Mau evictees still waiting three years on
September 28, 2011 11:13 am EDT
Evicted from their homes in 2009 when the government initiated efforts to restore Kenya's largest water tower, the Mau Forest Complex, thousands of the affected families are still without permanent shelter.
The fact that the country's policy on internally displaced persons (IDPs) has remained in draft form since 2009 does not give the evictees hope that their plight will be resolved soon.
"The first time we were thrown out of Mau Forest in November 2009, we were promised resettlement in three months, but the time has turned to years and still nothing," Joseph Maritim, a Mau evictee living at Tirigoi camp, told IRIN. "We have known no homes for three years now, yet even our tents are too tattered for chickens to live in, let alone human beings."
Even as the Mau evictees remain uncertain about their resettlement, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Chaloka Beyani - who recently visited the country - urged Kenya to urgently address the dire living conditions and human rights of the Mau and other IDPs in the country, including those displaced by post-election violence and natural disasters.
"A comprehensive strategy on internal displacement is essential to Kenya, which has experienced repeated waves of internal displacement in the past, provoked by post-election violence but also other causes," Beyani said on 27 September at a news conference in Nairobi at the end of his nine-day visit.
"I encourage the Government of Kenya to adopt the draft policy on protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, the necessary implementing legislation which will be essential to give practical effect to the policy, and to ratify the Kampala Convention [African Union Convention on Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons - http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Conferences/2009/october/pa/summit/AU-IDP%20Convention%20-%20Assembly%20-%20Final%20-%2010.23%20pm%2023%20Oct.doc ] at the earliest opportunity."
As Kenya heads for general elections in 2012, Beyani said, it should step up efforts to implement durable solutions for IDPs and to involve them in peace and reconciliation efforts.
"In my visits to sites of return and resettlement I found that there was often a lack of basic services, such as sanitation facilities, which needs to be addressed, while many of those remaining in displacement after several years face health, shelter and education challenges which we would only expect to see in an emergency phase, and require immediate attention," Beyani said.
He said the challenges should be addressed through the adoption of a comprehensive strategy , founded on a human rights-based approach and international and regional standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Great Lakes Protocol for Protection and Assistance to IDPs, and the African Union Convention on Protection and the Kampala Convention.
For the Mau evictees, suffering, delays and confusion over resettlement continue to dominate their lives three years later. While the need to restore the water tower - whose more than 120,000 hectares were lost for 20 years - is crucial, authorities seem to have neglected issues of humanitarian concern of those evicted.
Ruth Chepkoech, another evictee, said a political motive seemed to exist for their continued stay in camps.
"They are waiting for next year [general elections] so that everyone who wants to become president will promise us resettlement. The government seems to be deriving pleasure from our suffering," she said.
Chepkoech, a mother of six, said her family often went for days without food as government and relief agencies rarely helped the evictees. She said the last time they received relief food was in July. Even then, she said, "the food only lasted two weeks because we took two meals a day. If we had not skipped lunch, it would have lasted an even shorter time."
To survive, most of the Mau evictees - adults and children alike - seek casual jobs. "With the current inflation, everyone has to work for his/her own stomach," Chepkoech said.
According to Noor Hassan Noor, chairman of the Mau Forest Restoration Interim Coordinating Secretariat, some 6,500 families have been evicted from the Mau complex, while 23,500 more were likely to be evicted in the next phase of the complex's restoration.
The restoration of the Mau has been conducted through public-private partnerships.
The government recently extended the secretariat's mandate by 18 months, giving it more time to complete the evictions and restore the Mau.
However, Noor said: “Even another [extension of] two years will not be enough; we have only reclaimed 27,000 acres [10,926ha] and have another 80,000 [32,376ha] to go."
Asked when those evicted would be resettled, Noor said: "I cannot tell when every evictee will be resettled, but we are already working with Chinese experts to fund them to grow bamboo after resettlement."
The bamboo, he said, would earn the resettled evictees a living and prevent them from destroying the forest.
In early 2011, Kenyan Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, who visited one of the camps, promised the evictees that they would be resettled within the year. But nine months down the line, none of the families has been moved to a new location where they can legally own a piece of land as promised.
At a recent political meeting in Nakuru, the provincial capital of the Rift Valley, Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the evictees would be resettled within the next two weeks in what observers saw as a bid to woo the Kalenjin vote – the majority of evictees and the largest ethnic group in the province.
“But no one has come to tell us to prepare for resettlement so far, yet the second week is almost halfway gone since the Prime Minister made this promise,” noted Maritim, who is a spokesman for the evictees.
Only time will tell if the evictees will move to homes that the government has promised.
“We are working closely with the Ministry of Lands and will see to it that all evictees are resettled, but I cannot give the exact time that resettlement will take,” Noor said.
However, Noor said a fresh wave of evictions would begin in the next month and continue until the targeted 107,000ha of lost forest cover is reclaimed.
Meanwhile, efforts to safeguard the reclaimed parts of the Mau that had not been destroyed have been boosted by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), which has provided more forest rangers and intensified patrols in the area.
But the presence of heavy security within Mau has led to conflict between locals and forest rangers. Over the past two months, at least seven rangers have been attacked and badly injured while protecting the Mau Forest.
“Some people who were used to destroying forests are not willing to embrace conservation even when there is a threat of losing Kenya's most important water tower," Alex Lemarkoko, the KFS deputy commandant, told IRIN.
He said KFS had initiated projects involving the youth, some of whom made a living through illegal logging and burning charcoal.
The youths are employed as scouts to form part of the Forest Security team, "but there are people who do not want to work, they think they have a right to steal from the forests", Lemarkoko said.
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