Kenya’s Ogiek tribe caught up in violence

Kenya’s Ogiek tribe caught up in violence

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John Ahni Schertow
January 30, 2008
 

Today, Survival International released an alert explaining that Kenya’s honey-hunting Ogiek are being targeted in the escalating post-election violence in Kenya.

“An Ogiek leader said today, ‘We the Ogiek people have suffered police shooting, intimidations and threats…. Currently five of our youth have been shot and injured as hundreds of families fled their homes…. We cannot access food, shelter or medicines.’

There have been allegations of rape of Ogiek women by police, and Ogiek houses have been burned down.”

One article posted on the Ogiek website explains that they are allegedly blamed for the recent death of a police officer who was shot with an arrow. There is no actual evidence linking the Ogiek to the shooting, however. That is, the Ogiek do carry bows and arrows “to maintain their marginalized life while collecting mainly honey and wild fruits from the forest,” but since the post-election violence began, “many other peoples living in the area, like Kikuyu, Maasai and Kalenjin” have also armed themselves with such traditional weapons. Anyone could have shot the officer.

It’s more than likely that the death of the officer just triggered a long-standing conflict. This seems to be the case with all the post-election violence, which human rights groups say has so far taken the lives of more than 650 people. It has “sparked three overlapping conflicts – between ruling party loyalists and the opposition, between ethnic groups with long-held land grievances or connections to rival politicians, and between police and the residents of Nairobi’s restive shantytowns.”

Timsales Ltd. tries to exploit the Violence

Image from Survival International

Last week, Timsales Ltd., East Africa’s largest timber dealer, boldly tried to take advantage of the ongoing conflict against the Ogiek, many of whom fled their homes to escape the violence. However, a swift response by the Ogiek forest defenders successfully and peacefully convinced them to leave the area.

According to the article by WTN,

[…] Two lorries with timber-trailers, which rumbled through the area, carried not only the chainsaw wielding lumber-crew, but also 20 policemen with automatic weapons, who were hired to protect the alleged timber thieves.

Though Timsales, in which the Kenyatta Family and their most famous heir Uhuru Kenyatta have substantial stakes, had earlier – together with two other companies – been exempted by the former government from the general ban on hardwood felling, the Kenya Forest Service, a newly established parastatal entity, which has succeeded the corrupt governmental Forest Department, stated today, that since its takeover no licenses for hardwood harvesting had been issued. A representative of
Timsales Ltd. could not be reached for comment.

Timsales, it is believed by the local people, just tried to utilize the present political turmoil and the general confusion to illegally cut hardwood trees from the forest.

But the swift response of the Ogiek guards stopped the operation and together with local elders and leaders the lorries and their team as well as the police-escort could be peacefully convinced to leave the area, whose people also are grievance-stricken due to most recent killings and atrocities committed by security personnel and invaders from neighboring communities.

Support the Ogiek

If you would like to express your support for the Ogiek, here is a prepared letter you can use to do so.
Send it to ogiek@ecoterra.net — in turn, it will be sent off to a number of Kenyan and International officials. If you’d rather send it to the officials yourself, here is a list of addresses.

[Date]

Your Excellency:

I am writing to express my concern about the continued harassment of the Ogiek, an indigenous plant- and honey-gathering and hunting people that have lived in Kenya’s Mau Forest for hundreds of years.

For decades, the Ogiek have fought with first the British colonial and then the Kenyan government over their rights to inhabit their traditional homelands (e.g. in East and South West Mau Forest, Mount Elgon Forest etc.). They have all along sought the recognition of this area as their ancestral land.

After years of dispute, authorities have continuously refused to recognize this heritage as Ogiek land and instead ordered the Ogiek to leave the forest, saying that they had been allocated separate land years ago but had abandoned it. The Ogiek know that they have a right to live in their ancestral homeland and that the former government wanted to give the land to private individuals rather than to conserve it for the benefit of the Ogiek and the entire nation. On February 16, 2001, the former government announced through the official Kenya gazette that some 147,000 acres of Mau Forest would be excised to settle the landless. This move effectively would remove approximately 70 percent of Mau Forest from the legal control of the Forest Act and leaves the Ogiek land vulnerable to invasion by land speculators and grabbers.

I am particularly concerned about the latest, brutal evictions in Feb./March 2005, which were only stopped by a court injunction on 02 March 2005 and the atrocities and eviction committed against the Ogiek by your armed forces in June 2005 despite two High Court injuctions. We ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that the parliamentary order is refined, spare the Ogiek and that similar intrusions into their traditional lives as conservators of the forests never can take place any more under your governance. The Ogiek are also concerned about the ongoing illegal logging by outsiders in the Mau Forest which is destroying their cultural and hunting grounds.

The Ogiek community does not pose an environmental threat to the forest or the wildlife. The real environmental threat to the Mau Forest came from the former Kenyan government, which was allowing logging companies to cut down trees in the Mau Forest. Still many of Kenya’s protected forests have been illegally sold or given to developers. The former government imposed a partial logging ban which exempts three big logging companies: Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber, and Timsales Ltd. The three firms were exempted because Raiply and Timsales claim to employ over 30,000 Kenyans, while Pan African Paper Mills (a 50% Worldbank owned entity) was exempted because “the government has shares in it and it was said to be important to the economy.”

Thus, while the government allows powerful logging companies to cut down trees in the forest, it is persecuting an indigenous people who pose no environmental threat and lack political power. However, we are pleased that your government said on July 6, 2001 that it had banned logging in the forest, and we ask that you ensure that illegal logging in the Mau Forest stops.

Please do everything in Your Excellency’s power to guarantee that your government will respect the rights of this minority people by allowing them to retain their natural habitats and halting the de-gazettement and allocation of land in Mau Forest to outsiders in perpetuum. Also a suit the community has filed in the High Court still has not rendered a final decision, which under wise judges only can come out pro Ogiek.

In addition, I respectfully ask that you do all that is necessary to stop the wanton destruction of Mau and Mount Elgon Forests. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response. Please keep me informed.

Sincerely,
[your name, affiliation, and country]

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