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No one should disrupt Mau Forest evictions

By EDITORIAL
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A fresh initiative to restore the Mau Forest complex comes with serious political implications, but must be actualised in whichever way.

Over the years, parts of the forest, like others elsewhere, have either been excised and allocated to individuals or opened up for occupation by illegal squatters, all to serve selfish political interests but with consequent environmental degradation.

Now, the government has ordered the eviction of illegal squatters from the forest following a recent report by a task force commissioned by Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, which recommended the recovery and restoration of all natural forests to avert natural calamities associated with degradation of the ecosystems.

Further, the government has enforced a ban on logging, which has become the singular cause of depletion of forests.

So far, we are encouraged that the government is acting on the recommendations and has begun the evictions, which it says will continue until the last person leaves the forest.

The authorities must act resolutely and see the exercise through to its logical end. The only caveat, though, is that the evictions should be humane.

Never again should we allow forests and other natural resources to be depleted through the instigation of politicians serving short-lived and selfish interests.

Forest and public resources should never be allocated to individuals — as happened in the past, especially during the Kanu era, when they were used to buy political support.

Indeed, years of plunder have seen the Mau lose a massive 8,214 hectares of forest cover between 1973 and 2005 with heavy environmental losses.

Many rivers have dried up and the geological impact on the lower basins, including Narok Town, has been severe.

Despite that, efforts to restore it to its original form and shape have faced serious contestations, largely fuelled by politicians.

ILLEGAL SQUATTERS

The most memorable was in 2009, when the Grand Coalition government decreed eviction of illegal squatters and which assignment was given to then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

It would be stiffly resisted and later used against him. In 2013, when he contested the presidency, he was accused of dispossessing the squatters and leaving them homeless by evicting them from the forest.

For now, the task ahead is to remove the families who have since taken occupation of the forest land and, beyond that, the government must embark on a comprehensive restoration programme, including planting trees and protecting it from further exploitation.

Mau is the biggest of the country’s five water towers and feeds several rivers that flow to Lake Victoria and serve the entire East Africa. It must be protected and the politicians must keep off.