A wave of panic and is fast-descending on thousands of Embobut Forest encroachers who have only a few days to find alternative homes following a government compensation and relocation scheme launched three months ago.
A government notice to vacate the settlements they occupy comes to an end in the first week of 2014, catching up with a large number of the settlers, some of who have been making merry instead of looking for land. The community received Sh1.1 billion in compensation two months ago.
The 21-day eviction notice was given on December 12 but, so far, only a fraction of households have acquired alternative settlements. For some, it was merry-making and the Christmas of a lifetime, thanks to the money with which they were supposed to move out of the forest.
“I had never gone to Mombasa; I had only heard about it on radio. We thank God we voted in the right government that has, indeed, made this year’s Christmas worthwhile,” said a beneficiary, Kiprop Kipchumba, on phone from the coastal region where he said he was making “personal history” of merry-making.
Marakwet DC, Husein Alaso Husein, said that at least 400 of the 2, 874 beneficiaries have bought pieces of land in Kachibora, Kapcherop and Kitale areas while others are still shopping for suitable land.
The DC confirmed that there are some who have been reported to have “lost” some money in entertainment spots, particularly in Eldoret, while some went to Mombasa for the Christmas holiday.
The DC warned those who will not have bought land and would be found to have squandered the cash that they will be held to account. “State money must be used for its intended purpose. Anyone found in the forest after the lapse of the notice without proof of the land they bought with the money will be committing a crime.”
Kenya Forest Service Head of Conservancy, Solomon Mibei, clarified that the Sh10, 000 given to the squatters was meant for transport. “We have just come from the forest where we had to assess the movement out of the catchment area. They are making travel arrangements but very poorly so,” said Mr Mibei.
Some villagers who had never operated a bank account did so for the first time, as did those who had never acquired a mobile phone.
In Kapyego and Embolot-Embobut Wards, the increased rate of formalising weddings, both Christian and traditional, has been attributed to the disbursement of the compensation money.
The squatters have been camping in 16 holding grounds inside the forest and have been asked to use the money to acquire land wherever they fancied.
Anyone ready to leave the forest after buying land was advised to obtain free transport from the local Marakwet East District DC’s office at Chesoi as the provincial administration would provide lorries and armed escort.
Cautioning them against squandering the money, both the President and his deputy urged them to ensure they used the money prudently, and for the intended purpose.
So far, only a few have bought land in Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and within Elgeyo-Marakwet Highlands of Kapcherop plains and requested for transport.
“I have been going round looking for settlement land for sale though I have not been successful. I believe I am going to find it at the long run. It won’t be easy, of course, but I will succeed eventually,” said Kibor Chesir, a beneficiary.
While going round to shop for the land for sale, Mr Chesir admitted that he has been using the same money he withdrew for upkeep, transport and accommodation.
He appealed to the Government to consider giving them more time as they continue looking for alternative land.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation, Josephina Kirop, who is also shopping for a parcel, called on the State to “go slow on them” to allow them enjoy Christmas without panicking.
“We know we received State money and we are not just sitting idly. We are busy liaising with relatives and friends to find land to buy outside Embobut. Above all, we thank the government for demonstrating responsibility before evicting us,” said the mother of seven. “There are those of us who are misusing theirs. We hope they know what they are doing and are aware of the forthcoming evictions.”
But another beneficiary, Joyce Yegon, believes the money is compensation for the atrocities the government committed against them in the past, and is not for buying land. “I received the money but I have no idea about any planned eviction. Most likely those who have been going to the DC’s baraza are aware of the exact use of this money but, I took it as compensation for our suffering under past regimes,” she told Sunday Nation at Kapsowar Town where she had visited her bank.
The road to the resettlement had been rocked by politics since squatters form majority of voters in the expansive water catchment area.
County Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, MP Kangogo Bowen and former MPs Linah Kilimo, John Marimoi and Robert Kipkorir, have roots in the forest, which is the reason every politician always came to the defence of squatters whenever they were threatened. Even the county government kept off the exercise due to the controversies involved.
“It was indeed very complex business. That is why we decided to let the national government and local leaders handle it,” said Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos.