\u00a0By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara A symbolic tree planting event on Friday could mark the end of an ugly and painful chapter in efforts to remove illegal settlers and restore the Maasai Mau Forest. While the removal of invaders is certain to be celebrated as a major feat for conservationists, it will be a story of deceit, loss, pain and frustration for families and leaders who have been exploiting the matter for political gain. Following an order by Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko and Rift Valley regional coordinator George Natembeya, over 10,000 families left the Narok part of the forest which has been at the centre of debate for more three decades. They invaders most of whom were duped to buy the land were required to voluntarily move out of the forest by Thursday. However, more than 80 per cent had left by last week, according to Natembeya who insisted that the deadline won\u2019t be extended. This will mark the end of the second and final phase of the eviction. In July last year, nearly 7,700 people were removed from the forest which saw over 12,000 acres of the forest reclaimed. Tobiko will on Friday kick off the planting of 10 million trees in area vacated by the farmers who had been accused of degrading the Mau Water tower, a source of livelihoods for millions of people in Kenya and beyond. The Mau restoration has been subject of an emotive political debate with a section of Kalenjin leaders, projecting it as a scheme to remove members of their community from \u201clegally acquired land.\u201d \u201cMore than 98 per cent of the intruders have left the forest. It is a victory for conservation and the rule of law. It is a defeat for ethnic chauvinism,\u201d said Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta. \u201cThe world should know that the Mau Forest, the source of the Mara River, the lifeblood of the Serengeti ecosystem, one of key suppliers of water to the Victoria and eventually the Nile is now safe,\u201d yesterday told People Daily. Kenya and Tanzania share the Mara River which is famous for the wildebeest migration, considered the Eight Wonder of the World. Kenta advised families kicked out of the water tower to pursue individuals who sold the land to them. The evictees mostly from Kericho and Bomet counties were misled by prominent people in the Nyayo era to buy trust land which was not available for distribution as required by law. Some sold their ancestral farms to move to the Mau because land was cheaper. Jackson Kamoe, the chairman of the Mau Conservation Trust denied accusations that the restoration was targeted to uproot members of the two communities for political reasons. \u201cThe evictees ignored incitement by politicians for them to stay put. The houses are empty and vandalized,\u201d he said. Kalenjin leaders led by Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Kericho governor Paul Chepkwony, former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, Emurua Dikirr MP Johanna Ng\u2019eno and Belgut MP Nelson Koech have vehemently opposed the eviction. Murkomen\u2019s attempts to incite the families to stay were met with strong resistance by Natembeya. \u201cThe machismo and hubris shown by Tobiko and Natembeya just exposes their ignorance on the foundation of Jubilee government. They must follow through what the President said and not pretend to implement a purported government directive that has no backing of anyone including the President and his Cabinet,\u201d he said when the evictions started. Prof Chepkwony yesterday warned that the eviction might precipitate a humanitarian crisis. He also insists that the invaders occupied trust land, and therefore should be compensated. \u201cWe are staring a major crisis in the face. What will we do with all the people who will be rendered homeless? As the counties closest to the Mau, Kericho and Bomet Counties will be their first port of call and will bear the greatest brunt. Is the government prepared to handle the high level of insecurity that these two counties risk facing because of this crisis?\u201d he posed. Crosshead He argues that though environmental conservation was crucial, it ought not to override the importance of upholding basic human rights and dignity of the affected families. The government action will be sour grapes for leading Kalenjin politicians who have been using the invasion as a political tool, notably deputy William Ruto. The eviction has thrust the deputy president between a rock and a hard place. It is noteworthy that majority of the victims are from Bomet and Kericho counties which form the bedrock of his Rift Valley vote bank. Two, it is a presidential directive captured in his Save the Environment Mission project. The fear is that sitting at the top of the state bureaucracy that spear-heading the removal, Ruto could be apportioned blame for the loss of land and other property by his people. It would be remembered that Dr Ruto in 2009 exploited the Mau restoration campaign to antagonize members of the Kalenjin community with then Prime Minister Raila Odinga who was spearheading a similar effort. A report of cabinet approved the evictions to save Kenya\u2019s largest water tower but Ruto objected to the manner in which the exercise was being conducted, accusing Odinga of persecuting a community that voted for him. He strongly argued that the process was not only inhumane but the encroachers had to be compensated through resettlement. \u201cWe can\u2019t pretend that the only way the forest can be conserved is by criminalising the settlers. We should not use an environmental issue as an excuse to inflict misery on people we have issues with,\u201d he said then. Ruto held that the forest could be conserved \u201cwithout causing misery on people.\u201d He was Agriculture minister under the Kibaki-Raila coalition government. Ruto had put his heart in the Mau, insisting that he was ready to pay the price-including being sacked as minister if the encroachers were not compensated. Indeed, he Ruto encouraged the invaders to stay put and organized a harambee to raise funds for them. President Kenyatta, then deputy prime minister, attended the meeting and condemned the Raila campaign. He, too, demanded that the victims be compensated. The 2009 evictions came at great political cost to Odinga as it antagonized him with the kalenjin communities that voted for him to the last man in the 2007 elections. He lost the Rift Valley vote due to largely the twin issues of the Mau and the International Criminal Court. Now the UhuRuto administration is not only presiding over removal of the settlers but has also ruled out compensation. Their government instead directed them to seek payment from those who sold them land. In a report to Parliament, Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko says that compensating the invaders would be \u201ctantamount to validating an illegality\u201d. Tobiko holds that the evictees are not innocent and that the title deeds in the possession-though issued by government are null and void. The minister says the Constitution does not extend ownership rights to property acquired illegally. \u201cFrom the evidence and the long history of the Maasai Mau issue, the people who bought the land cannot plead innocence. Liability to compensate, whether by paying money or land, cannot be the burden of the government.\u201d .