Conservation refugees - Ogiek face eviction from their forest home

August 7, 2009

Ogiek man, Kenya © Virginia Luling/Survival

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The Kenyan government has given Ogiek communities living in the Mau forest until mid September to abandon their homes or face arrest. Police officers have been stationed around the forest in preparation.

The Mau forest has been severely degraded in recent years, largely due to an influx of logging companies and illegal settlers exploiting the area’s resources. The Kenyan government has decided to combat this problem by evicting everyone, including the Ogiek people who have lived there for centuries.

The Ogiek are resisting the move. Representatives met with the Kenyan private secretary of Environment earlier this week in a bid to dissuade him from evicting the Ogiek, who say no amount of compensation will undo the damage to their communities if they are forced to move.

Kiplangat Cheruyot, of the Ogiek People’s Development Program, told Survival, ‘everyone has been living in fear for the last month. This is very serious, the Ogiek have nowhere else to go. People are crying about the eviction. The government said it would spare no one, not even a goat or a chicken.’

Repeated attempts to evict the Ogiek from their ancestral forest have persisted since colonial times, usually on the pretext that they are degrading it. But the Ogiek maintain that it is the logging companies, and the more recent illegal settlers, who are causing the damage.

The Ogiek have lived in the Mau forest for centuries, and rely heavily on it for their livelihood. Unless the government changes its plans, the Ogiek will become the world’s latest ‘conservation refugees’, forced from their homes to satisfy an outmoded idea of a people-free forest.