The recent forays by President William Ruto has not augured well with residents of semi-arid Nyatike constituency whose future remains bleak after over 6,000 acres of land had been gazette as forest cover.
The area, straddling parts of Mikei and Macalder gold belts, is home to over 20,000 people, assorted public learning institutions and the regions administrative headquarter had been gazzetted as forest earlier in June.
Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary of invoked section 31(2) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016), in a Legal Notice No. 85 that declared the vast land as a forest area, sparking outrage from local leaders and the public.
The CS a described the land as “approximately 2494.95 hectares (6165.02 acres) situated … 25km north-west of Migori Township, Migori County, the boundaries of which properly delineated, edged green on boundary plan no. 175/517 which is signed and sealed with a seal of Survey of Kenya, and deposited in the Survey Records Office of the county forest conservator, Migori County, and Kenya Forest Service headquarters, Nairobi.”
But despite concerted efforts by County leadership, local politicians and the public to have the gazzettement averted , Dr Ruto who toured the county on Sunday gave the quest a wide berth and instead focused on his development tour of the county.
During a meeting with sugarcane farmers at Sony Guest house, Migori governor reiterated the need to have the vast land degazetted while calling on Dr Ruto to “wade into the matter and have sanity restored in the gold belt.”
“Whatever is being gazzeted as a forest is a county land and we do not want unnecessary interference from outside forces. Mr President, let our people have what is rightfully theirs. Whoever wants to mine gold from this county is free but let them spare us our land,” Dr Ayacko said.
It is perceived that that senior government officials are on gold exploits in the contested land.
Dr Ayacko’s calls come barely a fortnight after he led area MP Tom Odege, Migori legislator Fatuma Mohammed and area MCA Felix Okwanyo in calls for revocation of the gazzete notice to ease tension that is already building in the area.
During a public Baraza that preceded the launching of an Industrial aggregation park at Macalder, a fete that was presided over former Trades Minister Moses Kuria, residents had vowed to stay put until the matter is resolved while accusing “senior officials of conniving to have them relocated for personal gains.
Despite the gazette notice having been issued in June, residents claim that they only got to hear of it last month.
Nyatike MP Tom Odege claimed that this was a deliberate ploy by the government to allow the notice attain its 90-day legal expiry date without any objection to pave way for their eviction
The legislator recounted that a Canadian Company had in the 1940s leased the land for 99 years to mine copper, but the government later discovered that they were mining gold and cancelled the lease.
He has since vowed to challenge the move in parliament.
Sitting on the contested land are 17 learning institutions, including Macalder Youth Polytechnic and a Rongo University campus and three hospitals. There are also offices belonging to national government administrators as well as an international non-governmental organization.
Macalder Kanyarwanda MCA Felix Okwanyo noted that they were not consulted before the gazettement was done, breaching constitutional provisions on public participation.
“There was no public participation done to hear the views of the community. I’m calling on the government to review the decision failure to which we will seek legal redress,” he said.