The Ogiek are an indigenous people that live in and around the Mau Forest, an area of 900 square kilometers (550 square miles) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and in the forests around Mt. Elgon at the border to Uganda.
The Mau forests are the largest remaining block of moist indigenous forests in East Africa., covering some 900km2. First gazetted in 1932, many changes in its management policy have resulted in excisions, boundary alterations and fragmentation. Prior to 1932, the forest was intact under the management of the about 20,000 Ogiek, a hunter-gatherer community of forest dwellers who depended on the forest for subsistence and shelter. The community divided the forest among their clans using natural features like valleys, rivers and hills as boundaries.
Ogiek depended on the forest for their livelihood. Collection of wild fruits and nuts, hunting, honey harvesting were a daily routine. At no time was a patch of forest cleared for farming. The Ogiek had sound management systems that ensured that there were no forest fire outbreaks. Only the experienced elders were allowed to make beehives and harvest honey to avoid harming trees. Harvesting of trees such as Olea euro and Dobeya goetzeni, mainly used for honey harvesting and herbs was prohibited. The elders only allowed the use of Juniperus procera for making hives. The forest was also divided into blocks, each given to a clan, which divided them according to family lines. Each family was supposed to take care of its block. The elders had a sound management plan that ensured these forests remained intact.
Problems began in 1930 when parts of the Mau were cleared to pave way for forest plantations using exotic trees. This pushed the Ogiek deeper into the natural forest. Soon saw millers were issued licenses for logging at very low fees. This led to intense logging. In 1943, the government introduced the shamba system to facilitate plantation establishments and food production for the local people. Problems continued further for the Mau with other peoples being allowed to settle into the forest and the Ogiek being forced to settle by the government. The Ogiek do not like the idea, and the government has been continually evicting them from the forest, while at the same time settling in outsiders into excised land. No consultations were done with the Ogiek, neither were alternatives provided.
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The Ogiek recognize that they have been the owners of the forests and used indigenous knowledge to sustainably utilize the forests. The Ogiek note that forest destruction in form of charcoal burning, timber harvesting, farming, commercial plantations and grazing is being done by outsides, and this impacts on their use of the unaffected forest areas. They state that traditional forest management systems need to be incorporated into the management criteria for Mau forest. They advocate sustainable forest management, and promotion of activities that reduce pressure off the forest such as sericulture, butterfly farming, farm forestry and bee keeping. Although these could be solutions, no other form of management of the Mau could work as the Ogiek traditional management system did.
THE OGIEK, MAU FOREST, KENYA
The Ogiek are a peaceful group of indigenous people who live in the Mau Forest in Kenya. The Kenyan government want to evict them from their traditional homeland. Their excuse is that the Ogiek pose an “environmental threat” although they do not state what sort of threat this is. These people do not hunt endangered species and follow a sustainable lifestyle hunting and gathering honey. Some practice subsistence farming and livestock breeding, however these activities are not so extensively practiced that they pose any real threat to the forest.
Those most keen to see the Ogiek evicted apart from the Kenyan Governmnet, are powerful logging companies. The Mau Forest is a protected area in which there are many valuable trees. The Kenyan government has not only allowed logging in this area, it has also sold off some of the protected land, which is illegal.
The Ogiek feel so strongly about this issue that they took their case to the Kenyan High Court. It was dismissed in March 2000 and the devastation of their homeland continues. They need people like us to lobby the Kenyan officials to stop the logging in the Mau Forest and to pass legislation which will allow them to inhabit the forest and protect this area for the future
By Patrick Kariithi