We've genuine title deeds, Mau evictees say as case starts
Families evicted from their homes in the eastern Mau region hold genuine land ownership documents, some of which were issued by the government, a Nakuru court has been told.
Nakuru County Assembly Deputy Speaker Samuel Tonui, who took to the witness stand Monday, told the court that the Kenya Forest Service evicted the families after rejecting and disowning their title deeds, some of which were issued by the Ministry of Lands in April 2013.
Mr Tonui, the Nessuit Ward representative, maintained that the more than 500,000 evictees are genuine owners of the 35,301-hectare land and have legal documents to support their claims.
Gazetted as settlement scheme
The land, Mr Tonui said, was excised from the Mau Forest and gazetted as a settlement scheme in 2001 by the then minister for Environment Noah Katana Ngala.
It is that land that became the Nessuit, Marioshoni, Likia Sururu, Terit and Sigotic settlement schemes.
He claimed that the evictions, spearheaded by the then Rift Valley regional commissioner George Natembeya, were politically motivated.
“Among those who were evicted were those with titles legally issued by the government, some of which were issued in April 2013, just immediately after the leaders of the current government assumed office. The titles possessed by the residents were disregarded by the KWS rangers,” Mr Tonui said.
He said people started settling in the area in 1995 and excising the land was intended to give the settlements legal effect and pave the way for the issuing of title deeds.
The evictions were carried out in June 2020 by a team consisting of the KWS and the National Police service.
It sought to reclaim lands allegedly invaded by residents, including the Logoman, Sururu, Likia, Kiptunga, Mariashoni, Nessuit, Baraget and Oleposmoru forests in the Mau Forest complex.
But the operation was halted after Mr Tonui, through lawyer Kipkoch Ngetich, moved to court and obtained orders suspending it, pending the determination of a petition that he had filed.
Residents' rights violated
Appearing before Justice John Mutungi, Mr Tonui said the operation was conducted in an inhuman manner and violated the rights of residents.
The court heard that the government torched houses, destroyed property and forcibly drove people out of their homes.
“The government has in the process rendered the residents homeless after burning their houses, (evicting them and destroying their property),” Mr Tonui said.
Mr Tonui, on behalf of the residents, wants the court to help end the perennial conflict between the KWS and locals over the forest boundary.
He wants the court to determine the original forest boundary and permanently bar the government from interfering with their settlement on the land.
The hearing of the petition, which kicked off on Monday, is scheduled to last three days.
Mr Tonui and one resident, Joseph Kipkemoi Kibenei, were among those who testified on the first day of the hearing.