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Cairo, Kampala and Dar es Salaam are now asking tough questions about Mau Forest controversy

Posted by African Press International on August 5, 2008

Parts of this feature are sourced from EASTAFRICAN, Unep and other agencies

By Leo Odera Omolo

The controversial Mau Forest Complex has taken a new political dimension with Egypt and all the major movers of the Nile river basin Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have all been reported as being in the process of putting pressure on Kenya to keep the Mau alive.

The fact that Kenyas most influential WEEKLY this week dedicated its several pages discussing the Mau Complex issues and their long term economic repercussions reveals it all about how the matter is touchy and so important to close to 300 million people in the Great Lakes region.

The EASTAFRICAN, a weekly publication of the Nation Media Group in a lead article revealed that Lake Victoria which is shared between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and Lake Turkana shared by Kenya and Ethiopia As well as Lake Natron shared by Kenya and Tanzania are all facing environmental degradation as the result of wanton destruction of trees in the 400,000 hectares Mau Complex.

The paper further revealed that six major rivers, the Nzoia, Yala, Nyando, Sondu Miriu, Kuja and Mara are part of the Nile Basin and Kenya is a signatory to several International conventions obliging it to protect the fragile ecosystems.

The paper further traced the problem to extensive corrupt and ill-planned settlements perpetrated by the prevous KANU regime of former President Daniel Arap Mois during which time the administration was involved in illegal excision and state sponsored encroachment led to the destruction of some 104, 6000 hectares of land in the Mau Forest representing 24 % of the Mau Complex area.

Mois regime is to blame for the massive destruction of forests that is now threatened major productive sectors in the country.

Although Mois regime had since 1979 occasionally hived off pieces of land from the countrys forests, it embarked on a grand plan to excise a total of 67,185 hectares of forests land on February 16, 2001. The aim was to easy out land pressure among his Kalenjin tribesmen especially the Tugen and Kipsigis sub clans of the larger Kalenjin ethnic groups.The Kipsigis in particular lost most of its prime land to the white British settlers at the turn of the 2oth century, which the Whites used for tea plantations in the Kericho region leaving this particular community to be densely populated in a small area of unproductive reserve land.

Kenya is a member of the Nile Basin Initiative and lately the pressure has been applied, not only by the Nile Basin Countries, but also by super power- Japan, a country credited for having extended to Kenya Multibillion dollars financial credit line in Kshs 13 billion which was recently utilized in the construction and establishment of the new Sondu-Miriu Hydroelectric Power Station.

Sondu Miriu power project is facing a real threat due to acute shortage of water to run its double turbans as most river feeding it with waters are reportedly drying upstream due to wanton destruction of water catchment at the Mau complex.

Mois administration had then explained that it needed to regularize the boundaries of existing forests to reflect the massive encroachment on forests that had already taken place over the years.

But despite this explanation, environmentalist groups started sustained campaigns to oppose the scheme, with some groups to count.

The Kenya Forestry Working Group (KFWG), which brings together non-governmental conservation organizations, community groups, private environmentalist and Quasigovernmental bodies, entered into partnership with the Division of Early Warning And Assessment Programme, which supplied personnel and equipment to ascertain whether it was true that people had been settled in the forest concerned.

The largest excision affected Eastern Mau Forest Reserve and South West Mau Forest Reserve where 35,301 hectares were excised and 22,797 hectares respectively were excised, representing 54.3 % and 27.3 % of these forests, according to a report by Mr. Chriatian Lambretch and other experts who flew over the forest on the request of NGOs.

Mr. Lambretch recently presented his report during a workshop in Nairobi to address the crisis.

The report says the Mois regime had started to settle people in such areas as Ndoinet, Saino,Karao, Boraget, Tinet and Kabongoi in the south western and eastern Mau forests.

Mau complex is estimated to cover 400,000 hectares- an area as large as Mount Kenya and the Abaredare Forests combined. The Mau Forest Complex is a mountain Forest that is also water tower from which 12 major rivers flow in to five lakes in East Africa.

The new power Station is already in dilemma due to acute shortage of water. Only one turbine is running while the second is currently shut down. The official commissioning of the project by President Mwai Kibaki last month could not take place and was put forward to a later date.

Egypt is known to have never wanted the contentious 1959 Nile Treaty, which gave Egypt exclusive rights to 76 % of the Nile waters-to be reviewed and is likely to play rough should it feel that the source of the Nile is threatened.

The issue has now taken an international angle because the Mau Complex also affects the neighbouring Tanzania by virtue of Mara River, which feeds into Serengeti National Park.

Tanzanian authorities who closely monitor the changes in the Mara River had raised their concern through the East African Community (EAC) three years ago. However, unknown to the public is the fact that as early as in the year 2005, Dar-es-salaam, Kampala and Cairo had started applying pressure on Nairobi to arrest the degradation of the Mau Complex before it got out of hand.

This is a clear testimony that Mau Forest Complex is not really a Kenyan affair, but rather an international issue whose ramifications are nightmares and unimaginable, should the Mau Forest collapse.

The Mara River is classified as an international river shared between Kenya and Tanzania. However, since it flows into Lake Victoria, the dimension grows bigger and other players come in.

The World Wildlife Fund(WWF), which runs the Mara River Basin Initiative, notes that the Mara River Basin is about 13,750 square kilometers, of which about 65 percent is located in Kenya and 35 per cent in Tanzania.

It runs through the famous Maasai Mara game reserve on the Kenya side and the Serengeti National Park on the Tanzanian side, both of which are of global conservation significance and great economic importance. The Mara River empties into Lake Victoria-the source of the Nile.

And that is how Kampala and Cairo came into play. Anything that affects Lake Victoria has a multiplier consequences on the Nile River.

Egypt seems adamant on the continuation of the 1959 agreement it signed with the British Colonial rulers long before riparian states attained their political independence in the early 1960s and does not want to permit new vistas and agreements on the sharing of the Nile waters. This is the most worrying points for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Instead of co-operating with Ethiopia and other Nile countries, Egypt resorts to subterfuge on a number of occasions to divert world public option and even went to the extent of sponsoring disgruntled political groupings such as the Somali warlord factions and the Ertrean government as a form of deterrence and probably as political intimidation directed against Ethiopian government.

For the past 10 years, the division of Early Warning and Assessment of the United Nations Environment and plethora of civic society organizations and relevant government agencies have kept a close watch on the Mau Complex and produced concrete reports and recommendations in the grim prospects fomented by the settlers in the area.

The reality of the destruction of the Mau Complex in economic terms surpasses the figure given by UNEP of USD 300 million. It simply unquantifiable, when one considers the geopolitics involved at play.

Being the largest closed-canopy ecosystem in Kenya, the Mau Complex is moderately estimated to be as large as the forests of Mt. Kenya and the Abardare combined.

Rift Valley Nyanza and Western Provinces depends entirely on the Mau as it is the single most important water catchment for these three provinces.

Extensive illegal, irregular and ill-planned settlements, as well as illegal forest resources extraction and overuse of water by large-scale irrigation plantation are leading other capitals in the region to ask Nairobi some hard questions.

Key tourist destinations that are both nationally and internationally recognized reserves including the famous Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Kakamega Forest Reserve depend on the Mau Complex. All these are distressed by the current scenario that is at play in the Mau Complex.

According to a recent survey carried out by a private consultant firm for Kengen, Masinga Dam-which provides over 50 percent of Kenyas electricity-is as a result of forest loss upstream. The same scenario now faces the Kshs. 13 billion Sondu-Miriu Hydro Power Project, even before its inauguration.

This is not the first evictions have been affected in the Mau. In 2006, a similar attempt was made to reclaim the already depleted forests, but political expediency reigned over environmental concerns.

It is also significant to note that the Kenyan politicians vehemently opposed to the reclamation of the Mau are using the plight of the settlers and their economic and social vulnerability to score points in the public-relations sphere.

Issues such as poverty are being bandied about to block the government of Kenyas attempt to reclaim the prized possession.

At the centre of the storm is the politics around the Orange Democratic Movements(ODM) survival in the South Rift where the party had enjoyed almost 100% support in the 2007 general elections and the tug-of-war with its equal partner in the grand Coalition Government, the Party Of National Unity (PNU).




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