Why Mau evictions is political hot potato for Uhuru and Ruto

Thursday, September 5th, 2019 08:00 |
A family moves out of the Maasai Mau forest PHOTO/PD/FILE

Like the proverbial ogre of traditional folklore, the Mau forest gazes on ferociously at its would-be victims. 

It partly scattered Raila Odinga’s march to State House in 2013 and now the ogre is being enticed to devour the political careers of top Jubilee politicians.

Little wonder that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, as well as Raila, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, have been rather cautious on the raging Mau controversy, choosing to play their cards close to the chest. 

Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, who was also the founding chairman of the Council of Governors (CoG), attributes the cautious approach to the fact that the Mau issue is a political hot potato. 

“The DP, for instance, wants to be President in 2022 and he must continue smiling slyly at the Maasai because he needs their vote.

This means he is in a dilemma of favouring the Maasai community at the expense of members of his Kalenjin tribe, who he is likely to consider as captive voters— who have no choice but side with him at the ballot,” says the former governor. 

The President, explains Ruto, is on a different plane where he is under pressure to act in the national interest by protecting the environment and not being seen to be lenient to a community that overwhelmingly voted for him in 2013 and 2017.

According to Ruto, Uhuru is in a Catch 22 position because he is keener to protect his legacy. 

“As for my friend Tinga (Odinga), he has burnt his fingers before on this matter and as they say – once bitten twice shy.

He was the most natural successor to Mwai Kibaki in 2013, but by then, the Rift Valley voting bloc that supported his bid had already shifted owing to his handling of the Mau issue,” says Ruto, in reference to Raila’s vow in November 2009 that he would kick out illegal settlers from the Mau even if it would cost him politically. 

“Raila is here today but will not be there tomorrow. We have to cater for the future generation. The removal of settlers from Mau will continue even if it will make me go home.

I am ready to come and sell mandazi (doughnuts) in Kibera. I will remain firm,” said Raila then Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government. 

Yesterday, Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny, blamed the woes of settlers in the Mau forest squarely on the DP.  He accused him of failing to address issues that matter the most to the people who elected him.

He even took a jibe at the  DP for reportedly spending “billions” in donations across the country “instead of helping our people”.

While Kutuny’s concerns of alleged inhumane evictions of squatters in the Mau forest may be genuine, it is not lost on observers that he is lately one of the DP’s harshest critics.

The legislator, who served as Uhuru’s political adviser during the Jubilee leader’s first term in office, has vowed to politically vanquish the DP.

He belongs to the Kieleweke wing of Jubilee party, which is opposed to Tanga Tanga, which enjoys Ruto’s patronage.    

A week ago, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, who is allied to Tanga Tanga, gave the Mau forest saga a political spin. He took a swipe at the President for allegedly “mistreating the Kalenjin community” simply because he will not seek their votes for public office in 2022.  

“Stop damaging the lives of the poor. Children in Mau are like those in your house. If you want to chase them, you have over 50,000 hectares.

Give them around 7,000 hectares because after all the land is not yours,” he said. It is an open secret that Sudi, a staunch ally of the DP, is a confessed critic of the President.      

Yesterday, Senate Leader of Majority Kipchumba Murkomen, admitted that the Mau evictions had been greatly politicised.

He hit out at fellow parliamentarians for trying to make political capital out of a grave situation. 

“I have heard some accusing the DP of abandoning his people and failing to act swiftly the way the President does in Mount Kenya region on matters touching on tea or coffee farming.

They are playing cheap divisive politics and I want to remind them that Uhuru is the President of all Kenyans and not a section of Kenyans, in the same way, the DP is a leader of all Kenyans and not the Kalenjin community,” said Murkomen, in obvious reference to Kutuny’s attack. 

The People Daily has separately established another factor that is likely to occasion political interest and animosity is the swelling numbers of the “outsider” population, mostly from the Kipsigis community.

The estimated 10,000 families earmarked for eviction, for instance, could alter the political and governance map of Narok county. 

Ideally, local Maasai leaders may be uncomfortable with the “outsiders”, who, since their entry in the area, have managed to “snatch” one of the six parliamentary seats in the county – Emurua Dikirr, whose MP is Johana Ng’eno.  

Environment conservation

“Considering their birthrate, soon they will outnumber the locals. What this means is that they could win over one or two more seats in 2022, and perhaps, the big post of governor in 2027.

These are the stuck realities that are behind the political tensions in the Mau evictions,” Ruto, the former governor, told the People Daily

Yesterday, Murkomen accused Environment Cabinet Secretary Tobiko of ordering the evictions without Cabinet approval, adding that the minister being ethnic Maasai cannot be neutral on an issue that pits his community against their Kalenjin neighbours.

And Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina hit out at legislators and party leaders, who were politicising the Mau issue.

He singled out the Chama Cha Mashinani leader, as one of the politicians (mis)using the Mau issue to endear themselves to voters in their respective communities.

“Isaac Ruto is still keen at recapturing the governor’s seat in Bomet or taking over as the political kingpin of the Kalenjin, in the event his namesake (the DP) falters in his quest for the presidency,” he said.

Claiming that Jubilee’s “Big four agenda” has almost collapsed, the ODM senator advised the President to now focus on environment conservation to secure his legacy. Nominated legislator, David Sankok, similarly castigated colleagues, who were politicking over the Mau evictions.

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