Wednesday, July 29, 2009



Tuesday, July 28 2009

Nation: In your own words, why is it important to save Mau Forest?

Mr Odinga: This country has five water towers: the Cherangany, Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon and of course the Mau. Of these, the Mau is the largest, covering 400,000 hectares and is a source to 25 rivers, a livelihood to large numbers of people, bird life and game life. This is why it is very critical to the national environment and if it is not conserved, the consequences will be far reaching: The rivers will dry, bird and game life destroyed and agriculture adversely affected.
And the impediments to conserving it?

Mr Odinga: There has been a lot of encroachment on the Mau. Previous governments excised portions of land and degazetted them for settlement. There has been an invasion by individuals, wanton destruction of the forest by cutting trees for charcoal burning and timber. Now rivers are drying up, bird life and game life are affected because the wetlands have been invaded. This is the situation as it is and the responsibility of the government is to reverse it and ensure that people who invaded it are outside.

What political risk do you see in the position you have taken?

Mr Odinga: There are people who want to use the Mau for political reasons; they want to use the plight of the people who settled in the Mau for their own selfish political interests by masquerading as the defenders of their rights. Yet in actual sense, the intention is not to defend the people of Mau. It is for political populism to take them to greater political heights.

When I appointed the taskforce, I was very conscious in my mind that people are going to be affected. That is why the taskforce has to look at the number of people to be affected and how best we can conserve the forest. Now we have a report and some of those who are making noise are members of the Cabinet who should raise issues in the Cabinet.

Last week, I met all MPs from the Rift Valley and we unanimously agreed on the recommendations and they made comments which will be taken on board. The resolution of the meeting was to remove people from the Mau and we said all title holders, regardless of how they acquired the title deeds, will be compensated because third party individuals are not to blame. It is the grabbers who were given free land who are to blame. It is only those who have no titles who will leave; there is no compromise on that.

If you allow everybody to be compensated, you open a pandora’s box. People will invade the Mau and demand compensation. I must make it clear that people who live in Mau are Kenyans and some are my supporters. There will be no forceful evictions ... But there is a price to be paid. The only problem is that people are being incited by irresponsible politicians greedy for power. We will not give in to blackmail.

How do you plan to manage that risk?

Mr Odinga: In politics, if you cannot take risks, you cannot move just like it is in business. It is people who are prepared to take risks who have been able to transform the world. I know this is a risk I am taking but for every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. We cannot allow a few people to turn this country into a desert. It will be irresponsible for us to do so.

You have said some ministers are irresponsible. Which ones are they?
Mr Odinga: I have not talked about ministers, I have talked about leaders. This includes religious leaders, civil society, MPs and leaders of political parties. Members of the Cabinet are enjoined by the collective responsibility to support decisions of the Executive. Every minister has to support government decisions and there are avenues to raise any issues they may have in the Cabinet. The taskforce report will be presented to the Cabinet and they will have an opportunity to raise any issues.

Nation: You have scolded ministers for not bringing their concerns to the Cabinet and taking them to the public platform. Isn’t this an approach you have taken yourself?

Mr Odinga: We as leaders must act responsibly because we are examples to the public. When we begin to quarrel, condemn or criticise each other, the public increasingly gets anxious. We polarise the country more when we try to propel an ethnic agenda. This country requires a unity of purpose because last year we went through the most difficult times since our independence. We are in the process of healing and we don’t want to open old wounds.

When you have in the past disagreed with other leaders you have characterised it as healthy debate and democracy. Don’t Rift Valley MPs have the same right?

Mr Odinga: It is true I have talked about the fundamental right to hold different views. We have, for a long time, fought for the freedom of association, speech and assembly. I will be the last person to trample on it. But what I am saying is that I am entitled to disagree with your views. I have never tried to stop leaders from any region exercising their rights. What I have said is that they should stop inciting people. Those I have said should not go public are members of the Cabinet.

How do you suggest to deal with MPs who have land in the Mau?

Mr Odinga: The report will reveal all of them, even those who got plots and proceeded to sell them. Some are holding plots in the names of proxies and have not disclosed them. There is need to disclose interest in the issue of Mau yet some of them have not done so.

Some have constituents settled in the Mau and would want to defend them. Others look at the Mau to gain politically by posing as the defenders of the people’s rights. Rift Valley MPs are being hypocritical because we met last week and agreed. They are introducing tribal politics. As a government, and President Kibaki and I have said so, we will not be intimidated or given conditions on the Mau.

Where will money for compensation of the settlers come from?

According to the report of the taskforce, Sh38 billion is required to deal with the Mau issue. Phase One will not need much money because it will involve people without titles moving out of the forest. There will be money required for the comprehensive surveying of the Mau, to demarcate it and put up beacons.

This will be followed by fencing of the catchment areas to avoid any future encroachment. Money will be required for re-afforestation of the destroyed areas. Then we will need money to protect the wetlands. Money will also be required to resettle those to be moved: Some to buy land elsewhere to resettle people and cash to pay some who will not get land.

The government must make a provision for that. Of course we expect some money from development partners and donors. We also hope to benefit from carbon trading.