by Rachel Muthoni
Since they were evicted from the Mau Forest complex two years ago, more than 10,000 families have known no better life than that of suffering, sleeping in the cold, hunger, and lack of access to basic amenities.
In a bid to reclaim the encroached part of the Mau Forest, the government began evicting residents in November of 2009 (Kenya’s Prime Minister ordered for evictions to start by October 2008, but evictons actually began in November 2009.) During the evictions, families were promised resettlement in alternative pieces of land within three months after they were forced out of the forest. But theirs has turned to a life of despair and poverty. Hope for a resettlement is seemingly not forthcoming, at least not in the near future.
My interest in this story developed after pastor Joseph Maritim, a clergyman from the local African Inland Church, informed me that evicted children have to work for food. I had met the pastor on a previous visit to several of the camps where evicted families are living. Pastor Maritim is the chairman of all pastors within the Mau camps.
Before they were evicted from the forest complex, most evictees were farmers owning an average of five acres. From these farms, they sold milk, millet, maize, Irish potatoes and other produce. “We comfortably would take our children to school even before the government introduced free primary education nine years ago,” says Maritim.
The journey to the camps is tough. I live in Nakuru town, about 140 kilometers from the part of Mau that I visited. On the trip from Keriget town, where there is tarmac, is 40 kilometers impassable by vehicles. I had to ride on a motorbike, locally known as boda boda for a total of 80 kilometers. But my passion for covering stories about poverty and the violation of human and children’s rights drove me to make the journey to Mau. I hope my presence and my assurance that I would let known their fate, might be a partial healing for these evictees.
In the Mau Forest camps, relief food from the government is rare and irregular. Yet the evictees no longer have farms to till and harvest. “This has forced everyone, including children, to work in a bid to earn their daily bread,” says pastor Maritim. Most of the children join their parents in tea picking at big farms bordering the Mau Forest, while others work in nearby subsistence crop farms. Employers take advantage of the evictees’ desperate lives and pay them much less than the normal wages.
“Normally, a casual labourer earns between Sh100 (US$1.25) – Sh200 (US$2.5), but we are being paid half the amount, yet everyone has to work at least for food,” says Maritim. Some employers exchange raw food like maize and beans for labour.When I visited Kapkembu camp, 14-year-old Daniel Kiprotich had just returned from working at a nearby maize farm with his parents. At his age, Kiprotich ought to be in class eight, the final year of primary school or form one, the first year in secondary school. “But I no longer go to school since the second term of last year. My parents were unable to raise the Sh300 [and] we were asked to pay private teachers,” says Kiprotich.
In Kenya, primary school education is supposed to be government-sponsored. But a shortage in teaching staff has forced most schools, especially in remote areas, to hire private teachers. At Kapkembu primary school where Kiprotich would go to school, there are 11 government-employed teachers for 21 classes comprising of a total of 1,000 pupils.
“That is why we have to press parents to pay for private teachers,” says John Keror, the school’s head teacher. The number of pupils has increased since the Mau evictees moved nearby.” He points out, however, that sometimes he is forced to be lenient on evicted children with a keen interest in learning.
School attendance, Keror says, keeps fluctuating depending on availability of food among evicted children. “When they are supplied with relief food, most of them come to school. Others come when there are no casual jobs, but currently it is peak season for tea picking and weeding.” Still, some classes have to stay without teachers for some lessons due to the shortage.
Education for these evicted children has turned to a luxury, as food becomes the first priority. The last time they received relief food from the government was three months ago, and the amount was too little to even sustain them for a full month. “We were given six kilograms of maize, two kilos of beans and half liter of cooking oil. Most of the families finished their food within a week,” says Maritim.
Under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Kenya aims at ensuring a complete full course of primary school for all children within the country. The same is emphasized in Kenya’s Vision 2030 that aims at increasing school enrollment rate to 95 percent. But these may remain dreams in books if what is being experienced by the Mau evictee children is anything to go by. “A child cannot concentrate on learning while his/her stomach is empty. To us here food comes first, and education follows,” says Maritim.
But the delay by the government to resettle these evictees may be to blame for lack of education for evicted children. Early this year, on a visit to one of the camps at Kuresoi, Kenya’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka promised that the families would be resettled within one year. But five months later, tattered tents at the edge of a forest from which they were evicted is still home to all who had hoped to be moved by the government. “Our lives now stand still - no food, no shelter or even education. It has almost turned out that we are less Kenyans, being treated as if we are not citizens enough to deserve a descent life,” says Maritim.
Experts worry that politicians are blocking the resettlement of Mau evictees. “Politicians want to promise that they will resettle these people once they are elected to power come next year, that is why they are playing delay tactics in resettlement,” said Patrick Githinji, Chairman of the National Network Of IDP. Such interests, according to Githinji, are likely to have many negative impacts on literacy levels in a country whose educated population is already wanting.
Only time will tell if the children evicted from the Mau forest will have a decent education and be resettled to live in decent shelters. Being a Kenyan, I want to see all citizens enjoying their right to decent lives and justice reaching all corners of the country, indiscriminate of social and economic status. It is for this reason that I take courage to become a voice to the voiceless at the edge of the Mau Forest Complex, who for now are crying fowl over the status of their lives.
About the Author:
Rachel Muthoni is a Kenyan journalist. She holds an International Diploma in Journalism and Media Studies and has worked in international and local media for the last seven years. She is pursuing a bachelors degree in Communications and would like to tell many stories about under privileged people to change their lives for the better.