Archive 2002


Monday, January 28, 2002

Excisions: US Activists Rally 
Support for the Ogiek


ENVIRONMENTAL AND human rights campaigners in the US are working to rally international opposition to the planned excision of 167,000 acres of forests in Kenya.

A Boston-based organisation focused on the rights of indigenous people around the world is conducting a fundraising drive to pay the fees of an attorney in Kenya. The lawyer wants to file a court challenge on behalf of the Maasai in opposition to the Mau Forest excision. 

In Washington, the head of a group representing Maasai interests is trying to involve the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the issue. Mr Meitamei Olol Depash says he is seeking a meeting with the top Kenya specialist at World Bank headquarters in order to persuade the Bretton Woods institutions to take a stand against the excisions. 

A US organisation that uses the Internet to promote human rights has, meanwhile, set up a website devoted to the Ogiek people's fight to retain their hunting grounds in the Mau Forest. A sample protest letter posted on the site calls on President Moi, Attorney-General Amos Wako and other Kenyan officials "to do all that is necessary to stop the wanton destruction of Mau East Forest." 

Close to 10,000 copies of the letter have been sent electronically to Kenyan leaders, says Mr Robert Lebowitz of the Digital Freedom Network. His New Jersey-based group created the Ogiek website in co-operation with Rights News and Features Service in Nairobi. 

If leading "green" NGOs in the US and the European Union do take up the cause, the governments of those countries could potentially be pressurised into interceding with the Kenyan government to spare the forests.

The NGOs could strive, for example, to have bilateral aid to Kenya tied to a government pledge to preserve the nation's forests. But efforts to raise awareness of the issue in the US are still at an early stage. "So far, we've not had the kind of response we had hoped to generate," says Mr Depash, director of the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition. 

He attributes the slow growth of the campaign in the US partly to a lack of information about the magnitude of the threat to Kenya's forests. "I don't think international conservation organisations understand the scope of what's at stake," says Mr Depash. 

The planned excisions should be of concern for cultural, economic and political reasons as well as for their obvious environmental implications, Mr Depash says. "NGOs active in all those areas should be aware of what is happening in Kenya and should be working to stop it," he says. "But our efforts are only at a preliminary stage and this fight is going to go on for years." 

Cultural Survival, the Boston group devoted to defending the rights of indigenous peoples, will be featuring a story on the Mau Forest in the next edition of its quarterly publication, says director Ian McIntosh. The group has some 3,000 dues-paying members in the US. And it is to them that Cultural Survival is appealing for $5,000 in donations to cover the retainer of Maasai attorney Moitalel ole Kenta.

Link : 04022002/Regional/Regional37.html