What do you get when you mix a chameleon with a kleptomaniac…a Kenyan politician. As cynical as this may sound, this seems to be the predominant approach by Kenyan politicians to the restoration of the Mau Forest. When its politically convenient most politicians go green, waxing lyrical about conserving the most important catchment area in East Africa. However, when the Mau Forest is deemed to be strategically obselete they’ll blend back into the mob of spineless politicians who make it their mission to amass as much wealth as possible at the expense of the masses. In other words, the Mau Forest is a just another piece on the political chessboard.
Mr Raila Odinga, is according to most, the most popular presidential aspirant in the upcoming 2013 presidential elections and most likely to become the fourth president of the Republic of Kenya. Mr Odinga is a latter day conservationist and PM of the Republic of Kenya- who made it his mission in 2009-10 to restore the Mau Forest. He made an emphatic statement by declaring that if he didn’t fulfill his mandate to restore the Mau Forest he would forfeit his political career and sell mandazis (East African donuts ) in Kibera . In other words, he took on the political establishment with his trademark charisma and flair and put his political career to the sword.
Clip: Mr. Odinga makes his stand on the Mau Forest
Was this a political move? David Makali’s timely article ‘PM playing politics with Mau evictees’ asks pertinent questions concerning the PM’s stand on the restoration of the Mau. What happened to phase three and four of the Mau Forest restoration?. Why has the work of the Mau Forest restoration secretariat come to an abrupt end?. Phase one and two involved the removal of poor small scale farmers from various sections of the Mau, most of whom are currently stranded in makeshift slums on the periphery of the Mau making mandazis.
A six year global study of forest use deforestation and poverty conducted by the Indonesia based Centre for International Forest Research (CIFOR) could be ontu something interesting. Essentially, the study suggests that the Government of Kenya (GoK) may have been dealing with the Mau Forest eviction and the subsequent restoration of the Mau Forest from the wrong end. In a sense, holding the bull by the tail rather than by the horns. The study puts forward compelling arguments which essentially debunk long held misconceptions on Forest management, stating that poor forest dwellers or ‘squatters’ as they are called in Kenya, are the prime culprits in deforestation .The study concludes by stating that community owned forests are managed more sustainably because the forest dwellers control and therefore have a stake in the forest reources as opposed to state owned forests, which are bogged down by corruption.The study is specific in defining forest dwellers as communities that have adapated a sustainable lifestyle to the forest ecosystem. In this regard, poor small scale landowners that have adopted unsustainable lifestyles incompatible with the forest ecosystem should be evicted. However, the study points out that they aren’t the main culprits. This study was carried out by PhD students, involving over 8000 detailed interviews in 24 countries.
A recent report GEO 5 shares similar sentiments
The CIFOR study found that the rich take more from forests because, to put it candidly, they can. The study reiterated that the forest is a source of wealth for the rich because of the scale of deforestation for wealth creation.Take for instance the expansive Kiptagich farms and tea estates in west and southwestern parts of Mau Forest, owned by retired president of Kenya Mr. Moi. These huge properties, which were hundreds of thousands of acrs of prime Mau forest land, are said to be the size of Nyanza province in Western Kenya. One could argue that Mr. Moi is singlehandedly the largest deforester in the Mau Forest.
While the eviction of the poor small scale land owners from the Mau Forest may have been a success, the real villians, the large land owners, continue to reap massive profits from the continued destruction of this crucial ecosystem. When Mr. Odinga appointed Mr. Gideon Moi, the son of the former president, who also owns a large chunk of the Mau Forest, to chair the committee which would oversee the completion of phase three and four of the restoration process, one can understand my confusion. It didn’t seem to make sense that Phase three and four, which covers the removal of medium and large land owners in the Mau Forest would be overseen by large land owner in the Mau Forest.
Furthermore, last week ,the PM launched a new government agency, Kenya Water Towers Agency. According to PM Raila Odinga, the agency was established to oversee the ‘harmonised, effecient and effective management of the water towers’. He reiterated that the forest contribute 3.6 percent of Kenyas Gross Domestic Product with annual economic benefits from Mau Forest alone standing at KES 135 billion or USD 1.5 billion. Despite these compelling statistics, these government agencies are working for the rich. The honorable PM launched a government sanctioned commission and a state run agency which essentially protects the rich from facing justice for the environmental damage they are causing for the sake of profit. These agencies grant the rich large scale landowners the mandate to continue taking as much as they wish from the Mau. The wealthy large scale land owners in the Mau are definitely laughing all the way to the bank.. In the meantime, the poor will do sell mandazis on the edge of the Mau and our politicians will attend the Rio+20.