Archive 1999


Saturday, January 9, 1999

The Co-ordinator of the Green Belt Movement, Prof Wangari Mathaai, argues with the guards outside Karura Forest before violence erupted yesterday. Several people were injured during the fracas. (Pic: Joseph Mathenge) 


MPs, Maathai beaten at forest


Protesters were whipped and beaten when they tried to plant seedlings at the gates to Karura forest yesterday.

Violence flared after a three-hour confrontation during which security men refused to allow the demonstrators into the forest, parts of which have been allocated to private developers.

The attack came after Professor Wangari Maathai, coordinator of the Green Belt Movement, who had arranged the demonstration, tried to plant a seedling at the gate.

The protesters, who included Mr Joseph Muchara and Mr James Kamau Mwirigi were beaten with rubber whips, clubs and stones.

Prof Maathai was later taken to Nairobi Hospital and treated for a deep cut to the head, which needed four stitches. It was caused by a blunt object, like a club, said Dr Daniel Gikonyo.

Other demonstrators, who included MP Mr James Orengo, took to their heels when the violence began and were chased 200 metres from the gates.

Some journalists, who had their equipment damaged, were also whipped and sustained bruises.

The windscreens of three vehicles were smashed: a BBC Isuzu Trooper, a Green Belt Movement Land Rover and a Pajero.

About 20 protesters led by Prof Maathai, Mr Orengo, and MPs Peter Kamande, Moses Mwihia, Njehu Gatabaki and former Kiambaa MP Kamau Icharia, had gone to the forest to try to plant seedlings on the land that has been allocated for development.

They were faced by about 200 security men who were armed with bows and arrows, swords, pangas, clubs and metal bars.

Police later said they were not to blame for the attack, adding that Prof Maathai's group had wanted to invade private land.

Before the protesters had arrived, five policemen drove in and briefly conversed with the security men.

Apart from the policemen, no body else was allowed near the steel gates.

The MPs left as Prof Maathai, journalists and other casualties drove to Gigiri police station to lodge a formal complaint.

The injured were then driven to hospital, where they announced they would return to the forest to plant the seedlings on another day.

Prof Maathai will need to be kept in hospital for observation for two or three days because she had lost a lot of blood, said her doctor, Daniel Gikonyo.

Divisional police boss Mr Francis Munyambu and other officers later visited the scene of the attack and left without talking to anyone.

The security men said they had been given clear instructions not to allow anyone onto the land.

Their leader shouted to the protesters, "We have a court order barring strangers from coming here. We are ready for a bloody fight if you want to force your way in. We will crush you like rats!"

Referring to the court order issued by a High Court judge against interfering with the allocated land, Prof Maathai said:

"It is unfortunate that courts are being used to legitimise grabbing of public land. Grabbers are now hiding be hind court orders which we will never recognise."

MP Mr Orengo asked why the police refused to arrest the attackers for being in possession of offensive weapons, contrary to the law.

He blamed Police Commissioner Duncan Wachira for the incident, saying his officers were aware of the impending attack and "that is why they refused to arrest the attackers".

Mr Mwihia challenged President Moi to issue a public statement on the Karura saga.

Mr Gatabaki said the forest belonged to Kenyans and they would not allow it to be grabbed.


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