Don’t risk a country’s fu­ture for po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency. No­body should be in the Mau

Nairobi Law Monthly - - Briefing -

Wa­ter is one of the most im­por­tant, per­haps the most im­por­tant, re­sources we ob­tain from forests. It is vi­tal for all liv­ing things; it is life. Forests de­ter­mine the quan­tity, rate and qual­ity of wa­ter which flows into streams and hence into dams.

It then fol­lows that care­ful man­age­ment of forests is vi­tal to en­sure our present and fu­ture wa­ter needs can be met. It is for this rea­son that govern­ment’s every­where cre­ate min­istries or de­part­ments that they man­date with pro­tect­ing and con­serv­ing forests and wa­ter re­sources.

Kenya’s present for­est cover is es­ti­mated at around seven per cent, be­low ten per cent re­quired by the con­sti­tu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tion’s Food And Or­gan­i­sa­tion, this seven is about 3.4 mil­lion hectares, 654,000 of which is clas­si­fied as pri­mary for­est, the most bio­di­verse and car­bon-dense form of for­est.

Be­tween 1990 and 2010, Kenya lost an av­er­age of 12,050 hectares, which trans­lates to about 0.32pc an­nu­ally. In that pe­riod, the country lost 6.5pc of its for­est cover, or about 241,000 ha.

We, it would seem, are a lot that places no value on fig­ures. Only we should, be­cause we are about to lose 20,000 hectares of our for­est cover be­cause some peo­ple are afraid they might lose an elec­tion, or fail to win it by an ap­pre­cia­ble mar­gin, if they do not al­lot that por­tion to peo­ple that have been en­croach­ing on Kenya’s most im­por­tant wa­ter tower, the Mau For­est.

As with every­thing else in Kenya, in­clud­ing the fight against cor­rup­tion, the preser­va­tion of the Mau for­est has proven to be prov­ing an un­yield­ing mat­ter be­cause too many po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests con­tinue to stand in the way of a so­lu­tion. Politi­cians have en­sured that noth­ing changes in spite of on­go­ing de­struc­tion that is only com­pa­ra­ble to the loot­ing spree at our na­tional cof­fers. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter tried it once and it cost him dearly po­lit­i­cally.

Suc­ces­sive govern­ment since colo­nial times have ex­cised por­tions of the for­est and degazetted them for set­tle­ment. Af­ter the colo­nial govern­ment, and there­fore the set­tlers, left, in­di­vid­u­als in­vaded the forests, and they are now the peo­ple who claim to have lived in the Mau “for gen­er­a­tions”. Their ac­tiv­i­ties are well-doc­u­mented: wan­ton de­struc­tion of the for­est by cut­ting trees for char­coal burn­ing and tim­ber. As a con­se­quence, rivers are dry­ing up, and game life has been af­fected as we con­tinue to eat into wet­lands.

The ob­jec­tive of this elab­o­rate de­scrip­tion is that there are mur­murs that govern­ment is pre­par­ing ti­tles for those who al­ready live within the for­est, and more who may be re­set­tled there. This is wor­ry­ing be­cause all our govern­ments have been un­will­ing or un­able to con­tain il­le­gal log­ging or stop­ping en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

Now more than ever, the world is look­ing to aug­ment global for­est cover by, among other mea­sures, (re)grow­ing forests. In Kenya, like most other places, we have wit­nessed un­usu­ally high tem­per­a­tures and dry­ing up of rivers, among other ad­verse ef­fects of de­pleted rain­fall.

We owe it to our fore­bears ‒ who pre­served our forests for us ‒ and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­sure we not only preserve what for­est cover we have got left but that we also add to it.

Surely, there must be al­ter­na­tives to hiv­ing off huge por­tions of for­est land , and govern­ment is not with­out op­tions to re­set­tle those peo­ple else­where. One of the dan­gers of al­low­ing peo­ple to con­tinue stay­ing in the Mau is that, with time, they will need more land, and if we let them know now that as long as there are politi­cians, con­ces­sions will al­ways be made.

More than this, we also run the dan­ger of hav­ing com­mu­ni­ties that presently live around and guard the other wa­ter tow­ers ‒ Cheran­gany, Mt Kenya, the Aber­dares, Mt El­gon ‒ invade and lay claim to them be­cause “they did it, why can’t we?” In any event, why the Mau?

Forests are gazetted be­cause they are recog­nised for the im­por­tant re­sources they are. Govern­ment must not let it­self be bul­lied into meet­ing the needs of some at the ex­pense of the rest. It is im­por­tant to make the dis­tinc­tion be­tween na­tional and sec­to­rial in­ter­ests.

This is for you, Mr Pres­i­dent. Do not let Kenyans down, please.^

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