Gideon Moi onslaught on Mau gives William Ruto taste of Raila dilemma

Moi and Ruto

Baringo Senator Gideon Moi (left) and Deputy President William Ruto during a past event.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mr Moi toured the region on Friday last week and vowed to help those evicted from the forest in 2019.
  • He blamed the woes facing the  evictees, who are mainly Kipsigis, squarely on the Deputy President.

Mau Forest has emerged as the new battlefront for Deputy President William Ruto and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi as they fight for the Kipsigis vote in South Rift.

A political hot potato, the largest tropical forest in East Africa has been a bone of contention for years. On the one hand, everyone agrees that it must be conserved, but on the other, evicting illegal settlers who call the forest home has been a tall order.

It denied Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga the region’s votes in 2013, and now it is threatening to derail Dr Ruto’s presidential ambitions. 

Mr Moi toured the region on Friday last week and vowed to help those evicted from the forest in 2019. He blamed the woes facing the  evictees, who are mainly Kipsigis, squarely on the DP whom he accused of failing to address the issue despite being in leadership for nearly a decade.

Incidentally, Dr Ruto led a similar campaign against Mr Odinga who, as prime minister, headed efforts to remove encroachers from the forest. Now the boot is on the other foot for Dr Ruto, who did not challenge the eviction under the Jubilee administration.

In 2019, hundreds of families were kicked out of the forest, sparking a political storm in the Rift valley. The DP was accused of not helping his own people despite holding a senior position in the government. Mr Moi said on Friday that he will ensure families evicted from the forest are resettled before the elections. 

“I have taken it upon myself to look after them. I will consult the relevant authorities to find a solution. We don’t want to go into the elections next year with this issue still hanging over our heads,” said Mr Moi.

The senator, who has declared his interest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta next year, visited the families in Sagamian in Narok South Constituency after some of their leaders reached out to him.

Addressing hundreds of the evictees at a local trading centre, Mr Moi said he had listened to their pleas and would deliver the message to President Kenyatta, adding that they should expect his response in 12 days when he returns to the region.

He said before his father, former President Daniel Moi, died, he asked him not to forget the people and always be at hand to offer help whenever anyone asked for it. He added that local elders had paid him a visit at his Kabarak home in Nakuru County and asked him for help to resettle displaced families.

Mr Moi’s promise comes days after Dr Ruto vowed that not a single person will be allowed back into the forest, sentiments that sparked angry reactions among the residents, with some accusing him of pushing for their eviction.

Dr Ruto, while on a tour of the region a week ago, said he had powers to stop the eviction but could not as he supports environmental conservation.

Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat, who had accompanied Mr Moi, urged the residents to elect the leaders who will help them. Mr Salat accused the DP of being unsympathetic to the plight of the evictees.

The DP dismissed the assertion that he opposed the reclamation of the Mau Forest, saying he is on the frontline in the conservation of forests. He added he supports the conservation efforts of Mau and other vital water towers in the country and backs the ongoing reforestation programme.

This is exactly the position Mr Odinga found himself in 2009, which eroded the near hundred percent support he had garnered from the region just two years earlier. He blamed his opponents of using the controversial issue to fight him politically.

In October 2010, Dr Ruto, then the Eldoret North MP, accused Mr Odinga of delaying the resettlement of Mau Forest evictees, saying the ODM leader wanted to use it as election bait.

In an apparent reference to Mr Ruto, Mr Odinga said his rivals turned the conservation of the water tower into a political scheme to deny him the Kalenjin vote. Mr Moi is now employing the same tactics to fight Dr Ruto.

Mr Salat wondered why the DP has failed to support compensation of the evictees by allocating funds in the budget and yet he has been in power for close to ten years.

“It is now clear that the DP does not have the interests of the Kalenjin community at heart. He only used the Mau issue to advance his own political interests,” Mr Salat said.

The DP’s dilemma is heightened by the fact that, while the Maasai in downstream Mara River—which originates from the Mau Forest—support evictions, the Kalenjin, who form the bulk of the illegal settlers in the water tower, are opposed to it.

The DP is torn between favouring the Maasai community at the expense of members of his Kalenjin tribe. He, however, is most likely to consider the Kalenjin as captive voters who have no choice but to support him at the ballot.