Powerful landowners in the Ngongori area of the Mau Forest have organized attacks on the Ogiek in order to expand their wheat fields. The Ogiek are the last Indigenous forest dwelling community in Kenya, with the Mau Forest being their ancestral land. The attacks began last week when most of the men were attending a funeral some distance away. These premeditated attacks were carried out by hired thugs and plain clothes policemen. Some Ogiek homes were burnt to the ground while other homes were destroyed by chainsaws and machetes.
The issue of Mau Forest evictions is both sensitive and complex, however, this recent spate of enforced evictions comes at a time when the government had given their word that the Ogiek community will not face evictions.
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This is not the first time the Ogiek , many of whom do not have an official title to their land but who have lived there for generations, have been forcefully evicted from the Mau Forest. The first forceful evictions of the Ogiek was between 1908 and 1914 following the signing of a pact between the Maasai and the colonial authorities. Further evictions of the Ogiek followed in 1918, 1926, 1927,1932, 1954, 1958, 1977,1987, 1993,1997, 2001, and 2007 and the most recent in April 2010.
In the 1990’s the Government implemented a disastrous land scheme that saw large tracts of land sold off to corrupt officials. The current government is trying to rectify this mistake by implementing what seems to be a lethargic and lopsided reforestation project. Lethargic because the government has allocated inadequate resources to implement what needs to be a dynamic community driven initiative, lopsided because the project is exclusive rather then inclusive, involving communities that can push powerful business and political interests.
The Ogiek need to be included in the Mau Forest restoration process, however, as they have never received title deeds they may be penalized for living in a forest that has been to a large extent destroyed by others. In my view, the survival of the Mau Forest is inextricably linked to the survival of the Ogiek.
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Without political representation, the Ogiek community continues to be undermined. However, there are those who are willing to create the space for the Ogiek to be heard and to be included in the restoration of the their heritage, the Mau Forest.
Have a determined day