It’s a life of squalor for Mau evictees in Narok

Olmekenyu IDP camp

Families play at Olmekenyu IDP camp outside Mau forest. Several families were  n

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In a bid to restore the Mau water tower, the government conducted the first eviction from the forest in 2005, followed by another in 2019.
  • The evictees, who say the exercise was violently carried out, are calling on the government to either compensate or resettle them so that they can once again earn themselves a livelihood.

Living in squalid conditions in two Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, families evicted from the Mau forest complex in Narok county are crying out for help.

Hundreds of children who have been forced to drop out of school for lack of fees and uniforms are engaged, along with their parents, as casual labourers in farms near the camps so they can afford to buy food.

Many girls who are supposed to be in school have been sexually exploited, impregnated and forced to become mothers at a tender age in the Tendwet and Olmekenyu camps in Narok South.

The victims gave heart-wrenching stories of how their lives took a terrible turn following the eviction for encroaching on the forest.

From a life of plenty, they now live in squalor, with men, women and children, and sometimes grandparents, forced to live together in tiny houses.

Tens of the victims have succumbed to various diseases in the two camps, with a high number of them having gone into depression after losing property and source of livelihood.

Lost faith

As the country prepares for the General Election, the victims have lost faith in politicians and the government for abandoning them.

The first eviction in Narok South was in 2005 under President Mwai Kibaki’s administration while the second was in 2019 under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government.

President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto had in the run-up to the 2013 and 2017 elections promised to resettle the families evicted by President Kibaki’s government. But they changed their position immediately after the last elections.

When the Nation visited the Olmekenyu camp, the 800 families were in mourning following the death of Wilson Rono, whose body had been lying at Narok hospital mortuary for two weeks as family members desperately engaged relatives to donate land to bury him.

He is said to have succumbed to pneumonia and did not get treatment in time for lack of money.

At Tendwet IDP camp, the evictees were finalising plans to bury Julius Langat, 52, who succumbed to illness. He was formerly a resident of Kaporia village where he had lived for 21 years. He was set for burial on a piece of 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, which have reverted to the forest.

The victims claimed to have been subjected to abuse by security officers deployed to enforce the eviction order, with alleged cases of women and girls being raped and property destroyed or stolen.

School drop out

“Children who were in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities have since dropped out as a result of loss of livelihoods by their parents,” said Mr Sigilai.

A total of 160 children in the camp have enrolled in local primary schools, 27 are in secondary schools and three are in colleges.

A few of the IDPs have been forced to send their children to live with relatives in neighbouring constituencies

Those who dropped out have been forced into employment as casual labourers in local trading centres and farms.

Following the evictions, more than 15 schools built by the government were shut down and the teachers transferred.

Mr Sigilai said in an interview at the camp that the evictees are faced with food and water shortages, health complications and lack of medication and drugs.

“It is only by the grace of God that the evictees who are still here are alive. Majority of them have succumbed to various ailments, especially those associated with harsh climatic conditions,” he stated.

“We have repeatedly forwarded the list of the evictees and their tribulations to the offices of the President, Deputy President, Governor of Narok County and Deputy County Commissioner, but no action or support has been forthcoming,” he added.

Ms Nancy Busienei, a mother of 12, who lost five acres at Cheptuech village, said the government should compensate them for the loss so that they can fend for their families.

Families evicted from Mau forest speaking to the Nation at Olmekenyu Hillside IDP camp in Narok South.

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

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

“Our houses were torched by the security officers deployed to implement the eviction order. We were not allowed to harvest our food crops which were left rotting on the farms,” she said.

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

Some of the victims had been engaged in a tree planting exercise by the Kenya Forests Service on the land that was forcibly taken away from them.

Ms Agnes Maina, who was evicted along with her nine children at Chemogoy village, has been forced to depend on manual jobs to afford food for her family.

Mr Ezekiel Sang, the secretary of the group, said the building materials for the makeshift structures they are living in were donated by politicians led by Deputy President William 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 material was delivered, restrictions on the number of units that could be constructed, the number of people one unit could accommodate and the distance in between them was also set by the government,” he said.

Ms Roselyne Langat, formerly a resident of Olabe village, said the victims do not need monetary compensation but land they can settle their families in.

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

At Tendwet IDP camp, an eviction order was recently given to the families 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 it did not go through.

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

Ms Ann Tonui, a mother of 10, says she lost 10 acres of land which she had lived on for over 18 years at Chumoiyot village. She has been sickly after she broke her leg but could not raise money for surgery.

“For lack of money, I resorted to herbal treatment and I now depend on my two children who are engaged as casual labourers by a farmer, so we can get food,” said Ms Tonui.

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,”

“Members of the Kipsigis community do not bury the dead in cemeteries like other communities. That is a taboo for us. It has sadly become the 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 revealed.

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

The number of families in the camp has reduced to 760 with some having relocated to live with relatives while those who had some savings at the time of the eviction have bought small parcels of land where they now live.

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.