Residents whose lands border Lake Kapnarok national game reserve in Baringo County have complained that they were shortchanged by defunct Baringo county council during the establishment of the reserve boundary 32 years ago.
Led by Joseph Kiptala, chairperson of Kapnarok Farmers Group, the residents alleged that the county council tricked them to surrender their land to establish the game reserve but until now they have not received any compensation despite several promises.
Kiptala who spoke to the press at Kenya School of government (KSG), Baringo Campus, on Tuesday after attending a one day Inter Stakeholders Conversation and Dialogue forum added that the contentious land which has been in dispute for all these years has also escalated to human wildlife conflict with neighbouring communities as well as Lands department and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in the county.
“A taskforce was formed in 2014 by the then governor Benjamin Cheboi to iron out some of the contentious issues but up to now we have not been told the findings from the report thus we feel uncomfortable not knowing the fate of our land,” he said
He noted that over 7,000 residents from three locations of Kabutiei, Lawan and Kaboskei Kerio in Barwessa Ward have been affected and they don’t have another place to carry out their farming activities.
Reuben Chepkonga, another resident said that the people who passed the proposal to set the national reserve did not conduct any public participation and feel that the process might have been hijacked by politicians and opinion leaders who have continued to neglect their cries to acquire title deeds for their ancestral land.
Chepkonga observed that due to the unresolved conflict a once vibrant sisal farming in the area has ceased and a local factory closed because of discouragement resulting from frequent eviction threats.
He pointed out that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county government which is the trustee of the land and affected community members need to be reached soon to end the emotive issue and allow them resume to their socio-economic activities.
Eveline Chelimo, another resident said that this has affected schools like Lake Kapnarok and Tartar Primary Schools which are within the game reserve, a move that seen pupil population drop drastically.
County KWS deputy Warden Peter Lekeren agreed that the unresolved land matter has brought hostility between the community and conservationist as some of the locals have refused to move out of the game reserve due lack of a defined boundary.
Lekeren said they plan to conduct thirteen public conversation and dialogue conferences to enable them reach a consensus with the community on the thorny issue before embarking on erection of a fence around the Baringo side of the game reserve, a project set to cost Sh 20 million.
The warden added they had established 600 households affected the land dispute, a figure, he noted has increased over years but hope the taskforce shall identify the genuine people to be compensated.
Ruth Muli, a lands officer, told the forum that the land adjudication department has commenced the process of mapping eight contentious adjudications sections along the Kerio Valley.
She urged the locals to remain peaceful even as they await for the taskforce recommendations saying the report will inform the cause of action by the relevant government authorities.
Ms Muli stated title deeds for completed adjudicated sections like Keturwa, Kenowa and Barewassa were ready and will issued out to the owners anytime soon.
She added adjudication exercise in areas of Kuikui, Meregut, Ayatia and Kasaka were ongoing and will soon be finalized.
On several occasions the affected land owners have complained that the gazetement of the lake in 1983 was done without their consultation and participation since it was only done by few individuals from outside the region together with the defunct county council of Baringo.
The lake which occupies 87.3 kilometre square and borders Rimoi National Game Reserve has greatly degenerated due to rampant human activities like illegal logging and haphazard cultivation upstream leading to it shrinking in size and volume.
The lake, a national tourist attraction and formerly described as the Jewel of Baringo because of hosting more than 1,500 rare white crocodiles, the second largest population of the reptiles in the world after Lake Chad, is currently a pale shadow of itself.
The oxbow lake currently chocked by water hyacinth used to be inhabited by giant elephants, impalas, gazelles, warthogs, wild pigs, dikdiks and a variety of rare birds among other animals.
By Benson Kelio/Joshua Kibet