The Ogiek hunter-gatherer tribes of Kenya ’s Mau Forest are suing the Kenyan government for its decision last autumn to remove large tracts of their homeland from the protection of the Forest Act, allegedly for the resettlement of “landless Kenyans.” Kenyan Minister for Environment Joseph Kamotho signed the agreement to alter forest boundaries on October 8, despite the fact that several cases filed since 1997 by the Ogiek Welfare Council, Forest Action Network, Greenbelt Movement, and the Kenya Human Rights Commission challenge the right of the government to do so and have yet to be heard. In October 1997, the Kenyan High Court ordered a decree that “there shall be no further allocation of the suit land until the issues in dispute are resolved in court.”
The issue becomes further convoluted by the recent accusations of a leading Kenyan newspaper that the benificaries of the intended reallocations are some of Kenya ’s highest political officials, including President Daniel arap Moi. According to the Daily Nation, of the 167,000 acres of forest land to be reallocated, the President was to receive 2,317 acres for personal use, while former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, political activist Kuria Kanyingi, and Environmental Minister Joseph Kamotho were all to receive smaller tracts of their own. In light of this disclosure, Kenya ’s Parliamentiary Committee on Agriculture, Land, Environment and Natural Resources has called for the immediate reconvening of Parliament to discuss the issue. MP Mwangi Kiunjuri has stated, “This is the climax of all evils that could have been done to this country.”
The Ogiek, well-known as Kenya’s “honey-hunters” for their traditional bee-keeping techniques, have practiced their hunting and gathering lifestyle in the Mau Forest highlands for hundred of years, supplemented over the last decades by some farming. They are recognized by social scientists to be the original inhabitants of Central Kenya ’s highland area, having settled in the region long before the arrival of other Bantu and Nilotic tribes who now dominate the country’s political and economic scene. Yet over the last decades they have been forced to fight for their right to remain in their ancestral homelands and use its resources time and time again, on the premises of governmental authorities that their lifestyle violates the protection of the environment as stated under the Forest Act. Only last December the Ogiek were ordered by the government to permanently relocate from the forest by January 15. Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Peter Raburu officially announced that “the more than 10,000 illegal settlers in government forests should move out peacefully or else we will forcefully evict them.”
The contradictions inherent in governmental policy on the forest zone is obvious. Three multinational timber companies have been permitted by the President to continue logging in the “protected zone” even as the Ogiek controversies unfold, because the companies are considered “important to the economy.” The 167,000 acres of reallocated land for resettlement are intended to be cleared for tea plantations and other agricultural pursuits. Both the Environmental Minister and the Chief Conservator of Forests Joseph Mutie have declined to comment on the environmental destruction caused by these activities.