Up until now, the allocations are still mutating, according to multiple interviews in the area.

For instance, despite a restriction on the Enkaroni Group Ranch title, the Chief Registrar of Lands went ahead to remove this caveat nine years later, on December 27, 1989.

About 13 months later, another restriction was placed. Further, the Chief Land Registrar, through letter ref NRK/B/34/Vol.II/217 dated April 4, 1999, removed the restriction.

“Even now, (a former official) of Reiyo Group Ranch is still giving out plots,” says Joseph ole Karia, a member of the ‘Prime Minister’s Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forest Complex’ and a former councillor of Olololulunga Ward in Narok County.

GOLD RUSH

This inconceivable increases were meant to benefit non-members, known by the moniker “acceptees” =, in exchange of money or kind.

The transactions were done in hotels, away from the site. This explains why in Enakishomi’s case, for instance, the perpetrators merely changed the first digit of its registered land, from 1 (1,748.5 hectares) to 9 (9,748.5 hectares) — an increase of 8,000 hectares.

The acceptees — civil servants and politicians — then moved exceedingly fast to dispose of their pieces to unsuspecting buyers mostly from neighbouring Bomet and Kericho counties.

The Maasai Mau Forest became a gold rush. It was also a theatre of the absurd. Double, even multiple allocations were the order of the day. Non-existent land was offered for sale.

Some of the plots have since changed hands more than 10 times. Latest figures indicate that 10,000 households occupy the disputed land yet only 712 have titles.

In 1999, a group of 20 councillors comprising members of the Environment and Wildlife Committee of the Narok County Council on a fact-finding mission in Maasai Mau Forest decided to allocate themselves plots rather than report back about its destruction.

Retired army officer Zephaniah Ruto Kones, who has been the poster boy of all evictions since 2005, has four “titles” to pieces the government considers part of the Maasai Mau Forest.

TRUST LAND

After purchasing the land using money he made during peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Bosnia, he embarked on investments, including turning his two-acre plot into a trading centre he symbolically renamed Sierra Leone.

“I had a garage, a storied building, a car park, many shops,” says the father of seven. “I have 22 acres and 14 acres of shamba. I have four titles I acquired in 2000 and 2001. They’re all genuine.”

But the government says his titles are irregular — acquired fraudulently.

So how and why was this fraud so simple to execute? Why would a government trash land titles it issued out to its own citizens?

Two things facilitated the plunder of Maasai Mau Forest and turned its restoration into a nightmare. One, this forest is a trust land — a resource belonging to a community.

Unlike the 21 neighbouring forest blocks, Maasai Mau Forest has neither been surveyed nor gazetted and titled as a forest.

Its boundaries are also not clear, thus attracting speculators out to reap from the confusion over its status.

With this hindsight, the perpetrators devised a deceptive regime to benefit from the forest.

BOUNDARY

The syndicate assembled officials of the group ranches, Narok councillors and council staff, Ministry of Lands officials, private and government surveyors, and forest personnel. These persons are guilty of sins of omission and commission.

They then frustrated any move to survey, gazette and title the forest. Then they rushed to the Forest Department (now Kenya Forest Services) and Survey of Kenya and removed the declarations by the Ntutu Commission, including the map of boundaries.

For the first time, the Nation can reveal that authorities are unable to firmly declare the forest’s official boundaries.

The report of the proceedings of the Ntutu Commission and its boundary markings cannot be traced in any of the government departments — Kenya Forest Services or the Survey of Kenya — where they were meant to be safeguarded.

“It is not there,” said a senior conservationist.

The Raila Task force was unable to access the Ntutu Commission declarations. The 1996 Taskforce on the Gazettment of Narok Forests couldn’t find the document.

COMPLICITY

Now, to re-enact the boundaries, authorities have based their decisions on proxy information — sketch notes and maps generated during the sitting of the Ntutu Commission.

“It was an intricate plan,” says a former member of the task force.

The area forest officer who, ideally should have protected the forest from invasion, instead gave a “letter of no objection” to the group ranches seeking to expand their boundaries.

Ministry of Lands officials, jointly with councillors and county officials, embarked on demarcation based on this letters.

When Jubilee ascended to power in 2013, it also got entangled in the mess.

It now emerges that senior politicians pushed for the establishment of the now disputed Nyayo Tea Zones as a buffer against further encroachment, but also as a way of locking in settlers already in the area, safeguarding them against future evictions.

This boundary is six kilometres inside the forest, as opposed to the cutline tat is now cited as the official demarcation.

“This was a scheme to give the people false confidence that the ballooning was credible; that this was a trust land available for settlement,” Mr Natembeya says.

BLEAK FUTURE

In Narok County, the home of this endangered forest, the despair over its survival is palpable.

“(Many) task forces have been set up (to save Mau) but there’s little light,” says Meitamei olol Dapash, an adjunct professor at Prescott University in the US and a long time advocate of the environment and indigenous rights.

Indeed, the Maasai Mau Forest is a political hot potato. It is fodder for human rights advocates opposed to evictions on one hand, and the powerful beneficiaries in haste to invoke ethnic loyalties as measure against the reclaiming of the key water tower, on the other.

Swords are unsheathed as top politicians take positions on the evictions scheduled for next November.

“If there is no water, there will be no security of any kind. Already we are feeling the tension here where women walk for long distances in search of water. We can keep postponing this time bomb, but the cost of inaction and politicking will be catastrophic,” warns Prof Dapash.

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