Archive 2002


Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 15:34 GMT

Ancient forest tribe under threat
Burning the ancient Mau forest
The Mau forest is being cleared to grow food

By Ishbel Matheson in Nairobi

In Kenya's ancient Mau forest, a group of Ogiek boys are on their journey to manhood.

In an initiation ceremony marked by secrecy and ritual, their arrival is celebrated using the branches of sacred trees.

As warriors, the young men will be expected to protect their homeland, 200 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.

But Kenya's last forest tribe is under threat.

Settlers are burning the woodland to make way for fields. Trees are turning to ash.

When the Ogieks see the destruction, they wonder what will become of their people.

"I think it's the end of our lives," says one man. " We are no more."

Voting favours

But powerful forces are at work. It is illegal to farm here. However poor Kenyans are desperate for food, not trees.

The government wants to open up much of Kenya's protected woodland for settlement.

This is an election year and land means votes.

One settler, David Saang, says he is grateful for his plot of land.

David Saang and his crop
David Saang has a plot of land in the forest
He also says he will vote for the ruling Kanu party in the election.

Now the Ogieks are fighting back - but on unfamiliar territory.

They are trying to challenge the government in the High Court in Nairobi.

But some have never been to the capital before, let alone a court, and they don't know their way around the system.

Stalling tactics

The government is outwitting these people. Their lawyer tells them the government is stalling. The case has been adjourned again after only half an hour in court.

The Ogiek campaigners in Nairobi
The Ogiek people wait for news at the courthouse
There is disappointment and dejection among those who have travelled to watch the hearing.

They will come back in two months but this is virtually the last chance for these people.

If the Ogieks do not win this court case, it is not only the forests which will disappear.

A unique way of life will also vanish.


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