Sunday, November 30, 2008



Reports of independent studies seen by the Sunday Nation say that the Mau complex forms the largest forest cover in Kenya and is equivalent to the size of Mt Kenya and the Aberdares combined.

By Mugumo Munene
November 29 2008

The lives of 5.5 million people who depend on tea, rice and tourism are threatened by destructive human activities in the Mau complex.

The effects of the destruction are already being felt. At Egerton University, six of 17 boreholes have dried up in the past few years, while the main river supplying Lake Nakuru has become season stream.

And the world-famous Maasai-Mara game reserve, which is Kenya’s top tourist destination, is in grave danger due to the encroachment on the Mau complex where the tributaries that flow through the plains originate.

Statistics show that Kenya earned Sh650 million from the Maasai-Mara and Sh513 million from the Lake Nakuru last year.

Both tourist attractions derive their lifeline of water from the Mau forest. The annual indirect tourism revenue from the two conservation areas is estimated at more than Sh5 billion.

Legal excisions were announced in February 2001 by the minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Mr Francis Nyenze. Environmental experts have since criticised the excisions, terming them ill-informed.

Government and Unep records show that the Moi-era excisions and subsequent theft of forest land have led to the destruction of more than 250,000 acres in the past 10 years.

A combined force

Between August and October, this year, a combined force of KWS rangers as well as regular and administration police seized 50 tonnes of timber, 10,000 bags of charcoal and 5,450 cedar posts.

“Such an extensive and ongoing destruction of key natural assets for the country is a matter of national interest,” experts have written in documents seen by the Sunday Nation.

“It presents significant environmental and economic threats and underlines a breakdown of law and order, with ramifications to internal security and conflicts.

“Despite its critical importance for sustaining current and future economic development, the Mau has been affected negatively by extensive illegal, irregular and ill-planned settlements, as well as illegal forest resources extraction.”

According to a member of the Prime Minister’s task force on the Mau, the problems facing forests all over the country today were touched off by the Kenyatta-era policies.

“Kenyatta said: “Turudi mashambani (Let’s return to the farms)” and this placed a premium on land because his government did not explore other options like manufacturing,” added the task force member who requested anonymity because the team is yet to complete its work.

“When Moi came to power, he was under pressure to reward voters and loyalists and Mau was one of the resources available. By the time of excising Mau, donors had frozen aid and the rest of the resources were gone.”

Four sitting MPs

The Sunday Nation has learnt that at least four sitting MPs were involved in the illegal encroachments and, through phantom companies and proxies, they sold land to the unsuspecting public.

The three held senior positions in the provincial administration and the civil service during the Moi administration.It makes it difficult to keep politics out of Mau if these politicians actually acquired land illegally or irregularly and then sold it to unsuspecting squatters,” said another official involved in the on-going investigations.

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Involved in excision

“But you also have officials at the ministry of Lands, who were involved in the excisions and who are in office today. You never know who you are dealing with. We are keenly aware of what transpired and there can never be anything like mass evictions.

“The recommendations are going to be far from it. We recognise that there are genuine settlers who were hoodwinked into buying land that had been acquired illegally. That is why the audit is important to help us determine how to deal with each case.”

The Government has established a task force to bare the truth on the matter whose solution has been lost in public political debates with ethnic overtones. The team comprises environmental experts, senior civil servants and community representatives.

Experts and task force members interviewed by the Sunday Nation and reports prepared by conservationists show that rivers flowing from the Mau cross 478 sub-locations with a total population of about 5.5 million.

“People who live within 5km from the forest depend on it, partially or totally, for firewood, grazing and medicinal plants,” said an expert who declined to be identified by name for fear of raising political temperatures.

Mau is the largest of Kenya’s five water towers, the others being Mt Kenya, Aberdares, Cherangani Hills and Mt Elgon.

The Mau complex forms part of the upper sources of all but one main rivers on the west side of the Rift Valley, including Nzoia, Yala, Nyando, Sondu, Mara, Ewaso Ngiro, Naishi, Makalia, Nderit, Njoro, Molo and Kerio.

Through these rivers, the Mau feeds major lakes that include Victoria, Turkana, Baringo, Nakuru and Natron. The silt coming from upstream is robbing the highlands of fertile soil and filling the lakes.

Independent studies

Reports of independent studies seen by the Sunday Nation say that the complex forms the largest forest cover in Kenya and is equivalent to the size of Mt Kenya and the Aberdares combined.

One expert the Sunday Nation spoke to estimates that the market value of goods and services generated annually in the complex’s tea, tourism and energy sectors alone is in the region of Sh20 billion.

The estimate does not reflect provisional services such as water supply to urban areas (Bomet, Egerton University, Elburgon, Eldama Ravine, Kericho, Molo, Nakuru, Narok, and Njoro) or support to rural livelihoods, in particular in the Lake Victoria basin outside the tea growing areas or the potential to generate electricity from the rivers flowing out of the Mau, the expert said.

The Sondu Miriu hydropower project, with an electricity generation capacity of 60 megawatts has been recently completed on the Sondu, whose water flows from the south-west Mau forest reserve.

An extension

The project is financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation at a cost of Sh15 billion ($238 million). An extension, known as the Sang’oro hydropower scheme, is currently under implementation. The estimated investment will be Sh3.4 billion ($54 million).

Further downstream, the Magwagwa multipurpose dam with an anticipated capacity of 94.6 megawatts, has also been proposed.
The estimated potential hydropower generation in the Mau complex catchment represents 57 per cent of the current total electricity generation capacity in Kenya, expert estimates show.

Related Stories

Mau destruction act of pure folly
Water crisis at Egerton as forest cover disappears
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Marende lashes out at dithering by Executive
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The Mau also provides a lifeline to the climates in an estimated two-thirds of the tea-producing areas in the Kericho, Kisii and Nandi highlands as well as the Cherangany Hills and Mt Elgon. The 2007 sale value of tea from western Kenya is estimated at Sh12.4 billion.

In the region, the tea sector provides jobs to 50,000 people and a livelihood to 75,000 small scale farmers effectively supporting some 645,000 dependents.

Another beneficiary of the Mau complex is the rice grown with water from Rivers Yala and Nyando.

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Add a comment (7 comments so far)

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Submitted by oshi
Posted November 30, 2008 11:56 AM

Waheshimiwa tuwapendao for the sake of our future generation and the future of our dear country that we love most, we beg on our knees and toes for you guys to act as human beings and patriots of your own country. Muheshimiwa Orengo this is where leadership is measured. Let's all sit and watch on how badly off you can let us down on this one!Mau forest is a FOREST, not some hotel in Nairobi for sale. So act and act now!

Submitted by ray~mo
Posted November 30, 2008 07:32 AM

It will be in the best interests of everyone that the Mau is conserved. What should be done and ought to have been done is that people leaving there be relocated with immediate effect. As Professor Wangari Maathai said "nature can be so unforgiving," but Kenyan leaders never learn.

Submitted by wuod_aketch
Posted November 30, 2008 03:59 AM

Little education can be dangerous - most politicians lack education. They often tend to cut the branches that we are sitting on.

Submitted by mimbaz
Posted November 30, 2008 02:20 AM

Are the politician listening?...Are we listening?

Submitted by syindumyaki
Posted November 30, 2008 01:38 AM

Hon Orengo, have you rolled out a plan to relocate these legal/illegal occupants of mau forest? thats the one and only solution we have right now. Its URGENT, No further debates! You can deal with the other issues of who sold to who and who allocated to whom and who issued title deed to whom later, thru a commission of enquiry!

Submitted by gitaunation
Posted November 29, 2008 11:48 PM

Water from the Mau flows to a predominantly ODM stronghold. Their leaders are for its destrucion. Ruto thinks the forest should be destroyed. When the forest is gone, will Ruto lead them into re-planting the trees again?

Submitted by SJ502
Posted November 29, 2008 10:30 PM

A catastrophe in the making right before our eyes. BigQ: Why are we dilly dallying? Minister Orengo should use the same zeal he did over Grand Regency and expose the Land ministry's staff involved. Meanwhile for the Big 4 MPs KACA does some heavy all the time. No sacred cows here, its 5.5 Million people against pure human greed!