Noah Wekesa: Mau encroachers have not suffered

The Mau Forest Complex task force report was endorsed by the Cabinet and adopted by Parliament on September 15.

The government then launched an interim coordination secretariat in the office of the PM to coordinate the implementation of the report. Various government ministries were tasked with implementing the report which was to be carried out in five phases.

The first phase was to repossess all unparceled and unsettled land within Likia extension and Mariashoni in Eastern Mau. The second phase was to remove all the encroachers from the 19,000 ha from South West Mau Forest. The third, fourth and fifth phase was to repossess and restore critical water catchment areas and biodiversity hotspots.

Some of the key recommendations of the report were; approximately 500 ha that were excised in 2001 and were not parceled should be reclaimed back to the protected forest estate as an immediate measure;

All title deeds issued in Likia extension which is approximately 1,050 ha currently unoccupied should be revoked and the area should be reclaimed back to the protected forest estate; and all title deeds that were issued irregularly or not issued in line with the stated purposes of the settlement scheme or issued in critical water catchment areas and/or biodiversity hotspots should be revoked.

The government's instruction is that the report must be implemented in accordance with the law. The fundamental human rights were to be respected at all times in the implementation process.

Regarding the implementation of the report, a 14-day vacation notice was given by my ministry for all encroachers to vacate South West Mau Forest. After the notice expired, most of the encroachers began to move out willingly. By now, 5,600 encroachers have registered with my ministry and voluntarily moved out of the forest.

After the notice expired, the government gave the encroachers a week to harvest their mature crops.

On November 19, the operation to assist the encroachers to vacate was then launched by the government. The exercise was carried out humanely. A woman who unfortunately died while in the transit camp was later found to have died of natural causes and the matter has been referred to the police.

All encroachers were not to be compensated as they were in the forest illegally. The Forest Act 2005 prohibits squatting or encroaching in the forest and further provides for penalties for offenders.

These encroachers contributed significantly to the degradation of the Mau Forest Complex which is going to cost this government approximately Sh38 billion to restore.

We are aware that politicians from the region have been visiting the settlers at their transit camps to urge them not to move to their ancestral home areas until the government gives them alternative land. This is intended to perpetuate impunity.

In 2005 there were no encroachers in the South West Mau.

However, by 2007 the forest was invaded by the encroachers. In phase one and two of these programmes, these encroachers have been registered and through their IDs have been identified to have homes.

Thus, the government has provided them with transportation to their home areas and arranged for a month livelihood support by Special Programmes ministry to help them settle into their new lives.

We intend to raise a total of 14 million seedlings to be planted in the Mau Conservancy within this financial year. We will put up additional posts to secure the forest and also enhance management infrastructure within the forest.

The reforestation has already begun. To date, 200 hectares of the degraded forest has already been replanted. A large tree nursery has also been established and over 300,000 seedlings have been planted. My ministry intends to use the Kazi Kwa Vijana initiative to rehabilitate the Mau Forest.

The Ministry of Health has been providing health services, the Ministry of Special Pro-grammes have delivered food and non food items. These include 990 (90kg) bags of maize, 450 (50kg) bags of beans, 390 cartons of cooking oil, 2,040 pieces of blankets, 1,020 pieces of jerricans and 50 cartons soap.

The government is considering giving Sh35,000 for relocation per household. This must emphasize is only for families that have registered and moved out of the forest.

The money is being offered on humanitarian grounds to assist the families settle and success of this exercise can only be achieved if the families that have moved out of the forest are encouraged to register.

Dr Noah Wekesa is the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife.

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