, 09 November, 2019 / 3:09 AM
While the reclamation of one of East Africa’s largest water towers, Mau Forest, has been welcomed by both political and religious leaders in the country, the process of evicting those who have settled in the catchment of the main rivers providing water to western Kenya has been faulted, with a section of Catholic Bishops who have spoken to ACI Africa demanding for a humane approach.
“Yes, we know we need to conserve Mau, we need to plant trees and all that but let us also really see how do you deal with the people who have been living there,” Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Kenya’s Lodwar diocese told ACI Africa in an interview early in the week.
“Let us treat them in a very humane way, find solutions for them without just burning their houses and evicting them then they go nowhere,” Bishop Kimengich added in reference to people who have considered Mau forest their home over the years and who are facing forcible eviction.
Situated on the Mau Escarpments in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, Mau Forest, which serves as Kenya’s largest water tower is East Africa’s largest indigenous montane forest.
Illegal immigrants into the forest over the years led to clearing of trees and vegetation to pave way for their settlement, impacting negatively on the environment.
In a bid to save the water tower, Kenya’s Ministry of Environment issued a 60-day eviction notice to the over 10,000 families starting August 2019 to voluntarily leave the forest so as to pave way for its restoration.
“According to the latest government statistics, more than 3,000 families have voluntarily vacated the 17,101 acres of land in the Mau Forest complex ahead of the looming evictions,” Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported.
At the expiry of the notice on October 31, the government attempted to make true its threat of forcible eviction.
The Bishop of Murang’a diocese in Kenya, James Maria Wainaina decried the lack of compassion in reclaiming one of Kenya’s critical water towers saying, “We would want that the process of the eviction is done in a very humane way.”
He added, “recovering the Mau forest is very important because first of all it was meant to be there. It was planned. It was in the plan of our country that the whole of that area would be a forest or it was to be a water tower and it would be serving the nation in that way.”
“I hear that people have already left the place as the deadline was nearing and that was very good,” the Bishop of Kenya’s Murang’a said and continued, “those who have not gone now, they should be assisted to go out peacefully, in a good way.”
On his part, Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri said that the Mau evictions had been politicized whereas the real issue is the plight of the evictees who are suffering.
“We should not just jump on the political discussion, which is what has happened in Mau evictions,” the Archbishop said and added, “That is not the main issue here.”
He explained, “The issue is who has died, who has been hurt, who are crying because their people are in hospital and they can’t pay, who are the people who are not going to have food because that is the real plight that we must address.”
The Archbishop of Kenya’s Nyeri diocese added that politicizing the eviction and inhumane treatment of the evictees is a crime before God and though the government may have “a right to evict,” the eviction process should be done minding the human dignity.
“For us as the Church, we always say, first and foremost human dignity is important. The human dignity comes before the law,” Bishop Muheria said and added, “So, even when enforcing a law, you have to give the dignity back to the persons.”
Kenya’s Senate summoned the Cabinet Secretary of Environment, Keriako Tobiko and the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya to explain the ongoing evictions.
The Human Rights Watch also expressed concern over the way the Kenyan government is conducting the evictions.
“While forest conservation goals are laudable, the way the government is carrying out the evictions raises serious human rights concerns,” reads in part the statement by Human Rights Watch.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa