When Monkeys Play Chess

‘The higher the monkey go, the more backside he show’ Papua Guinean Proverb

Two months ago, While presiding over a ground breaking ceremony to initiate a Japanese funded water project in water scarce Narok, the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya, Honorable Ruto, made his ‘eco-logical’ move in the game of political chess. In this case, the chessboard is the Mau Forest, East Africas largest forest ecosystem and Kenyas most important catchment area. This living and vitally significant life sustaining ecosystem and its brutish life of being grabbed, gazetted, politicised, mystified, deforested and reforested is a reflection of the Darwinian nature of Kenyan politics. Kenyan politics is far from subtle in the way it suffocates the life out of the living and conceptual advocates and spaces that seek a deeper more meaningful connection with each other and the earth. It is never ending game of shadows and illusions, where one can’t see the forest from the trees.


The Deputy Presidents first move was to make three swift deft moves in one. He seamlessly did a ‘180’ on his 2007 dalliance with the Mau Forest, when he went head to head with the then PM of Kenya Hon. Raila Odinga, adamantly opposing his bid to conserve Kenya most vital water tower. With his trademark charisma and flair, the tenacious PM, stated emphatically that if he failed to restore the Mau he would cede his political office and sell mandazis (East African donuts) in kibera (Kenyas largest slum).

The PM conservation efforts would set in motion a series of evictions, which was aimed at culminating in the forceful removal of all small, medium and large scale land owners within the Mau Forest. However, these landowners aptly named the ‘small and the big fish’ by the PM in his colourful use of language, were the DPs voting bloc. In other words, the DP and the vast majority of the landowners both big and small, share the same ethnic background. In the recent general elections of 2013, Mr. Odingas stand on evictions cost him this voting bloc, while Mr. Ruto rode on the shoulders of the same voting bloc to become the Deputy President.

The DP may seem to be relegating himself to the same political fate as Mr. Odinga by demanding the removal of small scale landowners or squatters from the forest, further asserting that ‘the forest must be conserved for posterity’. However, a closer look reveals that he is in effect making a powerful alliance with the arguably the most powerful piece on this chess board. He alludes to this when the DP spoke of planting tea rather than trees once the peasants have left. In west and southwest Mau, the largest landowner in this forest ecosystem owns the expansive Kiptagich tea estates which are twice the size of the island of Mauritius. This landowner, the kingmaker in this region, is the retired second president of Kenya, who hails from the same ethnic community as the DP. In other words, these tea estates would be further expanded to the eastern side of the forest, with a significant work force from the same ethnic community following suit. This work force would create a powerful voting bloc for the DP.


Photo courtesy of Nation Newspapers

Working with powerful landowners within the Mau to ‘restore’ the Mau Forest isn’t entirely new. In 2010, Mr. Odinga formed a committee that would oversee the completion of phase three and four of the Mau restoration process. Phase three and four was the removal of medium and large scale landowners from the Mau. Mr. Odinga then appointed Mr. Gideon Moi, the son of the owner of the Kiptagich estates to oversee this restoration process, creating a formidable move on the political chessboard but an untenable conservation scenario. These strategic alliances open a Pandora’s box of political possibilities setting in motion a sequence of what seems like well-rehearsed events.

The DPs philosophical stance on the Mau Forest could be the most important move on the chess board. In this context, the DP is arguably setting himself up for a dramatic endgame by recreating the ‘romantic’ dysfunctional relationship between political campaigns and donor funding. Let me explain, between 2009 and 2012, the PM mandated but now defunct Mau Forest Restoration Interim Coordinating Secretariat (ICS) managed to collect a nifty KES 971 million in donor funding from various sources such as the Spanish government, UNEP, USAID and EU. There isn’t any compelling evidence to show how exactly these resources were used. For instance, in 2010, the US government launched the KES 500m Pro Mara program in collaboration with the ICS. The initiative was intended to restore the catchment area of the crucial but now drying Mara river, restore the forest rich biology, help manage natural resources and improve local livelihoods. The Mara river is the lifeline for the Maasai Mara and Serengeti Game Reserves, thus vital to the regions multi-billion dollar tourist industry.


The high profile one day 20,000 seedling planting campaign in 2010, at Kiptunga, the catchment area of the Mara river in Eastern Mau, epitomised the tireless work of Mr. Odingas Mau Forest restoration efforts and the extent to which the Pro Mara funds were used to restore the Mara river . Invariably, despite this big splash, the project ground to a halt two years later due to inadequate funding and most significantly , without bearing any fruit. It comes with little surprise that the Mara river has been drying over the last three years. The ‘Mara Day’ held September this year in Narok reiterates this point. The high profile event hosted by adversarial dignitaries, the Deputy President and his namesake, the Governor for Bomet Mr. Ruto reinforced the need to restore the Mau and conserve the Mara river. With the Ruto’s locking horns of over the Mau, their cacophonous political sideshow and arm-wrestling , was an example of how two powerful pieces on the chess board are fixated on setting themselves up for a dramatic endgame, rather than conserve East Africas most important water tower.


As a result of shambolic political strategy around the conservation of the Mau, a similar but vastly different fate awaited one of Kenyas iconic tourist destinations, Lake Nakuru, which is a satellite town of the Mau Forest. Lake Nakuru is fed by rivers emanating from the Eastern Mau Forest. Once a spectacular vista of thousands and sometimes millions flamingos is now a closed chapter in the lakes illustrious history. The flamingos have migrated from the lake due to dramatic ecological changes in the recent years. Despite Nakuru town suffering from acute water shortages, the last two years has seen a sharp rise in the Lakes water levels. This rise, caused by the escalating levels of siltation from the surrounding Mau escarpment, has created a flood basin thus destabilising the lakes ecosystem and the local tourism industry. This flooding, coupled with industrial waste pollution from the nearby Nakuru town into the lake, has hindered the survival of amongst other organisms, cyanobacteria or blue green algae on which the flamingos thrive. As a result, lake Nakuru is another example of cantankerous ambitious short term political strategy at the expense of a nations Heritage. Similarly, the inception of a Japanese funded water project in Narok by the DP, reminds us of the devastating of effects of Mau Forest deforestation to another satellite town of Eastern Mau. Narok town was until 2011 the richest town in Kenya due to Masai mara gate fees, however, it has suffered from acute water shortages for decades.

east african_fw

In Kenyas political landscape, the Rutos wield tremendous power over their constituents, they are viciously territorial and one would tread carefully in either of their territories or face a thunderous response. Similarly, alpha-male Olive Baboons resort to certain behaviours when repelling a threat from another male baboon. They characteristically open their mouths widely in a tension yawn to reveal a formidable set of canine teeth as a warning. One can imagine the futile attempt of two male baboons sitting across from each other over a game of chess, the tension is palpable with the quick flashes of teeth and antagonistic eye brow raising. The chess board is flung into the air as the subtle game of chess is abandoned for an endless and sometimes bloody contest of male dominance. As we anxiously wait to find who has the biggest set of canines in this Mau forest issue, we are reassured that there are male and female baboons in the troop are forming long term bonds to reinforce the cycle of life in the ecosystem.




Politricks in the Mau Forest

What do you get when you mix a chameleon with a kleptomaniac…a Kenyan politician. As cynical as this may sound, this seems to be the predominant approach by Kenyan politicians to the restoration of the Mau Forest. When its politically convenient most politicians go green, waxing lyrical about conserving the most important catchment area in East Africa. However, when the Mau Forest is deemed to be strategically obselete they’ll blend back into the mob of spineless politicians who make it their mission to amass as much wealth as possible at the expense of the masses. In other words, the Mau Forest is a just another piece on the political chessboard.

Political Chameleon

Political Chameleon

Mr Raila Odinga, is according to most, the most popular presidential aspirant in the upcoming 2013 presidential elections and most likely to become the fourth president of the Republic of Kenya.  Mr Odinga is a latter day conservationist and PM of the Republic of Kenya- who made it his mission in 2009-10 to restore the Mau Forest. He made an emphatic statement by declaring that if he didn’t fulfill his mandate to restore the Mau Forest he would forfeit his political career and sell mandazis (East African donuts ) in Kibera . In other words, he took on the political establishment with his trademark charisma and flair and put his political career to the sword.

Clip: Mr. Odinga makes his stand on the Mau Forest

Was this a political move? David Makali’s timely article ‘PM playing politics with Mau evictees’ asks pertinent questions concerning the PM’s stand on the restoration of the Mau. What happened to phase three and four of the Mau Forest restoration?. Why has the work of the Mau Forest restoration secretariat come to an abrupt end?.  Phase one and two involved the removal of poor small scale farmers from various sections of the Mau, most of whom are currently stranded in makeshift slums on the periphery of the Mau making mandazis.

Mau Forest Evictees

Mau Forest Evictees

A six year global study of forest use deforestation and poverty conducted by the Indonesia based Centre for International Forest Research (CIFOR) could be ontu something interesting. Essentially, the study suggests that the Government of Kenya (GoK) may have been dealing with the Mau Forest eviction and the subsequent restoration of the Mau Forest from the wrong end. In a sense, holding the bull by the tail rather than by the horns. The study puts forward compelling arguments which essentially debunk long held misconceptions on Forest management, stating that poor forest dwellers or ‘squatters’ as they are called in Kenya, are the prime culprits in deforestation .The study concludes by stating that community owned forests are managed more sustainably because the forest dwellers control and therefore have a stake in the forest reources as opposed to state owned forests, which are bogged down by corruption.The study is specific in defining forest dwellers as communities that have adapated a sustainable lifestyle to the forest ecosystem. In this regard, poor small scale landowners that have adopted unsustainable lifestyles incompatible with the forest ecosystem should be evicted. However, the study points out that they aren’t the main culprits. This study was carried out by PhD students,  involving over 8000 detailed interviews in 24 countries.

A recent report GEO 5 shares similar sentiments


The CIFOR study found that the rich take more from forests because, to put it candidly, they can. The study reiterated that the forest is a source of wealth for the rich because of the scale of deforestation for wealth creation.Take for instance the expansive Kiptagich farms and tea estates in west and southwestern parts of Mau Forest, owned by retired president of Kenya Mr. Moi. These huge properties, which were hundreds of thousands of acrs of prime Mau forest land, are said to be the  size of Nyanza province in Western Kenya. One could argue that Mr. Moi is singlehandedly the largest deforester in the Mau Forest.

A section of the expansive Kiptagich tea estate in western Mau

While the eviction of the poor small scale land owners from the Mau Forest may have been a success, the real villians, the large land owners, continue to reap massive profits from the continued destruction of this crucial ecosystem. When Mr. Odinga appointed Mr. Gideon Moi, the son of the former president, who also owns a large chunk of the Mau Forest, to chair the committee which would oversee the completion of phase three and four of the restoration process, one can understand my confusion. It didn’t seem to make sense that Phase three and four, which covers the removal of medium and large land owners in the Mau Forest would be overseen by large land owner in the Mau Forest.

Large scale wheat farm in the Mau

Large scale wheat farm in the Mau


Furthermore, last week ,the PM launched a new government agency, Kenya Water Towers Agency. According to PM Raila Odinga, the agency was established to oversee the ‘harmonised, effecient and effective management of the water towers’. He reiterated that the forest contribute 3.6 percent of Kenyas Gross Domestic Product with annual economic benefits from Mau Forest alone standing at KES 135 billion or USD 1.5 billion. Despite these compelling statistics, these government agencies are working for the rich. The honorable PM launched a government sanctioned commission and a state run agency which essentially protects the rich from facing justice for the environmental damage they are causing for the sake of profit. These agencies grant the rich large scale landowners the mandate to continue taking as much as they wish from the Mau. The wealthy large scale land owners in the Mau are definitely laughing all the way to the bank.. In the meantime, the poor will do sell mandazis on the edge of the Mau and our politicians will attend the Rio+20.




Mau Forest Fire

Two weeks ago, large sections of the Kiptagich area of Western Mau Forest was engulfed by fire. Voices on the ground say that over 1500 hectares of the Kenya’s most important water tower went up in flames, affecting  sections of the Kakamega forest. The Kakamega Forest is the only remnant in Kenya of the unique Guineo-Congolian forest ecosystem. What is interesting is that apart from a brief radio news byte on the incident, there has been a complete media blackout on the issue. Keep in mind that in March of 2009, the Mau Forest lost 10% or 30,000 hectares in a single incident of arson.

Mau Forest Fire

Mau Forest Fire

Voices on the ground reiterated that the fire went out of control in most affected areas because the organisations mandated to protect the forest lacked the required fire fighting equipment. One could easily dismiss this lack of proactivity as a typical developing countries reaction to an environmental crisis, pegging the issue to a lack of resources. However, the media blackout on the issue, hinted that the powers that be may have taken a strategic approach to the Mau, particularly in this election year. In other words, the Mau will most likely be used as a means to a political end in this election year. But, how does politics explain the lack of forest fire fighting equipment?

The image below illustrates our current forest fire fighting equipment. This is how the 2009, Mau Forest fire was fought!

Fire -fighting in the Mau on a tight budget

Fire -fighting in the Mau on a tight budget

A look at the funding that has been pumped into the restoration of the Mau Forest explains how politics is playing a bigger role in the future of the Mau. On November of 2011, the EU launched a what it termed as a landmark project to promote the restoration of the Mau Forest. The EU gave KES 253 million towards this end. This adds to the KES 24 million contributed in July of 2007. In addition UNEP donated KES 100 million, while the Spanish government matched this contribution with a KES 97 million donation in July 2010. In April of the same year the American government contributed KES 500 million towards the restoration of the Mau. In other words A total contribution of KES 971 million has gone towards the restoration of the Mau Forest since 2007, but they -the organisations mandated to protect the forest-dont have fire fighting equipment? Where did this money go? The communities on the ground have no clue this kind of money has been allocated towards community based projects in and around the Mau, as their is very little to show in terms of sustainable community/Mau Forest projects on the ground. As politicians begin to mount what is said to be the most expensive and extravagant election campaign in the history of Kenya,thick plumes of smoke will continue to rise from East Africa’s most important water tower.

Smoke rises from the Mau

Smoke rises from the Mau

The Mau Forest Elephant and the Bongo

Women’s knowledge and skill is the mainstay of indigenous resource management as valuable breeders, conservers and producers of plant diversity.’ Kigotho

Hinga, a Kenyan ethno-botanist, believes that women in the Kikuyu tradition have a spiritual connection to the land. This spiritual connection was demonstrated by the way the women effused ‘Indigenous Forest and Plant knowledge’ to their community. While this connection may not be limited to one particular ethnic group in Kenya, it nonetheless implies a complex relationship between the women and the land. Nobel Prize laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai, exemplified the significant role played by women in the ‘dispersal’ of knowledge on the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of biological resources, through her Greenbelt Movement. This symbiotic relationship, between women and the land, could be extended to the relationship between the Mau Forest and two of its inhabitants -The African Forest Elephant and the Mountain Bongo.

Mau Forest Bongo

Mau Forest Elephant and Bongo

All animals are involved to some extent in ecosystem processes but elephants, as the largest animals in the forest, do it in unique ways. The African Forest Elephant, described by some as the world’s greatest horticulturalists and numbering approximately 200 in the Mau Forest, provide a unique ecological service as gardeners in sustaining the largest Indigenous forest ecosystem in East Africa. African forest elephants are the ultimate seed dispersers—they disperse vast numbers of seeds of a high diversity of plants in a very effective way. These mega-gardeners alter the physical structure of vegetation when they feed, they mobilize large amounts of nutrients with their feces, they provide food and create habitats for a large number of vertebrates and invertebrates, and of course, disperse the seeds of many of the plants they consume, therefore, promoting forest maintenance and regeneration.

African Forest elephants play a pivotal role in sustaining forest habitats as they possess unparalleled abilities for seed dispersal. In Congo for instance, African forest elephants dispersed 82% of seeds farther than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) and some seeds as far as 57 kilometers (35.4 miles)!! These are truly unprecedented distances for large forest seeds—most animal dispersers in tropical forests will drop seeds just a few tens or hundreds of meters from the source.

Forest Elephant

Forest Elephant

These seed dispersal patterns have the dual function of creating ‘societal spatial memory’ in the form of permanent trails, carved in the forest by generations of elephants moving to and from dependable resources. Along these trails elephants disperse a higher number of seeds in their surroundings, in a self-reinforcing process of habitat ‘improvement’. The work of forest ‘gardening’ by the forest elephant is particularly important for the shy, elusive and highly endangered Mountain Bongo, another inhabitant of the Mau forest.

The Mountain Bongo is currently on the critically endangered list, with the only existing wild mountain bongo worldwide to be found in specific regions of Kenya. Historically, the populations of Bongo have been decimated in the Mau because of the extensive unregulated logging, human encroachment and hunting. Recent sightings by Ogiek trackers indicate that as few as 11 reside in the entire eastern part of the Mau complex, an area spanning more than 60,000 hectares. The Bongos favour a ‘disturbed’ forest mosaic which provides fresh, low level green vegetation, in particular, those promoted by the heavy browsing of forest elephants. The forest elephants’ gardening’ abilities ensure that these disturbed habitats have abundant growth and are nutrient dense. In other words, forest elephants create elaborate networks of habitats connected by a series of fertile elephant trails, for a number of smaller mammals such as the Mountain Bongo.

Forest trails created by the Forest Elephant

Forest trails created by the Forest Elephant

Despite being significantly smaller than the forest elephant, the mountain bongo is the largest antelope species in the Mau Forest. The Mountain bongo has a high nutrient demand, which is met, to a large extent by the work of the forest elephant. The Mountain Bongo also plays a crucial role in the dispersal of seeds in the Mau, however, the bongos ability to disperse seed is limited to specific locations of abundant food and the availability of a permanent water source. Nonetheless, these two animals play a crucial role in the regeneration of the Mau Forest.

Mountain Bongo

Mountain Bongo

The connection between the forest elephant, the mountain bongo and the sustained health of the Mau Forest is evident. Mau Forest provides water to millions in East Africa and beyond and sustains key economic sectors in Kenya such as tourism and tea. By involving provide economic incentives to empower communities to conserve the inhabitants of the Mau, will ultimately contribute to the continued health of the forest and ultimately the people that depend on it.

Global Warming , Free Education and the Mau Forest

I am convinced that most Kenyan politicians are contributing to global warming. I would estimate that each public utterance by a Kenyan politician, emits the equivalent in CO2, as the destruction of 500 acres of old growth forest. Let me explain. Last year, the Minister for Education, Prof. Ongeri, produced copious amounts of hot air (read: verbal gymnastics)in explaining the disappearance of KES 100 million ($1.25 million), earmarked for Free Primary Education (FPE). Prof. Ongeri, in a bid to push the matter under the rug quickly, stated that the 'case' would be dealt with effeciently and ruthlessly.

Note: This clip refers to last years corruption scandal.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/d-htCoMe9r8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Early last week, forensic investigations by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) revealed that KES 5.6 billion ($70 million) had dissappeared from the Free Primary Education coffers. One could say that Prof. Ongeri kept his word, as this year, over fifty times the amount was eaten with 'ruthless' abandon. Once again, a Kenyan politician with the highest academic credentials, has proved that he is no more sophisticated than a hustler on river road (a street in down town Nairobi). Let me add that with a Nairobi street hustler 'what you see is what you get'. On the other hand, Prof.Ongeri, with his fancy titles and Italian suits, has shattered the dreams and aspirations of millions Kenyan children. 

 What does our culture of 'eating' (read: corruption) say about us?  Does the gratuitous consumption of public funds by politicians, reflect our similarly gratuitous eating habits and general worldview?

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/2JTg_wVIAhQ" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

 It is arguable, that for ordinary middle class folk like myself,who are perpetually pursuing the Kenyan dream, modern living is about spending a disproportionate amount of time eating.  However, suppose for a minute, we wanted to learn how to challenge our attitudes that disconnect us from our selves and other people. Suppose we wanted to learn how to create communities that were healthier, worked for the whole, because we understand how the parts were interconnected.  What would that teacher look like? Who would she be?

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iAtdhQSp5b8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]


Nature has been telling us the same story for thousands of years.Yet, today, it is mostly Indigenous peoples and children that still have the acute ability to learn these profound lessons from nature. Perhaps, it is because their minds and senses haven't been dulled by education and lifestyles that say that money is the only bottom line. If we listen to children, who have been invited into the world of nature,they will tell us of another bottom line.

Have a child-like day,



The Pursuit of Happiness in the Mau Forest

Happiness requires something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
-Swahili Proverb-
Depending on your location, culture, socio-economic predisposition and a whole constellation of other factors, happiness can be defined in a myriad ways. For instance, if you were to ask children from Kiptembwa, the largest slum in Nakuru town (Kenya’s fourth largest urban center) ,or Nyalenda slum in Kisumu (the principle city in western Kenya) what happiness means to them, most would tell you it means being healthy enough not to miss school.
Diarrhoea is the leading cuase of death in children in sub-Saharan Africa, yet slum residents in Kenya, who earn an average of less than $ 1 per day, pays 5-20 times more for clean water as the average American citizen. This is the scenario in practically every water-scarce country in the global south. Now, let us suppose, we as Kenyans wanted to do something about this predicament. I’ll suggest one thing we should do and one thing we shouldn’t.
In March of this year, the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Dr. Noah Wekesa, launched a booklet meant to guide Kenyan farmers on Eucalyptus growing and use in Kenya. He asserted that the Eucalyptus tree had been unfairly demonized and the quick growing tree could be used, not only as as an alternative source of income but a source of wood fuel.
Dr. Noah Wekesa planting at the eucalyptas tree launch

Dr. Noah Wekesa planting at the eucalyptas tree launch

Incidentally, a similar project was implemented by post-apartheid South Africa in order to address the marginalization and continued environmental degredation of local communities caused by the apartheid government. A Eucalyptas tree planting project was initiated. Unfortunately, the project backfired on the local environment. Much like Kenya, South Africa is a country known for its water shortage. Since a grove of 100 eucalyptas trees can absorb over 50,000 litres of water a day, it transforms the surrounding area into a virtual desert. Kenya is a water scarce country, meaning that most of it’s towns and cities experience perrenial water shortages. So why plant eucalyptas trees accross the country? To compound the issue, a recent report by the Red Cross, indicates that 10 million Kenyans are going to experience starvation by the end of this year. Needless to say, with well over $ 10,000 per month salary that Dr. Wekesa takes home every month, one cant blame him from dishing out trees that transform regions into deserts. Access to clean water isn’t something for the Kenyan ‘royalty’ to worry about, it’s we, the 90% of regualr Kenyans who will need to figure it out.
Costa Rica, known as the greenest country in the world, has an interesting approach to conservation. As early as the 1980’s the Costa Rican government recognized the role of forests in providing carbon storage, fresh water, clean air, medicines, soil and watershed protection, not to mention food, shelter and products for the community. At that time the forest cover was at 21 percent with vast swathes of forest experiencing rapid deforestation. The Costa Rican government got creative and started providing economic incentives to people and companies that conserved natural resources. The plan worked. Today the tropical forest covers more that 58 percent of the country, the water is getting cleaner, the air fresher. Incidentally Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index.
Mau Forest at Dusk

Mau Forest at Dusk

The Mau Forest provides water directly to over 8 million Kenyans. The major industries of tourism and fishing in Nakuru and Kisumu, revolves around the Lake Nakuru and Lake Victoria respectively. These two lakes are fed directly by rivers emanating from the Mau Forest. In other words, the continued depletion of the Mau Forest not only means reduced incomes, it means, as mentioned earlier, health concerns, especially for the slum dwellers. With a lethargic government response to the restoration of the Mau, perhaps we should look to another powerful institution, the church.
Church Forests in Ethopia

Church Forests in Ethopia

Ethiopia seems to have an interesting solution to the issue of rapidly depleting forests. Ethiopia has the longest continuous Christian tradition of any African country. Followers of the Orthodox Tewahido Churches believe that they should maintain a home for all of God’s creatures around their places of worship. The result? Church Forests. These spiritually protected woods, also known as coptic forests, comprise a decent portion of the 5 percent of Ethiopia’s historical forests that are still standing. Massive deforestation has rendered these forests as true islands.
There are 35,000 church or coptic forests in Ethiopia, ranging in size from a few acres to 300 hectares. Some churches and their forests may date back to the fourth century, and all are a remnant of Ethiopias Afro-montane forests. To their followers, they are a sacred symbol of the Garden of Eden – to be loved and cared for, but not to be worshipped. Most importantly, many of these coptic churches have fresh water springs.
Ethopian Praying

Ethiopian Faithful Praying

Most of the coptic forests are situated in the north of the country, especially in Lake Tana area. Here most of the forests have been cut down to make clearings for agriculture, pastures for livestock and settlements. It is said that if a traveller sees a forest, it most likey has a church in the middle. While the coptic forests have been successful for the most part, they too face the pressures of over use from the local population.

Could one of the keys to unlocking Kenyas ‘happiness’ be restoring our forest? Perhaps. Twenty years ago, the Costa Rican government identified forests as playing a crucial role in clean water provision. Clean water provision reduces the rate of diarhoea by 25%. This translates in thousands of poor Kenyan children being healthy enough to attend school regularly, so that they too can embark on their pursuit of happiness.

Have a happy day,


Mau Forest Deluge

Narok is a dusty, bustling town, brimming with life for two reasons. It is the last stop for tourists before they embark on their Masai Mara adventures and it is home to the Narok County Council (NCC), richest county council in Kenya. Despite receiving between $ 500,000 and $ 1million per month worth of  gate fees from the Maasai Mara, the town still lacks basic amenities such as proper drainage facilities, regular clean water, decent roads and electricity.  Recently, Kenya’s own super hero, a capped crusader for justice known as Prof. Patrick Lumumba, who heads the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commision, sent his emmiseries to clean up Narok County Council’s act. Despite the fact that 200 employees were fired from the NCC with immediate effect, the clean-up missed a big spot, as the drainage system in Narok once again collapsed. For the fourth time in just over a year, Narok town has been engulfed by a a brown wall of water. At approximately 5:30 pm on March 30th 2011, the rains began; by 6:30pm Narok looked like a flowing bowl of soup. 

Note: The following pictures were taken by Mr. Saruni Saaya on his phone. He is currently a student at the Kenya Institute of Management- Narok. He is the first member of the Ogiek community to attend a management school. He is sponsored by REFUGE.

Narok Floods March 30th 2011

Narok Floods March 30th 2011

Narok is one of several sattelite towns close to the largest indigenous Forest in East Africa, the Mau Forest – specifically, it is close to the East Mau Forest, one of the largest and most degraded sections of the larger Mau Forest. In this regard, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Narok town experiences extremes in weather. I was in Narok a few days ago and the sun drenched the town, took on a light brown complexion from the ever present swirls of dust. Yesterday, Narok loooked like someone had poured a big mug of coffee over it.

Narok March 30th Floods

Narok March 30th Floods

Today, Thursday 31st, vast numbers of the Narok residents took to the streets to demand action on implementing proper drainage systems. They know that the NCC has more than enough resources to provide the basic amenities the town needs to function optimally; however, the erratic weather patterns may point to a deeper problem. The NCC has allowed the destruction of the Mau Forest to go on unabaited. In other words, Narok will continue to flood despite putting the best drainage systems in place because of the extensive damage to the nearby Mau Forest.

Narok Floods March 30th

Narok Floods March 30th

As the residents stage a protest in Narok, let us hope this action will spark a renewed hope in the ability of people to transform their communities and recosystems from within.

Narok Flood March 2011

Narok Flood March 2011


Have a restorative day,



Lying Prostate in the Mau Forest

in July 2010, the Medical Services Minister Prof. Anyang Nyongo was diagnosed with high levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA); in other words, he had an agressive strain of prostate cancer that needed urgent medical attention. By December of the same year, he was receiving the best medical attention money could buy at the Mt. Zion Medical Centre at the University of California San Francisco. Two weeks ago he returned to Kenya from his ‘medical sabbatical’ and on national television, took the opportunity to grace Kenyans with the details from his sucessful round of  treatments. He gave the ‘wananchi‘ (common man) the details of his escapades in the States, that ranged from fine dining to cruising the city in a private limo, all courtesy of the tax-paying mwananchi. In the same breath, he was quick to point out that Kenya had done poorly in the area of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. One of the most erudite intellectuals in Kenyan political circles was stating the obvious, so it wasn’t this redundant statement that got to me – what didn’t make sense was his next statement. He asked the Kenyan public, ‘what are you going to do when you get afflicted by prostrate cancer, what?’ ‘Was the professor being philosophicalor rhetorical?’ I thought to myself. Whatever the case may be ,neither philosophy or rhetoric is particularly helpful to the average Kenyan. If we take into consideration that there is only one ill- equiped hospital in Kenya that struggles to treat prostate cancer and that the expensive treatment he received is only privy to a handful of the Kenyan elite, the obvious answer is to his cynical question directed at the wananchi is that ‘We will die’


Now, Prof. Nyongo is considered one of the toughest thinkers we have on the continent, with his thoroughly researched book, ‘Leap into the Future: A Vision for Kenya’s Socio-political and Economic Transformation, being a clear illustration of  his incisive and convincing intellectual abilities. In this regard I’m sure that in the 18 months remaining in his term as Minister he can lay out a clear plan to improve the cancer treatment services in this country.

There are several things Prof. Nyongo could do besides asking poor Kenyans redundant questions and spending massive sums of money on technology and on specialised training.  It is doubtful that the Kenya government will allocate the KES 176million necessary to purchase the required technology and provide the necessary training. However, there is another practical option that can be achieved on a much smaller budget.

Prof. Nyongo, like all the other ministers in Kenya, is one of the best paid public servant on the planet. With a tax free salary exceeding $10,000 per month before perks, he could, theoretically, allocate 50% of his salary towards the improvement of  prostate cancer healthcare services for the next 18 months.  I have a few suggestions on how the KES 7.2 million ($5000 over 18 months) can be used.

The first measure I would suggest is planting trees. Not just any trees, Prunus Africana. Prunus Africana represents the largest quantity of any African medicinal plant in international trade, with the quantity of bark exploited annually, primarily for Europe, North and South America ranging from 3,200-4,900 tons. Cameroon, Africa’s largest exporter, harvests close to two thirds or 2000 tons per annum, most of which is processed locally and exported to Italy and France. The extract of the pulverized bark is incorporated into capsules, and sold under various trade names such as Pygeril in Italy and Tadenan in France.

Prunus Africana growing in the Mau

Prunus Africana growing in the Mau

In this way, Cameroon realizes a yearly revenue of 1.3 bn Euros from Prunus Africana trade.  These products are sold to treat benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) (enlarged prostate gland). According to a May 2002 BBC report, prostate enlargement currently affects more than 50 percent of men over the age of 50 in the Western part of the world. With a rapidly aging population in the West, there is a growing demand for the Prunus Africana extract as first line treatment for BPH. This is primarily due to the anti-inflammatory effects of Prunus Africana extract on the prostatic tissue and inhibition of bladder hyperactivity.

Mau Forest at Dawn

Mau Forest at Dawn

In Kenya, the Afromontane hardwood species locally known as Tendwet/Tinetwet (Prunus africana), is generally found above 1500-2000m altitude. This hardwood is restricted to Afromontane forest islands such as the Mau Forest. One can consider the Mau Forest a forest island given the rapid rate of encroachment into the forest primarily by well connected businessmen and politicians. This may explain how Kenya’s dwindling capacity of Prunus Africana affects it’s export abilities.  The depletion of the Mau Forest, with considerable potential for Prunus Africana also explains why the drug hasn’t been made available locally. Prof. Nyongo can and should use his status and resources, not only to plant Prunus Africana in the Mau, but ensure the provision of necessary training for the sustainable tending and harvesting of the trees. Not only will the communities benefit from this form of participatory forest management, the subsequent revenues from Prunus Africana will encourage communities to invest in the restoration of this crucial ecosystem. Prof. Nyongo, could then utilise his status and resources allocated to facilitate parterships with local scientists and ethnobotanist to ensure that the processed drug is made available locally, making affordable and accessible to those who need it the most, the poor.


Have a thoughtful day,


Super-sizing the Mau Forest

“I’m ready to abandon my bid for presidency to save the Mau Forest even if it means selling fish in Kibera” 

 –  Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, comments on his resolve to put restoration of the Mau Forest at the top of his agenda.


Britain gave birth to first modern diet fad: William Banting’s low carbohydrate regimen appeared in 1863, at the peak of Britain’s imperial power. Arguably, America, with the Pentagon’s highly subsidized and permanent armament industries with a tangible global reach, is at the peak of her imperial powers. America, however unconsciously, increasingly eats and acts in an imperial manner. The satisfaction of the appetite is everything. Unsurprisingly, America is the fattest nation in the world with a staggering 71.1 percent of Americans being obese. If America wants to curb the 100,000-400,000 obesity related deaths per annum, her people would need to challenge the priorities of the very powerful and very influential corporations such as Big Pharma and the junk food industries, where profits take precedence over the wellbeing of the people they serve. In fact, the American public would need to extend its challenge to the media, coal and oil corporations, all of which are primary funders for politicians, who in turn ensure the corporate agenda takes centre stage globally. The media has played a stellar role in ensuring that the American dream is under attack from the enemy, thus, succeding in creating an ‘us’ vs them ‘mentality’.

The media plays a big role in promoting the sedentary lifestyle

While Kenya is certainly not an imperial power, it has certainly borrowed unhealthy lifestyle choices from it’s ‘big brothers’. In Kenya, those who have ‘made it’ have adopted the trappings of wealthy sedentary living, where family life revolves around private transport the latest console games and laptops. As a result childhood obesity in Kenya has risen to 16 percent. By extension, one can say that the affluent in Kenya eat in an imperialistic manner, and perhaps, by extension act in a similar fashion.


While certain health care professional in Kenya are sounding the alarm bells over the health implications of Kenya’s changing eating habits, the nation continues to grapple with a pervasive form of eating that has exemplified Kenyas elite. ‘Eating‘, as Kenyans have dubbed the gorging of state resources by the well-connected, has crippled the country. Invariably, Kenya is currently the 14th most corrupt country globally. What causes this gluttunous consumption of the public coffers in Kenya?

America’s eating habits might provide an insight into Kenya’s ‘eating’ habits. Between 1970 and 1994, the USDA reports, the amount of food available in the American food supply increased 15 percent from 3300 to 3800 calories or about 500 extra calories per day. One could argue which came first, the appetite or the bigger burger. Kids had come to see bigger everything- bigger sodas, bigger snacks, bigger candy – as the norm. There was no such thing as  fixed, immutable size for anything. There was more to all of this than just eating more. Bigness: the concept seemed to fuel the marketing of just about anything from homes (mini-mansions) to cars (SUV’s) to clothes (super baggy) and back to food as in the Del Taco Macho Meal which weighed four pounds.

Social scientists,observing these rapidly changing trends concluded that “Bigness” is addictive because it is all about power. While few teenagers can actually finish a 64-ounce Double Gulp, it is empowering to hold one in one’s hand. The pioneers of supersize had in effect banished the shame of gluttony. Similarly, the shame  of gluttony has been banished from the minds of Kenyas “Big Men”, as their primary goal seems to ‘eat’ as much state resources as possible. particularly in Kenya’s biggest forest, the Mau Forest.

Unfortunately, the eating is always an exclusive tribal affair, thus providing a stumulus for ethnic tension. Inevitably, the Mau Forest is a means to an end, it is a commodity that can be used to make millions, and it has.

Americas Pledge to the Mau Forest

When Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga stated that he would go after the big fish (‘mbuta’, or well connected politicians and businessmen with land in the Mau) and the small fish (small scale farmers with one acre or less), he lived up to the latter half of the agreement. Over 5000 poor small-scale farmers were evicted from the Mau Forest during the course of last year. However, the big fish were having a field day. In May of 2007, the European Union donated KES 24 million for the conservation and mangement of the Mau Forest. The money was given through the Constituency Development Fund as a joint venture between the EU and the Government of Kenya. In July of 2007, UNEP donated KES 100 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of the Mau Forest. Approximately two and a half years later the Spanish government donated KES 97 million (approximately USD 1.3 million) towards the conservation of East Mau Forest and in April of the same year, the American government gave KES 500 million (approximately USD 6.2 million).

Coincidentally, this 721 million shillings (approximately USD 9 million) that was allocated to the restoration of the Mau Forest over the last three years and is also approximate value of a ‘big fish’  property. The former president’s Kiptagich Tea Factory estate, which was acquired illegally in the Mau forest and comprises the largest section of the Forest ‘eaten’ by an individual. While the large land owners continue to ‘eat’ the millions from the Mau Forest, the well connected who have been given the responsibility to restore the forest are eating at the same table as well.

It is therefore unsurprising that the government has failed to respond to the forest fires that have been consuming parts of Mau Forest since October last year. Inevitably, the occurence of forest fires spread to forests in Nakuru, Busia, Meru, Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya and Nairobi. The government then declared this season of drought a National Fire Season. In my mind, duck hunting season means that one can hunt duck, does National fire season mean that people have now been given free reign to burn forests?

This youtube video drives says it better than I can, entitled; (If this Country Burns, We Burn with it: Kuweni Serious)

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCpfXbCjM5c

In closing, recently Sarah Palin ridiculed Michelle Obama’s suggestion that children should eat less dessert because it is bad for them. The First Lady’s comments came as a response to a report showing childhood obesity had risen and was causing early deaths amongst them. While searching for marshmallows, crackers and chocolate from her kitchen cupboard, the former governor of Alaska said, ‘where are some more ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama who said the other day we shouldn’t have dessert”. It would be good if Mrs Palin rejected the masculine competitiveness and male-oriented petty politics that tries to smear and destroy one’s opponent and join Michelle Obama in her campaign to not only to eradicate obesity but to make sure the millions of women who are invisible and voiceless are heard. Amongst numerous indigenous communities around the world, women have tempered men’s need for irresponsible conquest, by including a worldview that consists of humanities responsibility to properly nourish and care for the earth and its children and end the senseless violence and wars. The voices of the women who have embraced a women-centered social, political and cultural order is needed now more than ever.


Have a wholesome Day,






Biologically programmed to Save the Mau Forest

 An article by Adi Freidman on the history of bee products illustrates that Stone Age paintings in several locations dating to 6000 B.C. or earlier depict honey hunting, documenting human use of honey for at least 8000 years. Dr. Gurevich contends that Aztec and Mayan hieroglyphic carvings are full of symbols of bees, honeycombs and pollen. His research indicates that drawings in Africa, on Egyptian Temples built in approximately 2400 B.C., show bee keeping and honey preparation. In Assyria, honey was used for healing and is mentioned among remedies on the tablets found in the library of Ashur-bani-pal. Manuscripts from the Holy Bible and the Islamic Koran from the 500-700 A.D make references to honey. Proverbs 24:13, “My son, eat thou honey, for it is good.”  “There proceedeth from their bellies a liquor of varied colour, wherein is medicine for men.” –The Koran, (Al- Nahal Surah 16:69)

Pollinating the Mau Forest

Specific mention of key people in different cultures throughout history have also been documented to use bee products in their medical treatments. In the first-century A.D., the Roman philosopher Celsus recorded instructions for preparation of honey in topical poultices. Galen, the great Roman physician, considered honey an all-purpose remedy, recommending it to treat many kinds of poisoning and intestinal ailments. The Greek philosopher Democritus, creator of atomic theory, praised the health benefits of honey. Alexander the Great is reported to have used bee sting therapy, Hippocrates, the Greek doctor, prescribed honey extensively and successfully for many diseases.  Charlemagne, the 8th century conqueror, was cured of gout through the treatment of bee stings, while Phillip Terc in France is said to have treated thousands of arthritic patients through bee stings therapy over a period of 40 years in the late 1800s and claimed a success rate of over 80 percent. To add to the list of prominent personalities who have valued honey throughout history, I would consider the Ogiek, an indigenous forest dwelling to be one of the great be keeping communities of our time.

Watch their beekeeping story below…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/-2hO0Tf1yT4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

As the beekeeping livelihood of the Ogiek community continues to be threatened, one may ask why bees have any direct importance to conserving the Mau Forest. Well, here’s your answer.

The reproduction of plants is simplest as vegetative reproduction-new tree could come from a root shoot. The new tree would be genetically identical to the mother tree. Vegetative reproduction wouldn’t be a problem if the environment were stable, but most environments such as the Mau are unstable over time. The Mau Forest has experienced a number of human induced changes through the proliferation of farming, translating into deforestation and increased use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the region. To be able to adapt to environmental changes there needs to genetically different plants. In that way, there will be some plants that are better adapted than others because of the special genetic constitution.The only way to constantly mix genes for plants is by cross pollination, where pollen by one plant is transported by bees to another so that the offspring become genetically different.In that way, there is a greater chance of the offspring surviving.


In another region of the world the role of the bee in the life cycle cannot be underestimated. The Brazil nut grows wild in the Amazon Forest. Brazil nuts are one of the most economically most important wild growing trees in the area, with more than 50,000 tonnes exported from Brazil every year. The Brazil nuts cannot be grown in plantations, because they need to be pollinated by the Euglossa bee. This bee is dependent on the presence of an orchard species that is found mainly in the rain forest.In some species of Euglossa, the male bee collects some scented material from the flower, which they distribute to attract other males-who do the same and multiply the effect with a scented cloud, in the end so strong, that it attracts female bees so that mating can take place. During the collection of the scented material, male bees transfer pollen from orchid to orchid and pollination takes place. The female Euglossa bees live from the nectar from the Brazil nut tree and pollinate it. This means that without the orchids, there would be no Euglossa bees and no Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa), and none of the many other plants, insects and animals associated with that tree- including the people whose livelihood include the collection and sale of the Brazil nut.

The agouti

The agouti

The agouti (Dasiprocta leporine), a ground-dwelling rodent, is the only animal with teeth strong enough to open the Brazil nut’s grapefruit-sized seedpods. While the agouti eats some of the Brazil nut’s seeds, it also scatters the seeds across the forest by burying caches far away from the parent tree. These seeds then germinate and form the next generation of trees. In this way, their is an interesting symbiotic relationship between the the orchard, the Euglossa bee and the agouti.

An Ogiek child with Mau Forest honey

An Ogiek child with Mau Forest honey

Within the Mau Forest, the bee has set in motion a number of symbiotic relationship that has maintained the health of the forest for centuries. I believe the Ogiek are strategically positioned to provide a sustainable form of community based forest managemment through beekeeping. I’m spending the better part of my time ensuring this happens.

Have a bee-autiful day,