Kenya: Matiang'i Forms Task Force to Settle Mau Land Dispute

22 September 2020

The burden of resolving a 20-year-old land conflict in Eastern Mau pitting three communities now lies in the hands of a special multi-agency task force.

Announcing the new measures aimed at ending the perennial bloody conflicts after a three hour-long meeting in a Naivasha hotel Monday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i said the team has eleven weeks to complete its work.

He said President Uhuru Kenyatta had directed that the team complete its mandate by December 12, adding that it was a "race against time" for the agency members.

"The team will be headed by a special DC, who will be accompanied by a small special security team, an inter-ministerial officials, working closely with the county commissioner and regional commissioner," said Dr Matiang'i.

Dr Matiang'i, who was accompanied by fellow Cabinet secretaries Farida Karoney (Lands)Charles Keter (Energy) and Keriako Tobiko (Environment) admitted that some of the matters will take time to be resolved.

He explained that the team will camp in the affected areas with Dr Matiang'i and his Cabinet colleagues making impromptu tours to assess the progress.

"We have agreed to accommodate everyone while addressing special requirements that came as a result of a court order from the East African Court of Justice," said the CS.

"We will set aside properties for the Ogiek as ordered by the court, as well as working on resettling the other communities," added the interior CS.

On May, 26, 2017, the court noted that the Kenyan government had violated seven separate articles of the African Charter, including the right to property.

The case was filed in 2006 before the Arusha-based court where the Ogiek's complained that the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials issued them with notices to vacate the forest without considering how this would affect their lives and the continued harassment and destruction of their property.

Court documents show that KFS officers then invaded the forest, destroyed properties and beat up those who resisted evacuation.

The CS underscored the importance of peaceful coexistence between the communities residing in the area, hailing church leaders for their role in ensuring peace prevails.

Since July, when the government commenced plans to evict illegal settlers, flare-ups have rocked the region.

Dozens of people have been killed and others maimed due to the protracted land dispute.

Meanwhile, leaders in Samburu County have called for forceful disarmament in Baragoi to stem the rising tide of violence that has claimed the lives of six people in the area.

Samburu North MP Alois Lentoimaga blamed the proliferation of illegal firearms in Samburu North for increased insecurity, which has, in turn, led to decreased investments and a rise in poverty levels.

"Samburu North is as productive as any other part of the country, but people are avoiding it because of insecurity," MP said. He blamed security agencies for not taking action to combat banditry in Baragoi.

Mr Lentoimaga urged the government to involve local leaders in the disarmament exercise.

County woman rep Maison Leshoomo accused the Interior ministry of laxity, saying, it had failed to rein in illegal firearms. Reached for comment, County Commissioner John Korir said normalcy in the region had been disrupted following hostilities in the past few weeks, but added that a contingent of police officers has been deployed to calm the situation.

He said security had been beefed up in areas prone to cattle rustling in Samburu North and Samburu East sub-counties.

"We're trying to neutralise banditry in Baragoi. In recent days, we've conducted a series of peace meetings and we're still [trying] to reach more people," Mr Korir said. The presence of illegal firearms -- and especially sophisticated assault rifles -- in Samburu North, he said, was to blame for the fragile peace, as they exacerbated conflicts.

Mr Korir added that disarmament was the only lasting solution to cattle rustling. "There are a lot of illegal guns in the hands of civilians. This must be remedied." He told the rival communities to learn to coexist peacefully.

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