Nairobi Star - Wycliffe Muga: Maathai is Dead Wrong on Mau

MY recent criticism of our Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai, and her interventions in the controversy on the Mau forest, appears to have troubled quite a few readers.

Obviously there are many who see her as a national icon, beyond all criticism.

Nonetheless, hardly a day passes before she comes up with some new statement to confirm that for all the honours that she has received internationally, she is first and foremost a parochial Kenyan politician, no different at all from many others. And in this she is further revealed to be both a false prophet and a hypocrite.

The most recent proof of her hypocrisy was in that she has guided some World Bank reforestation project right into her own political backyard, in the Aberdares mountain range.

This happens to be the one forest that is already effectively protected by a fence of the kind that the government has pledged to one day put up around the Mau forest.

But if we set aside for a minute her fame as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and see her as a failed politician determined to regain the Tetu Constituency seat in 2012, the choice of the Aberdares as the place to set up this labour-intensive tree planting makes perfect sense. It's fairly typical of how Kenyan politicians operate.

And as the gullibility of World Bank technocrats is stuff of legend, it cannot have been all that difficult for a person of her stature to convince the local World Bank office that Central Province was the ideal place for such a project - even though Eastern Province probably deserved it more.

What is far more disturbing, however, is her persistent declaration that no compensation should be given to the Mau farmers, and also that they must be evicted without delay.

In this she is a false prophet very much like those political leaders who, in the early years of independence in the 1960s, argued that the departing "white settlers" should not be compensated for giving up their farms, since this land they were now selling had been originally "stolen" from the indigenous Kenyan tribes.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. And their wisdom was to be vindicated a full 30 years later, when the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe set out to accomplish precisely what these Kenyan politicians had advocated in the 1960s: violent and compulsory acquisition of the land owned by white farmers, with no compensation.

The contrast between the subsequent collapse of the Zimbabwean agriculture-based economy, and the relative success and resilience of the millions of Kenyan smallholder farms, could not be greater.

And the underpinning factor in all this is that in Kenya property rights were respected, while in Zimbabwe, property rights were violated.

When Maathai argues that there is no need to compensate the Mau settlers, since they "stole" that land, her words merely echo what Mugabe has been saying for over a decade.

She is supporting violation of the property rights of those farmers in the Mau, many of whom bought their land from the original allottees and received title deeds from the local lands registry.

It is true enough that there is something inherently dubious in the fact that former
president Moi should have a vast tea estate in what was formerly Mau forest land.

But as the French philosopher Ernest Renan said, "To form a common nation, people have to agree to remember a few things but also to forget a few things". And, as concerns the Mau, this perspective argues against violent eviction with no compensation paid.

For make no mistake - in the absence of compensation, those evictions will of necessity have to be violent.

We have already seen how this plays out, back in 2005, when the Lands minister of the time, Amos Kimunya, declaring the title deeds of the Mau settlers to be "mere pieces of paper", coordinated an eviction which saw homes, churches and schools burned and traumatised families left out in the cold on roadsides.

This is more or less what happened again on a more terrifying scale in the post-election violence, for which some of our leaders are now faced with the likelihood of being indicted by the International Criminal Court.

Given this recent history, if Maathai is determined to continue in her insane persecution of the farmers in the Mau, this is what she must do:

First she should return her Peace Medal to the Committee in Stockholm that gave it to her. And then she should prepare to make a journey to The Hague when the time comes, to join the other Kenyan political leaders who stand accused of fomenting politically-instigated violence within our borders.

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