Posted by: Home Strange Home | November 15, 2009

Ogiek Threatened with Eviction from Mau Forest in Name of “Conservation”

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement which pays women in Kenya to plant trees. One of the groups Maathai has worked with are the Ogiek, a small community of forest dwellers living in the Mau forest in Western Kenya. The Ogiek are estimated to number between 5,000 and 20,000 people and have traditionally lived as forest-dwelling hunter gatherers, hunting antelope and buffalo and harvesting honey; nowadays they also farm the land.

Over the past 15 years, 25% of the Mau forest has been destroyed due to logging and political mismanagement (the Kenyan government distributed pieces of it to its cronies). In addition to affecting the livelihoods of the Ogiek, this deforestation has had a wider environmental impact because the Mau forest feeds regional lakes and rivers. The Mau forest is the main “water tower” in Kenya, meaning the forest is elevated and absorbs water in the rainy season and releases it throughout the year. As trees have been cut down, soil erosion, floods, and dried up lakes have resulted.

After the drought this past summer which left Nairobi dry for weeks (and in the dark, since most electricity is hydro powered), the Kenyan government was compelled to act. It decided to replant trees in the Mau forest to replenish water sources and pledged to conserve the forest. However, this plan involved the eviction of human settlers including the Ogiek. The Ogiek are distrustful of the government’s motivations; high ranking politicians have stakes in the timber companies and logging continues in the forest.

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