Gov't announces plan to resettle forest evictees

Kenyan authorities have unveiled a plan to resettle thousands of families evicted in June from farms allegedly carved out of a forest in the Mau area of the country's southeastern Narok district.

An estimated 3,000 families lost their homes and livelihoods when the evictions were carried out. Security forces torched or demolished homes and other social amenities, including schools, churches and health clinics, rendering many people destitute.

The office of the president announced on Monday that the government had identified 282 plots of land in Nakuru District, in the Rift Valley Province, where some of those evicted from Mau Forest would be resettled.

"More land is being identified for resettlement of bona fide settlers evicted from the area [Mau Forest]," a statement issued by the Presidential Press Service said.

"The forest boundary is being physically marked with a cut-line. Anybody who may have owned land or settled outside the cut-line should go back after completion of the physical marking of the cut-line," it added.

According to the president's office, peasant farmers were forced to leave the Mau Forest area after it was established that 1,962 parcels of land had been illegally carved out of the forest and the plots sold to unsuspecting people since 1998.

"Those who claim to have purchased portions of these parcels are required to identify the parcels on which they had settled and provide further details to the Lands Office to facilitate their resettlement by the Ministry of Lands and Housing and Provincial Administration," it added.

The evictions in June and July caused uproar, with critics accusing the government of insensitivity for failing to compensate or offer those affected alternative settlements.

The government insisted that Mau was a gazetted forest and a catchment area for seven rivers, which it said were drying up because of the settlements.

In a related development, Lands and Housing Minister Amos Kimunya has announced that a project to upgrade slums in Kenyan cities and towns is to commence soon.

The Kenyan government entered into a partnership with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in 2003 to design and implement the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP).

The programme, aimed at improving the lives of slum-dwellers as envisaged in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), would be implemented in phases, Kimunya said during a function to mark the World Habitat Day on Monday.

The first phase of KENSUP would cover selected slums in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa, Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, Mavoko township in the Athi River area, south of Nairobi, and Nakuru and Eldoret towns in the Rift Valley Province.

The Kenyan government and UN-HABITAT would seek financial and other resources from donors and the private sector to fund the implementation for KENSUP. The government has already set aside some US $6.7 million during the current financial year to fund the construction of 600 housing units in Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum.

One of the MDGs calls for the significant improvement of the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers around the world by 2020, a figure UN-HABITAT considers too modest.

"Since the goal was set on 2000, the global slum population has already grown by 200 million people," UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Anna Tibaijuka, said in her message on World Habitat Day on Monday.

She added: "If the current trends continue, by the 2020 target deadline, the number of slum dwellers will have reached 1.6 billion."