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Kenya’s ‘Forest People’ in Bitter Fight for their Ancestral Homes

April 15 2011
Ogiek say they’re under attack for trying to maintain their culture and traditions

For centuries, the Ogiek have made their homes deep in the Mau and Mount Elgon forests of western Kenya. “The Ogiek look at forests in a different way. To them, there’s no better home. Forests have always provided the Ogiek with livelihoods, like they are some of the best beekeepers and honey harvesters in the world,” says Peter Kitelo, an Ogiek community leader who was born in the Mount Elgon forest.

Successive post-colonial governments in Kenya have tried to expel the Ogiek from their lands. Kitelo explains, “It was like, the Ogieks were destroying the forests and they had to get out of the forests. The government just doesn’t seem to understand Ogiek culture. For the state, a forest is for animals, not people, and anyone living in a forest is illegally there to poach wild animals”.

The Kenyan government has repeatedly justified its attempts to evict the Ogiek from the forests on the grounds that the indigenous people are destroying “fragile ecosystems.” In the recent past, however, forest land confiscated from the Ogiek has not been conserved but rather turned into tea plantations and logging businesses by some “relatively high up” state officials.

VOA News.com 6 April, 2011.