Kenya’s political headlines are monopolised by scandals, of which the Mau Forest swindle is perhaps the most scandalous.
The Mau Forest complex saga has been an ongoing subject of political discussion over the past few years. Located in Western Kenya, it is the country’s largest forest, housing the nation's main water tower.
As of 2001, during former President Daniel Moi’s administration, approximately 40,000 hectares in the heart of the forest was excised from Kenyans by corrupt political leaders. This corruptly grabbed land was acquired by both past and present politicians. The land was then sold off to gullible buyers who either settled or subdivided their ‘rightful’ chunks of land.
The scale of self-interested politics is frightening as it increasingly leads Kenyan citizens to be held at ransom. Clocks have run out and the lack of action has led to an indefinite future for Kenya. As disaster looms over the country, political craftsmen become ever more egotistical and escape with impunity.
This is not an advice to wave off Kenya as a lawless country, but to expose the truth that most choose to avoid because it calls for responsibility.
Kenya’s tourism has felt the impact of the Mau Forest destruction as water levels drop to an all time low. The effect is more widespread due to the prevailing drought that has stricken various parts of the country; with failed crops as well as water and electricity shortages.
Eviction and resettlement of ‘illegal’ settlers aimed at preserving and restoring the forest cover is said to be the first step towards solving the problem. In August 2009, Kenya’s Premier Raila Odinga formed a task force to prevent further degradation of the forest.
“There has been an invasion by individuals, wanton destruction of the forest by cutting trees for charcoal burning and timber,” Mr Odinga said.
Premier Odinga believes that it is the responsibility of the government to preserve the forest. This is a positive step from the government, but one wonders whether the same view is held by all members. According to the Premier, the task force is aimed at relocating the ‘illegal’ settlers as well as conserving the forest. The Premier’s stance is in an effort to curb the detrimental effects on agriculture and tourism, the country’s main sources of foreign exchange.
The proposed solution has, however, led to political debate drifting members of the coalition government with arguments of the high costs of relocation while others hanker for legal action on ‘unholy’ politicians.
The involvement of politicians is in itself a major obstacle to finding a solution. Most politicians are interested in sustaining their political status in society with ardent interests on electoral support in the upcoming 2012 elections.
The participation of politicians, who in Kenyan politics have to be in the “mature” age bracket, challenges the norm that maturity comes with responsibility. This so-called responsibility would be reason enough for Kenyan politicians to resolve the issue before it becomes an irrevocable crisis. These politicians should put the needs of the citizens first, who at this point in time are nothing more than ‘slaves of pity’.
Whilst the Premier seeks to find a solution, Kenyan media houses are reluctant to make this possible. From the onset of the Mau Forest crisis, major media outlets were averse to making information available to the local and international audience in an effort to stay ‘politically correct’.
For years, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has warned Kenyan politicians to resolve the Mau Forest crisis focusing on the negative attributes of the destruction of its ecosystem.
“It has reached a point where if no measures are taken, Kenya will lose one of its fundamental assets,” warned Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
The intervention of UNEP is probably an indication that Kenya and its government need a third party to intervene and reflect on the intensity of its problems.
With the UNEP’s solicitude in mind, Kenyan politicians need to act now and abandon their political interests otherwise Kenya has no future to look forward to. Simply put, Kenya’s future generation is today in turmoil, however immediate action can save tomorrow.
Lynette Mwangi is an international student pursuing her Masters Degree in Strategic Public Relations at the University of Sydney. Upon the completion of her degree she hopes to use the skills attained in the academic and professionals in the development of her home country, Kenya.