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Ogieks petition State over ancestral rights in Mau

BUSIA
By | September 17th 2009

By Stella Mwangi and Victor Mukele

The Ogiek community has appealed to the Government for an urgent meeting to discuss their stake in the Mau Forest.

In a letter to the ministers for Forestry and Wildlife and Environment and Natural Resources, the Ogiek People’s Development Programme (OPDP) said now that Parliament had adopted the Mau task force report, it was important that the State understood the plight of the Ogiek and Sengwer communities concerning the forest.

"Our ministers of Environment and of Forest and Wildlife Services have so far failed to mention the ancestralship of Ogiek community in Mau Forest although we have a case pending in court," they said.

The letter signed by OPDP Executive Director Daniel Mpoiko Kobei, the group noted that the Government seems to be embracing a blanket approach to all inhabitants of the forest.

"It is true that Ogiek rights as minority may be in jeopardy if our respect to our ancestral land in Mau is not achieved," they said.

The group said a report by the Mau Task Force established by the Prime Minister’s office acknowledged that the forest was a home to the indigenous forest dwellers and as such, a special provision should be made to protect their interests.

"The initial degazettement of Mau Forest Complex intended to settle the Ogiek community benefited illegal allotees and encroachers," said Mr Kobei.

He said it was in Ogiek’s interest to protect and conserve the forest and asked the Government to help them do so.

"May we state that it is our interest to protect and conserve our forest as we have always been true environmentalists," he said.

He said the Ogiek should not be subjected to the humiliation of eviction and the fear of being hounded by their ancestors.

"Eviction will mean leaving our ancestors unattended, our meeting is therefore aimed at coming up with an understanding of our claims of land and conservation thereof," he said.

Threat to environment

Separately, an NGO has termed the action by MPs to water down the Mau taskforce report in Parliament on Tuesday as a total disregard of the gravity of the issue.

Kenya Land Alliance co-ordinator Odenda Lumumba expressed his dismay in the manner MPs handled the task force report on the Mau.

"It is disgusting that MPs can connive and play out their interest at the floor of the House at the expense of matters that pose a threat to our environment," he said.

Speaking to The Standard at his office in Nakuru, Lumumba said matters relating to land are sensitive and the move by MPs would further complicate the situation.

"Positions of give and take do not apply when dealing with sensitive matters of land and it was good that it was noted in the Hansard," he said.

But Lumumba praised the move by Environment Minister John Michuki to give the Mau debate the seriousness it deserved.

"Michuki was the only Member in the House who understood the gravity of the Mau evictions," he said.

Lumumba cautioned the former Rift Valley PC Hassan Noor Hassan led committee that the task ahead of them was enormous.

"They have taken up an Herculean task, but conservation of gazetted land as the Mau should be their driving force," he said.

Lumumba said the adoption of the Mau task force report was a step in the right direction in ensuring gazetted forestland was conserved.

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