The indigenous Ogiek people living in the Mau Forest Complex in Kenya are threatened with eviction to make way for the government’s conservation plans. The government has already started evicting 1,690 non-Ogiek families from the Mau Forest. They have nowhere to go. The Mau Forest Secretariat says that because they have no title deeds they do not qualify for any compensation.
Karanja Njoroge, a journalist with The Standard spent a day and a night with the evicted people and described it as “an experience of extreme despair and squalour of people who say they have been kicked out without being allowed to harvest their crops.”
One villager told The Standard that “The Government must look for alternative land to resettle us lest it creates a crisis worse than that of post-election violence IDPs [internally displaced persons].” But Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said yesterday, “The government is saying: ‘Get out and go back where you came from’. But they have refused to go home and they are blackmailing the government to give them free land.”
In July 2009, Odinga announced that the Ogiek would be arrested if they did not leave their ancestral lands in the Mau Forest. In August, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki ordered everyone living in the Mau Forest and other water catchments to be arrested. “The government shall take action against people who destroy forests. Such people should not be spared at all, they should be arrested and charged with immediate effect,” President Kibaki said.
On 25 August 2009, a notice was posted in Kenyan newspapers, which stated that
“the Government of Kenya has directed that all illegal occupants of Mau Forest complex and other water towers should vacate the forest to pave way for reforestation. . . . All such persons who have encroached the forest are hereby advised to make arrangements to vacate within 14 days from the date of this notice.
In August, Kiplangat Cheruyot, of the Ogiek People’s Development Program, told Survival International that “Everyone has been living in fear for the last month. This is very serious, the Ogiek have nowhere else to go. People are crying about the eviction. The government said it would spare no one, not even a goat or a chicken.”
Then the Mau Forest Secretariat announced that the Ogiek would not be evicted. But a few weeks later, the Mau Forest Secretariat was reported in The Standard as saying that families with title deeds will be evicted next year (this could include the Ogiek).
On 26 October 2009, the Kenya Forest Service director, David Mbugua, issued a new eviction notice which expired on 9 November 2009 and the evictions started shortly afterwards.
This is not the first time that the Ogiek have faced eviction. In the 1930s, the British colonists forced them into “native reserves” then logged their forests and replaced them with pine plantations. After independence in 1963, the Kenyan police burned down Ogiek houses in the Mau Forest. In the 1990s, the government handed out large areas of the Mau Forest to its cronies.
While the government is evicting people, supposedly in the name of conservation, the destruction of the Mau Forest continues. This week, the New York Times reported that “it was clear that timber companies are continuing to chew up large tracts of the Mau, knocking down giant trees and turning them into doors and plywood for export.” NTV Kenya reports that “The rot in Mau goes deep, where well connected people established phantom companies to reap what they did not sow”. In recent months, a series of companies (some bogus, according to NTV) have been awarded land in the Mau Forest.
In a statement about the evictions, Jospeh K. Sang, a representative of the Ogiek community appeals to the international community to intervene to stop the evictions:
“I wish to inform the international community that the Ogiek community are not going to move out of this forest for one reason: these are our ancestral homes.”
Survival International has condemned the eviction of the Ogiek:
“If evicted from their ancestral land in the misplaced name of conservation, the Ogiek will become the world’s next ‘conservation refugees’.”
But the UN Environmental Programme, which has its headquarters in Nairobi, is backing the government’s plans for the Mau Forest. In September 2009, well after the threats of evictions had started, UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, lent his support:
“The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project.”
UNEP has played a key role in the government’s conservation plans for the Mau Forest Complex. UNEP’s website explains that
“Mau’s plight became national news when Kenya’s Prime Minister and the Minister for Environment overflew the area in UNEP-organized reconnaissance flights. . . . With the advice of UNEP and its other partners, the government of Kenya has set up a Task Force to conserve these forest ecosystems on which millions of Kenyans depend for sustenance.”
Richard Kaguamba is a Programme Manager for Forestry at UNEP. On the UNEP website, he writes:
“UNEP is helping the land managers in the Mau forest area to set up a carbon project. They will undertake to plant native trees on deforested and degraded areas of the forest. Deforestation actually occurs when there is more trees being taken out of the ecosystem than those being successfully planted. What is important in a forest carbon activity is to ensure a triple bottom line of social, environmental as well as a financial gain to those planting and maintaining trees on the land scape.”
Kaguamba is also a member of the UN-REDD programme, which UNEP is running in with UNDP and FAO. While there is little doubt that the Mau Forest needs to be restored, UNEP’s failure to prevent the eviction of thousands of people to make way for a carbon project – particularly in the weeks running up to Copenhagen – does not bode well for the millions of Indigenous Peoples and forest dwelling communities of the world.