forest in the first phase in July last year.

TORCHING HOUSES

Their eviction was particularly memorable for the crude and cruel tactics employed by the State, including security officers torching houses.

The most disturbing picture from the scene published in the national newspapers was of a lone child sitting helplessly against the backdrop of their burnt-down family house.

That picture highlighted another serious weakness of the Mau forest restoration programme: it tars the settlers with too broad a brush and ignores the plight of the vulnerable groups.

Among the people the government only profiles as settlers are children, women, girls, people living with disabilities, the sick and the elderly.

How does it not bother anyone in government that in the chaos of evictions, women and girls, for instance, are at a high risk of being raped and people with disabilities will be in more distress?

Where is the social care plan to ensure that the babies, the sick and the elderly people being moved out of their shelters don’t catch pneumonia?

SOFT TARGET

Why must the evictions take place during the rains or the school term?

It is anyone’s guess why no one in government seems to care about these vulnerable groups.

What is clear is that the evictions have also been quite selective so far, with the poor being the soft target.

The report of the Ndung’u Commission on illegal and irregular allocation of public land showed that a number of Kenya’s wealthy and political elite and big churches were beneficiaries of the Mau Forest land-grab. Some of them have built tea factories and expensive schools on the looted land.

The reluctance of the government to reclaim the rich people’s land while tormenting the vulnerable squatters is stripping the Mau conservation effort of the human face it needs to succeed.

jkotieno@ke.nationmedia.com. @otienootieno