Kenya: Eyeing Forests

Nairobi — Narok district is literally up for grabs. Virtually everybody who is somebody in Kenya cannot list his or her assets without mentioning a piece of land in Narok.

Foreigners, too, own huge tracts of land in the district. The family of the late Moshe Dayan, a once famed Israeli Defence minister for instance, owns over 4,000 hectares.

The first casualty of the scramble for Narok is forestland. In the early 1970s, the district boasted the largest forest block in the country. Compared to 400,000 hectares then under forest cover, today, only 135,000 hectares remain.

The sprawling Mau is the largest forest in the district. About 100,000 hectares of the natural resource fall within Narok.

The Mau is also the largest single block of indigenous forest in East Africa, covering 250,000 hectares.

It stretches into six districts: Nakuru, Narok, Trans Mara, Kericho, Bomet and Buret and compromises seven parts: the Maasai Mau which is the subject of the current controversy, Southwest Mau, Mau East, Mau West, Mau Narok, Southern Mau and Trans Mara.

Of the seven, only the Maasai Mau is not gazetted as a government forest. Instead, it is registered as trust land under the Narok Country Council, tempting grabbers.

The Mau Forest Complex is a catchment to two rivers: Mara and Ewaso-Nyiro. The two rivers have four main tributaries: Narok, Amala, Siyiakai and Nyangoris.

The six rivers are the main sources of water for five lakes, namely: Victoria, Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru and Natron in Tanzania.

Water from the Mara River is consumed by over 15 million people living in 58 locations in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Recently, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere's wife, Maria, wrote to the Kenya government requesting it to save the Mau Forest complex. She said it was the catchment for the only stream in her Butiama village in northern Tanzania. The stream is now drying up, thanks to the destruction of Mau forest.

The Mau forest is also home to some rare and endangered animal species including the yellow-backed duiker, golden cat, Columbus monkey, red and blue-tail monkey and bongo antelope. It hosts hundreds of elephants, buffaloes, giant hogs and leopards.

Kenya has a mere 1.7 per cent forest cover against the 10 per cent recommended by environmentalists. The total land under forest in the country is 2.4 million hectares.

Of this, only 1.6 million hectares is gazetted.

The 800,000 hectares that is not gazetted is fragmented into 273 units, some as small as 50 hectares. In early 1980, Kenya had 9.2 per cent forest cover. The Kanu government promised to increase it to 15 per cent by 2000 but did the exact opposite.

The Narc government has pledged to recover all land illegally allocated by the previous regime despite the on-going opposition to Maasai Mau evictions.

Lands minister Amos Kimunya says the government will soon evict illegal occupants of Mau East and Marmanet Forest in Laikipia District.

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