THE CRUEL EFFECTS OF CLIMATE change have hit Kenyans hard in the face, all courtesy of the political elite ignoring sound environmental advice and also hiving off parts of the Mau Forest Complex (MFC) for their personal gain.
The MFC is situated in the Great Rift Valley. It covers a substantial area of Kenya's southwestern highlands, representing the largest remaining block of indigenous forest in East Africa. It has six main forest reserves, namely Eastern, Western, Southwestern Mau, Trans-Mara, Ol Pusimoru, and the Maasai Mau.
The MFC has deep fertile volcanic soils, and is the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem of Kenya.
Two provinces--Rift Valley and Western--depend entirely on the MFC as it is the single most important water catchment zone for these two expansive administrative regions in Kenya and also for neighbouring countries.
During the second tenure of former President Daniel arap Moi, 140,000 hectares of the Mau Complex were excised allegedly for the "settlement of the Ogiek" minority community who are primarily forest-dwellers. But this, with time, has proved to be a ruse for extensive illegal and ill-planned settlements, as well as unlawful extraction of forest resources and overuse of water by large-scale irrigation plantations owned by top politicians of the Moi era.
Kenya's Grand Coalition Government is now in a dilemma--it can choose to reclaim the forest in order to forestall the harsh effects of climate change, or allow the status quo to remain and face the political backlash likely to follow. Reclaiming the forest for reforestation means relocating over 25,000 settlers within the 400,000-hectare MFC.
At the centre of the storm is the intra-party politics of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a key partner in the coalition government. The ODM leader and Kenya's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who supports the resettlement of the Mau Complex settlers, has found himself trying to quell dissent in his party as his position on the MFC has been opposed by a majority of ODM MPs from the Rift Valley province, led by his party's deputy William Ruto, who commands huge support in the Rift Valley and also doubles up as agriculture minister.
According to Odinga: "The excisions and the widespread encroachments have led to the destruction of nearly a quarter of the Mau Complex area over the past 15 years. Such an extensive and ongoing destruction of a key natural asset for the country is nothing less than a national emergency."
The prime minister has vowed "not to be intimidated. I will not be blackmailed. I am ready to pay the price. I am doing this for Kenya. It is a matter of national interest. I am on the side of the truth and it never fails."
In July, Odinga named the illegal beneficiaries of the MFC in parliament--a list that read like a "who-was-who" in Moi's government. The former president himself, alleged to have a huge tea plantation and factory in the forest, has hinted that if the evictions were carried out, the likelihood of bloodshed could not be overruled.
In mid-August, Odinga warned the MFC beneficiaries and the former president that the coalition government was determined to "take back the land and prosecute them", and so "the former president should keep quiet as we are trying to clean up his mess."
Initially the issue was viewed as the ODM's Achilles heel. Even when the warnings were sounded as far back as the 1990s, when the excisions were taking place, only a few people took an interest. Today, the circumstances have changed, thanks to climate change. Drought and food shortages have forced the country to revisit the issue.
The Rift Valley legislators, led by the agricultural minister William Ruto, have had a hard time explaining themselves to the public. "We are not madmen to oppose the conservation of the Mau water tower. …