President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party was Friday on the brink of an implosion over the emotive Mau Forest evictions in Narok County.
It all started with Thursday’s visit of the vast forest by Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen who suggested that some government officials were working in cahoots with people whose aim was to hurt Deputy President William Ruto’s political image.
“There are people who came to the government recently through the window, they have engaged other wakoras (criminals) from another corner.
“The memorandum they signed was to evict people from Mau, and use this to say those going for 2022 have not done the job of solving this issue.
“We want to tell them straight to their faces that the government will not allow people to be used as political herring,” Mr Murkomen told the gathering in Kitoben, Narok County.
Yesterday, Mr Murkomen backtracked his comments, alluding to Opposition leader Raila Odinga, after his March 9 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, as the one who engineered the evictions, but stuck to his claim that government orders, supposedly by President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, were ignored by junior officials.
Mr Murkomen’s statement in Narok touched a raw nerve at the heart of the Jubilee Party whose interests he champions in the Senate, with Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja criticising him for disrespecting President Kenyatta.
“The claim by Murkomen that part of the MoU between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga includes eviction from the Mau forest is disingenuous, underhand and disrespectful to the President,” Mr Sakaja said.
He said inciting Kenyans against the President’s initiatives and undermining his leadership will no longer be accepted in Jubilee.
Mr Sakaja said the comments by Mr Murkomen were part of a trend where “senior leaders, including those in leadership, were rubbishing directives from the President”, listing corruption, lifestyle audit and the Uhuru-Raila handshake.
A section of Maasai elders, led by former Kenya Water Towers committee member Joseph ole Karia and former Narok County Council chairman Josephat Kamoye, yesterday led protests in Ololung’a Trading Centre in Narok South.
They were protesting what they said was a plot to transfer Mr George Natembeya, the Narok County commissioner, “if he does not shelve the evictions”.
At the same time, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) warned against efforts by politicians to drag Mr Odinga’s name into the saga.
“ODM condemns any attempts by a section of politicians from the Jubilee Party who are hell-bent on continuously politicising the Mau Forest eviction exercise with the sole intent of derailing it by introducing unsubstantiated claims of specific individuals being targeted,” ODM chairman John Mbadi said.
Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta, Senator Ledama Ole Kina, former Nairobi County speaker Alex ole Magelo, and nominated MP David Ole Sankok condemned Mr Murkomen’s visit and asked him to keep off the Mau Forest issue.
Mr Kenta said: “The land is a trust land of the Maasai community. We are the ones who know where the shoe pinches most, not Mr Murkomen.”
On his part, Mr Sankok asked his colleagues in the Jubilee Party to back calls to conserve the Mau, warning against dragging politics into it, saying it was neither a Jubilee nor a Mr Kenyatta affair, but “the survival Africa and the country’s ecosystem.”
Senator Ole Kina said the Kalenjin community was being “taken for a ride by its own leadership”.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, Konoin MP Brighton Yegon and nominated MP Gideon Keter claimed some of those kicked out of their homes had not encroached on any forest land.
“This is something which should not be treated lightly… We don’t want them to suffer and this to be used to undermine our political strategy,” Mr Yegon said. He said he will petition the National Assembly to look at the Mau issue afresh.
Already, 8,860 people have been kicked out of the Maasai Mau Forest in Kosia and Nkoben areas after the 10-day Phase 1 of the eviction, recovering 11,250 acres of the forest.
By end of 2009 when a detailed report on the Mau Forest was prepared, 7,889 households were in the water tower, with the number having grown prior to the 2013 and 2017 elections, when people swamped into the forest following what was seen as Jubilee’s laxity to let them in.
More than 12,000 households are now estimated to be in the forest.
The Mau Forest has always been a hot potato since 2005 when evictions from the country’s largest water complex soared relations between President Kibaki’s government and Kalenjin leaders.
This was the point at which the community shifted allegiance to Mr Odinga.
By 2009, however, relations between then PM and Kalenjin politicians broke, leading to a drift that has never been repaired.
It now remains to be seen if the forest will once again determine the future of the region’s politics.