Mau forest evictees suffer in IDP camps with broken promises

Mzee Kipsang Mastamet, an 85 years old man speaking at Tendwet camp occupied by families evicted from Mau forest in Narok south in this photo taken on June, 28, 2022. The victims are calling on the government to compensate and resettle them

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

Families evicted from land around the Mau forest complex in Narok County and now live in squalid conditions in two camps for internally displaced people crying out for help.

Hundreds of children who dropped out of school for lack of fees and uniforms work alongside their parents as casual labourers on farms near the camps so they can afford to purchase food.

Most girls of school age have been sexually exploited, becoming mothers at a tender age in camps at Tendwet and Olmekenyu in Narok South, which are 21km apart.

The victims told the Nation heart-wrenching stories of how their lives flipped for the worse after the officials evicted them from farms over contested claims that they had encroached on a government forest.

Many of them said they had plenty of food in their previous lives and now lack enough to eat and medicines.

Many have succumbed to various diseases in the two camps, with a high number thrown into depression after losing property and their livelihoods.

A woman carried firewood on her back as children play in the foreground at Olmekenyu IDP camp where families evicted from Mau forest have been living in the last three years, in this photo taken on June, 28,2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

As Kenya prepares for a General Election, camp residents have lost faith in politicians and the government, saying they have been abandoning in their hour of need.

The first eviction in Narok South was in 2005, during the President Mwai Kibaki’s administration, with the second coming in 2019 under President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In the run-up to the 2012 and 2017 election, President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto had promised to resettle the families evicted in 2005.

But they changed their position immediately after the last General Election, saying the families would not go back. This was followed by the eviction of 60,000 families shortly after President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto were re-elected.

At the Olmenyu camp, 800 families were in mourning following the death of Wilson Rono, formerly a resident of Kitoben village, whose body had been lying at the Narok Hospital mortuary for two weeks as his family desperately asked relatives to donate land to inter the body.

Mr Rono was said to have succumbed to pneumonia due to harsh climatic conditions and because he lacked money, he did not get treatment on time.

At the Tendwet camp, evictees were finalising plans to bury another man, Julius Langat, 52, who succumbed to an illness. Mr Langat was formerly a resident of Kaporia village, where he had lived for 21 years. He was set to be buried on land belonging to a relative.

Mr Joseph Sigilai, the vice-chairman of the Olmekenyu Hillside IDP camp, said the evictees were formerly residents of 23 villages near the Mau forest.

Camp residents said they were evicted from Olaba, Kipchoge, Kitoben, Cheptuech, Mjerian, Kapkoros, Simboyon, Lemeonik, Tebeswet, Kabarak, Ndianit, Sagai Soi, Katama, Chemoko, Total, Milimani, Kiletien, Kamaech, Kipkurkot and Chelusto villages. These areas have been turned into forest land by the government.

Mr Joseph Sigilai, the vice chairman of families evicted from Mau forest who are camping at Olmekenyu Hillside IDP camp in Narok South speakign to the Nation in this photo taken on June, 28, 2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

They claimed their human rights had been abused by security officers sent to enforce the eviction order. They alleged that they were savagely beaten, women and girls were raped, and property was destroyed or stolen.

They said they were turned away from local police stations when they attempted to report the abuses, with officers not willing to record the incidents. But they said they could not positively identify the officers who committed the wrongs because they wore combat clothing.

“Children who were in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities have since dropped out because their parents had lost their livelihoods along with land and property after the brutal evictions,” said Mr Sigilai.

Some 160 children in the camp have enrolled at local primary schools while 27 are in secondary schools and three others in colleges.

Hundreds of other children dropped out of school after their families were evicted, and now work as casual labourers at local trading centres and farms.

Families evicted from Mau forest speaking to the Nation at Olmekenyu Hillside IDP camp in Narok South in this photo taken on June, 28,2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

Some of the primary schools in the area are Olmekenyu, Kapkures, Ole Sulunye and Simendwa. The secondary schools are Olmekenyu Torokiat, Kabarak and Losogom.

Following the evictions, more than 15 schools built with taxpayer money were shut down, and the Teachers Service Commission transferred hundreds of teachers to other schools.

A few of the IDPs have sent their children to live with relatives in neighbouring constituencies and areas that were not affected by the evictions.

Women and children fetch water from local streams, such as Kondamet, Ndoroboni, Losogom and Ndamur, carrying water over up to five kilometres in hilly terrain.

Mr Sigilai said the evictees faced food shortages, health complications and lack of medicines.
“It is only by the grace of God that the evictees who are still here are alive. A majority of them have succumbed to various ailments, especially those associated with harsh climatic conditions,” Mr Sigilai stated.

“We have repeatedly forwarded the list of the evictees and their tribulations to the office of the President, Deputy President, governor of Narok County and the deputy county commissioner, but no action or support has been forthcoming.”

Mrs Nancy Busienei, a mother of 12 who lost five acres in Cheptuech village, said the government should compensate them for the loss so they could fend for their families.

“Our houses were torched by the security officers enforcing the eviction order. We were not allowed to harvest our food crops, which were left rotting on the farms, with wild animals feeding on them,” Mrs Busienei said.

It is the same case with Ms Elizabeth Lelgo of Sagaisoi village and a mother of 11 children, who have dropped out of school for lack of fees and uniforms.

Ms Agnes Maina, who was evicted along with her nine children from Chemogoy village, like the others, depends on menial jobs in exchange for food for her family.

“We have to work as casual labourers to put food on the table, which is hardly enough. It is unfortunate that the government kicked us out of our productive farms without compensation. It is only God who can save us now,” Ms Maina.

Mr Ezekiel Sang, the secretary of the group, said they built their makeshift homes with materials donated by politicians led by DP Ruto.

“Even after subjecting us to untold suffering and pain, government officials blocked the building materials from being delivered to us. It took a lot of effort and high-level interventions for the trucks ferrying the iron sheets and nails to reach us,” said Mr Sang.

After the materials were delivered, the government also imposed restrictions on the number of units that could be constructed, the number of people one unit could accommodate and the distance between them, he added.

Mrs Roselyne Langat, formerly a resident of Olabe village, said the evictees do not need monetary compensation but land they can settle on with their families.

“We were illegally kicked out of our land, which we legally acquired. It is only fair that we be given land so our children can have a place to call home,” said Ms Langat, whose children have dropped out of school.

At the Tendwet IDP camp, an eviction order was recently given to families who settled on a 12-acre farm belonging to a farmer and businessman, who wants to repossess and rehabilitate the property as an earlier promise by senior politicians to purchase was not fulfilled.

Local administrators have stated the camp is a health hazard, with frequent outbreaks of diseases, while insecurity in neighbouring villages and trading centres had become a major issue in the last two years.

Mr Kipkirui Langat, whose family was evicted from Kaporia village, where he had settled for 19 years, said he had to sell nine of his cattle to feed, clothe and treat his children following the displacement.

“Having lost two acres of potatoes, one acre of maize and beans, including the cereals that were in a granary, we had to start life afresh. I did not have any savings and had to sell my cows to meet my family’s financial needs,” Mr Langat said.

Ms Ann Tonui, a mother of 10, lost 10 acres of land on which she said she had lived for over 18 years in Chumoiyot village in Sierra Leone. She has been sickly and had recently broken her leg but could not raise money for surgery.

A bird's view of Tendwet IDP camp where 800 families evicted from Mau forest are camping in Narok South in this photo taken on June, 28, 2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

“Lacking money, I resorted to herbal treatment and I now depend on my two children who are engaged as casual labourers by a farmer to get us food,” said Ms Tonui as she sat outside her makeshift home.

Mrs Hellen Korir, a mother of 13, was busy peeling potatoes to cook for lunch for her children, who were playing with others in an open field, oblivious of the stress their parents were undergoing.
“It is now two years since we were given food by members of Parliament and the government. We are used to having one meal a day, when we are lucky, but many are the days when we sleep hungry. No one in the government cares about our plight,” said Ms Korir.

She noted that some evictees had been engaged in a tree-planting drive by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) on the land where they used to live.

Mr William Barsukuta said he lost 25 acres of land that he had bought 17 years ago from a trust company with hard-earned money.

“The eviction was political as the land did not belong to the government but was held in trust by the Narok County government. The record is there for all to see,” claimed Mr Barsukuta.

Mr Wilson Langat, who was evicted from Lelpanga village, said “we have lost hope in life and most of us are only waiting to die”.

“Our children have dropped out of school, with girls engaged in prostitution, most of them having sired children at a tender age. We are condemned to live in squalor yet we had our own property and provided for our families before the government dispossessed us,” Mr Langat said with bitterness.

He said many of the evictees had died and were buried in land belonging to relatives as their own had been taken over by the government.  

“Members of the Kipsigis community do not bury the dead in cemeteries like other communities. That is taboo for us. It has sadly become a norm now to request relatives to provide a small portion of land to bury the evictees who have succumbed to various diseases in the last three years,” Mr Langat said.

Mzee Kipsang Mastamet, an 85-year-old great grandfather, said he was evicted from his 3.5-acre farm in Kaporia village where he had resided for 22 years. He said he wanted compensation.
“The mental torture we have been subjected to in the last three years can only be relieved if the next government resettles us,” said Mzee Mastamet.

The number of families residing in the camp has reduced to 760, with some relocating to live with relatives while others have bought small parcels of land and settled there.

Some of the villages they were evicted from are Kaliasoi, Okilge, Sierra Leone, Chebirbelek, Lelpanga, Simboyon, Kaporia and Saptet.

It remains to be seen whether the next government will address the plight of the evictees, who in the interim will have to contend with living in harsh conditions and fending for themselves in new ways.