Category Archives: Mau Forest Complex

Local People Saving The Mau

Two or so weeks ago – 15 January to be exact – Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been unwavering in his quest to save the Mau Forest, led a large delegation of government officials to Kaptunga Forest in the Mau Forest Complex to launch the governments Mau Forest Restoration programme. A large crowd of local people – as would be expected – turned up to cheer him on in this endeavor that has bred discord from within Mr Odinga’s political party. The rehabilitation of the Mau Forest, and the eviction of illegal settlers inside East Africa’s largest forest bloc has been controversial and Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party has suffered some seemingly ideological splits between those who support eviction and those who oppose the eviction.

But, as the politics of the Mau heated up at Kaptunga, I was in another village a few kilometres away from where the Prime Minister was planting trees. I was with a group of Ogiek people – a hunter gatherer indegenous community that has lived in the Mau for thousands of years – planting trees. I was there by invitation from Dr Mukuria Mwangi who has started an on-farm tree planting innitiative as a contribution to the restoration of the Mau Forest – and blogs at Mau-Mandala. We were latter to go to the political rally that followed the prime minister’s tree planting launch at Kaptunga.

I got to talk with Dr Mukuria and the local people about the project and  how they are going to make it work. I recorded some of our discussions on video.

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The Pain of Saving the Mau Forest Complex

Kenya just recently went through the most devastating drought in decades. It is believed that in some parts of the country, this drought was made worse by forest destruction and the resultant drying of rivers. The most dramatic case of rivers drying was experienced in the areas which source their water from the Mau Forest Complex. The Mau is the largest continuous forest area in East Africa and is the source of many rivers including the Mara River, which runs through, and is the lifeline, of Kenya’s most celebrated wildlife conservation area – the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Map of Mau in Kenya
The Mau Complex in Kenya (Map: BBC News)

For years, the Mau has suffered severe destruction as land hungry Kenyans invade the forest, sometimes with government consent and fraudulently issued legal land ownership documents. According to the BBC “During the past 15 years, more than 100,000 hectares – one quarter of the protected forest reserve – had been settled and cleared.” About 20,000 families had settled in the forest.

In the last few years, the government has been working on the removal of these illegal settlers from this forest complex which is the largest of the country’s 5 most important ‘water towers’. Now it seems that the government is succeeding, but it has not been – as usual -without its fair share of politics. Of course, where voters are concerned, the politicians will take sides depending on which block of the electorate they want to align themselves with.

That said, the first batch of illegal settlers started leaving the forest a couple of days ago. This, in environmental terms is good as the government has promissed to plant 100-million trees to replace those felled by the settlers. It is a good start but it will definitely take decades before the rivers of the Mau can once again flow as they did before the 1990s.

This eviction however introduces a sad humanitarian crisis since many of the evictees have nowhere else to go. Many have resigned to a life of squalor on the outskirts of the forest, along major roads. The government says it has plans to resettle those who are genuinely homeless in the same fashion it is assisting the IDPs who resulted from the violent fallout from the disputed 2007 presidential elections. We however know how these things work.

To really know how the government is likely to deal with this huge humanitarian burden, you just need to reflect back to the case of evictees that came from the Mount Kenya Forest. This particular group had been living in the forest when the colonial government demarcated the forest reserve in 1950. In 1989 however, they were evicted after they started encroaching further into the forest. Since then, they stayed by the roadside until July 2009 when they were allocated land in Laikipia area north of Mount Kenya. They had been on the roadside for 20 years.

Is the eviction of 20,000 humans out of the forest a good thing? I would say yes. They need to get out so that the work of rehabilitating the forest can start in earnest. But, the government should act with haste to find alternative agricultural land to settle these people so that they can once again engage in economic activities that help in building the nation.

Evictees cannot be allowed to go back to the Mau. That would make matters worse. They should not be relocated to another protected area. There are still large tracts of land owned by a few rich Kenyans. Such land is lying idle and underutilized despite the fact that it is in prime agricultural areas. The government should force these greedy landowners to sell this land and use it to settle the landless.

Wildlife at risk as livestock invades Kenyan parks

The drought in Kenya is having terrible consequences for everyone especially in arid areas which are sending out appeals for help.

Wildlife is also at risk. Today, yet again, I came across herds of starving cattle in the Nairobi National Park.  The problem is provoking a muted response especially from KWS who seem hesitant to chase them out.  Some people think that this is the right “for humanitarian response”, and I’m hopping mad.According to the IUCN, a national park is meant to be a protected area where natural ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation or occupation and where the competent authority (KWS) takes steps to prevent or eliminate such impacts. National Parks are used for inspirational, educative, cultural and recreative purposes.

The KWS Vision is “To be a world leader in wildlife conservation” and it’s Mission is “To sustainably conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife and its habitat in collaboration with stakeholders for posterity”.


Even though Livestock is critical to our economy and contributes 12% of the GDP, the Kenyan government has failed Kenyan herders. Pastoralist occupy the ASAL areas (arid and semi arid lands) which make up two thirds of the country’s surface area. But very little has been done to help them. Historically the colonial government dispossessed land from pastoral communities, and our current government has been complacent and allows our political elite to benefit from the status quo by serving their private interests.

I believe that corruption in public institutions may be the greatest cause of Kenya’s economic decline, environmental degradation, and deepening poverty for millions of people.   It has created a humanitarian situation, for many Kenyans livestock keeping is a matter of survival.

This is why every time there are problems in the northern range lands, like droughts, conflict and disease, cattle are herded into the parks as a refuge.

KWS may in fact be powerless to stop them unless they take on a political war.

But does this effect conservation? Should we allow cattle in the parks?

I say “Hell No!! Chase them out as fast as possible!”  You may think me heartless in demanding that KWS drive the starving cattle and poor communities out of the parks. But  the long term consequence will cripple us – look at the devastating implications of corruption and impunity as a result of the destruction of the Mau forests.  Kenya’s entire economy is suffering and some 2,100 people will soon be homeless because of the greed of a few politicians.

There are also short term consequences of allowing cattle into our parks during droughts. Tourism is the backbone of this faltering economy, can we afford to ask visitors to pay $60 dollars per visit to see this?

cattle in Nairobi Park

Cattle taken into park after closing hours – Photo taken 6.20 pm last night at Nairobi National Park

Or this?

Cattle and zebras in Nairobi Park

Photo taken 8.30 am this morning in Nairobi National Park despite several reports to KWS

Instead of this?

Zebra in Nairobi city

Lion Masai Mara wildlifedirect

To me the answer to the cattle in the park problem is simple. Would the KWS director, or any of our ministers allow these sick starving cattle onto their personal property where their grazing would eat entire crops and destroy flower garden leaving a dust bowl and lots of parasites and diseases? Of course not!

Why is it that conservation areas are seen as opportunities to soften the devastating impacts our other failed policies? Numerous reports have concluded that the livestock ministry and related government departments, as well as our greedy political elite are  responsible for the crisis facing our cattle today. They created this problem, they must solve it.

In my opinion, letting cattle into the parks will not solve the problem any more than loosening the belt of an obese man will help him manage his weight.

What do you think? How can we send that message loud and clear that the Parks should not be used as emergency fodder for livestock during extreme droughts?

Drought and El Nino threaten Kenyas wildlife

Today Wangari Maathai wrote a thought provoking article warning all of us in Kenya that the water shortages, power black outs and crop failures that we are feeling now are payment for our disrespect towards the Mau Forest  – our most important water tower.

She argues that the destruction of Kenya’s Mau Forest Complex has come about as a result of years of mismanagement (planting of monocultures and abuse of shamba system) as well as corrupt practices that led to encroachment, land grabbing and illegal logging by politicians and their friends. It irks us that these were the very people we entrusted to protect it.

“These destructive practices greatly reduced the forest cover and the “environmental services” it renders us, which we take for granted.” She states. Indeed, Kenya is facing one of the worst droughts in living history. Rivers have dried up, hydro power schemes have shut down, and vegetation cannot survive in the dry earth. Starving animals have reduced the landscape to a dustbowl in many places, now livestock and wildlife are dying in droves.

Professor Maathai reminds us that environmental services including the control of rainfall patterns, conservation of rainwater in underground water reservoirs and wetlands, conserving biodiversity, controlling water flow and therefore soil conservation and serving as a carbon sink and thereby reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide have all been compromised. And this she says, is why we are suffering today.

Maathai is right that we must be pay for the environmental damage we cause. But she is wrong that the destruction of the Mau is the sole cause of this devastating drought. Climatologists are warning that this situation is much greater than the destruction of the Mau Forests. The failure of the rains this year and high temperatures are not due to local causes, these are signs of a global phenomenon the El Nino. They have sent out an alarm that we are facing an El Nino year. This devastating climatic aberration is associated with rising sea temperatures.

The situation is bad and is getting worse. In February the Kenyan Government declared a state of emergency saying that 10 million people may face hunger and starvation after a poor harvest, crop failure, a lack of rain and rising food prices.  According to predictions, the hot dry spell will be followed by windy storms and heavy rains after September and this could go on until February. The punishment will therefore be prolonged, with failing crops, and devastating floods.

As in 1964 we could see the death of 90% of the countries livestock. Wildlife is equally badly affected. We have been receiving heart wrenching reports of elephants, hippos, and wildebeest deaths in Amboseli, Masai Mara, Tsavo and Laikipia.

While the government deals with the humanitarian crisis, we must not forget the wildlife.

Cynthia Moss has just written to ask us to urgently help raise $10,000 towards saving elephants in Amboseli. Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants has also reported the ravages of the drought on elephants in Samburu. William Knocker has been writing about the situation in Nairobi National Park.With so many livestock herders inside the parks now it is essential that we help with law enforcement until the drought breaks.

This appeal is to ask you to help us save wildlife during the drought

Until the rains break we must protect the wildlife as best we can in Amboseli, Masai Mara, Laikipia and Samburu. Please contribute whatever you can to help us keep rangers in the field during this especially difficult time. Meanwhile, we will keep you updated as the situation develops.


The Politics of the Mau Complex

The power struggles that have characterized the intended eviction of illegal – and perceived legal – squatters from the Mau Complex in Kenya are now degenerating into some really nasty verbal offensives between politicians. On Tuesday, 23 September the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the Standard and other media reported that the Mau complex was threatening the unity of the ODM Party. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is Kenya’s Prime Minister’s party and has a majority in parliament.

The Mau, one of Kenya’s most important water catchments has been invaded by up to 15,000 families whose eviction – even with the nationwide acceptance that they have to leave – has proved to be extremely challenging for the government. Some of them do indeed have genuine land title deeds. Notwithstanding how fraudulently they acquired them, these are legal government documents that cannot just be wished away. That is why the squatters have stayed put. They say they will only move out when they are compensated for the land they own inside the Mau. They don’t want money, they want land: alternative land.

Now the urgency of evicting these families is creeping in on every Kenyan, and the politicians know this. Politicians being politicians, they see an opportunity to score some career mileage. They are now using the Mau saga – or more so the poor who were sold the land that should not have been sold in the first place – to muscle up their political ambitions. If the event of this Tuesday are anything to go by, then we are in for a lengthy soap opera with a tragic end. Not the happily ever after kind.

Tuesday’s media reports of the emerging cracks in ODM are based on a chain of events that were set into motion by their leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga when he announced that the squatters have to leave. The situation got worse when Raila, now increasingly getting frustrated by the politicisation of the Mau debacle publicly threatened to name and shame former Kenya African National Union (KANU) stalwarts who he purports are the main beneficiaries of the irregular allocations of land inside the Mau. Most of the remnants of this once powerful party – especially those who stuck with it towards the end of former President Daniel arap Moi’s regime in the late 1990s are now in ODM and they were not amused by the Prime Minister’s uttering.

KANU ruled this country since independence in 1963 until it was dislodged from power during the 2002 euphoric general elections by the then newly formed National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party. Towards the end of its authoritarian rule, KANU was blamed for having dragged this country through murky decades of economic plunder and stifled democracy. They are said to have acquired colossal swathes of land and Raila believes that, in the same manner, they own most of the Mau land in question.

The situation is so bad such that the Member of Parliament (MP) for Chepalungu Constituency in the expansive Rift Valley Province (where the Mau is located), Honourable Isaac Ruto, is actively campaigning for a candidate from a rival party to ODM for the comming by-elections that were necessitated by the death of a couple of MPs. Isaac was elected to parliament on an ODM ticket. He accuses the Prime Minister of betraying the people who enabled him get to power. Isaac Ruto’s brother, Hounorable Willam Ruto, is credited for having delivered the Rift Valley voting block that sealed the ODM’s parliamentary majority at the end of the hotly contested 2007 general elections in Kenya. Both were former KANU men.

To say that anyone can fully understand the complicated politics that are eating the Mau would be too ambitious. One columnist in the Standard has tried to explain the problem here. I don’t seek to understand these shenanigans. I seek only to see the squatters relocated away from this vital water tower in the most humane manner. The genuine squatters, especially the poor farmers who were duped into buying the land, should be given land elsewhere and immediate forest restoration should start – today. I wonder what will happen to the traditional hunter gatherer minority – the Ogiek – who’ve lived in that forest for eons.

Without the Mau – for example – the Masai Mara will not be the same. The Mara River will not flow. Maybe the wildebeest will stop their annual migration to the Mara and back to Serengeti in Tanzania. Maybe northern Serengeti will die. Maybe.