KENYA: Like a Fish Belongs to Water, the Ogiek Belong to the Mau Forest
By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Nov 27 (IPS) - The resettlement of evictees from Kenya's Mau Forest
remains a humanitarian and environmental concern for the country as more
than 25,000 people continue to live in camps around the forest.
"Indeed the communities around the Mau Forest, such as the Ogiek, Kipsigis
and the Maasai, acknowledge the need to save the Mau, but the survival of
the environment should be harmonised with the survival of the community,"
says Lucy Sadera, who belongs to the Ogiek ethnic group and is a member of
iek-belong-to-the-mau-forest/%22http:/mywokenya.org/%22> Maendeleo ya
Wanawake Organisation - the country's largest women's movement for
The Mau Forest complex in Kenya's Rift Valley Province is home to the
25478%22> Ogiek, and settler communities like the Kipsigis and Maasai.
The arrival of non-indigenous inhabitants to the Mau Forest began when
former President Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002) encouraged the
-africa-> deforestation of the Mau in order to provide a place to resettle
victims of the 1990s land clashes.
However, communities in the Mau Forest, the largest in the country
stretching across 400,000 hectares, were forcefully evicted by the
government in 2009 in order to stop the massive deforestation occurring
here. For the last two years they have been living on the outskirts of the
forest in tents with a lack of basic services, like sanitation.
The Mau is the country's largest carbon reservoir and largest water tower.
The forest is also responsible for flood mitigation and water storage, and
reduces soil erosion.
iek-belong-to-the-mau-forest/%22http:/www.unep.org/%22> United Nations
Environment Programme has blamed frequent drought and flooding in East
Africa on deforestation. In the case of the Mau, the water supply from the
forest to urban and rural areas has been affected by deforestation.
The government recovered an estimated 20,000 hectares of land through the
evictions but the forced removals have been a bitter pill for some to
swallow, particularly for the Ogiek community.
"We have known no other home, just like the fish belongs to one habitat and
can only survive underwater, so are the Ogiek with the forest," says Eliud
Bonosos, one of only an estimated 20,000 Ogiek people.
It has been especially hard to live with the eviction since government
officials and prominent Kenyans allegedly "own" large chunks of land in the
Mau Forest complex and have been accused of perpetuating deforestation.
Although the Mau Forest complex, the country's largest closed-canopy forest
eco-system, is public property, prominent people were given huge pieces of
land as a reward for their loyalty to the former regime. However, they do
not have title deeds to the land, as it cannot be legally sold. But it is
not yet clear what action, if any, is to be taken against them.
Although a list was publicly released in 2010 naming those who allegedly
"owned" land in the Mau, many on the list dismissed it as a witch-hunt and a
backlash to their rejection of the proposed constitution, which was
promulgated around that time.
"The Ogiek are bitter because we continue to be harassed by the government
even though the government is aware that the culprits of the massive
destruction of the forest are actually prominent political figures. The Mau
is our ancestral land, why is it that it's only in the last decade that
destruction of the forest has begun? We know how to co-exist with nature and
we are not responsible for this ruin," Bonosos says.
He adds that some of the people who "own" land in the Mau have used the
t-trees-to-boost-agricultural-output/%22> forest's resources for personal
gain. Some have logged trees, while others have turned huge pieces of land
into farming areas.
"The Mau Forest's significance to the community as well as to the country at
large is not in dispute, but this forest has been headed for utter
destruction from years of encroachment and the consequent logging," explains
Kantau Nkuruna of the Community Forest Association. The association, an
initiative led by the Ogiek and other communities living near the Mau, aims
to help locals benefit from the forest while protecting it.
Nkuruna adds: "Over the last two decades the Mau has lost about 25 percent
of its forest cover, which translates to about 107,000 hectares, due to
illegal settlements, logging and charcoal burning."
"The Mau attracts rainfall and is also a major water reservoir, and as a
community we have seen the impact its destruction has had on rainfall in
this region," says Nkuruna. He adds that since conservation efforts began
last year, rainfall in the region has improved.
The Mau Forest conserves excess rainwater, and forms the upper catchments of
all the main rivers in Kenya's western region. These rivers in turn are the
lifeline of major lakes such as Lake Naivasha in Kenya, Lake Victoria in
Tanzania and Uganda, Lake Turkana in Kenya and Ethiopia, and Lake Natron in
Tanzania and Kenya.
Destruction of the forest would reverberate beyond the country's borders.
However, in an attempt by the government to save the Mau, the Kenya Forest
Service has recently provided rangers to patrol the forest and protect it
from further deforestation.
The question of saving the Mau Forest and resettling its evictees continues
to be an extremely emotive issue because politicians from the region claim
the eviction of the Mau communities was a move by the government to punish
the Rift Valley people for their political leanings.
In the 2007 general election people in the region voted for the opposition
Orange Democratic Movement. This region is significant politically because
people here constitute a large voting block, which has the ability to sway
However, the government continues to try to find a home for the evictees.
Minister for Lands James Orengo has admitted that "mistakes were made in the
Mau eviction process, but that can be corrected. The task is now to find a
community that is not hostile to the evictees."
However, in the past the government has cited a lack of funds as a reason
for not being able to purchase communal land where the evictees can settle.
It is a situation that may change as the government treasury has allocated
an estimated 120 million dollars for the resettlement of the Ogiek as well
as those displaced by the country's post election violence in 2007/2008.
The rehabilitation of the Mau Forest and the survival of the indigenous
communities will require a balance between preserving the environment and
the protection of its inhabitants. So far, this has remained elusive.
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Received on Sun Nov 27 2011 - 15:48:07 EST