The Ogiek
An in-depth report by John Kamau, Rights Features Service

Chapter 4
Wanton Destruction

NOTES   The first attack on the heart of Ogiek came in form of wanton destruction of Ogiek forest habitats. As mentioned earlier this started with the planting of exotic trees which were useless to the Ogiek. But of late the destruction of both the remaining natural forest and the continued harvesting of the exotic trees have marked the final turning point with a hanging threat for the destruction of the entire Ogiek ecology.

This will no doubt leave the Ogiek with no alternative but to adapt to a life they are not familiar with. The quintessential of Ogieks' life and culture are the management of wild bees and harvesting, processing, trading and consumption of honey and also; the hunting of forest game, consumption of meat and the processing and trading of skins.

This expertise in honey collecting and animal hunting is borne of acute powers of observation and profound knowledge of forest wildlife and natural history.

44 Munuhe Gichuki, "The rape of Mau East Forest", The People, April 9, 1999.  

Wanton large-scale destruction of Ogiek forests is a recent phenomenon and was first reported by A freelance journalist Munuhe Gichuki for the first time in 1999.44

In his piece Gichuki wrote:

45 Wangari Maathai is a leading Kenya-born environmental activist who has won many international awards.  

"The rate of Mau East Forest destruction in Nakuru District is serious. Should Green Belt Movement co-ordinator Prof Wangari Maathai make a tour of the area she would surely cry at the destruction.45 An extensive tour of the area makes one shudder. Burnt trees, logs and dry branches are strewn all over. Tractors and state-of-art lorries are racing up and down Elburgon and Njoro townships to feed numerous insatiable sawmills while communities living inside the forests are burning the trees to pave way for cultivation. Foresters, timber merchants and anybody else who holds sway in the forest matters is making a kill..."

The leader of the Ogiek, Joseph Towett Kimaiyo could only watch as that happened. Kimaiyo who is the leader of the Ogiek Welfare Community spoke to the journalist and said:

46 Munuhe Gichuki, "The rape of Mau East Forest", The People, April 9, 1999.  

"It is a quick buck business. It is a death knell to our God-given resources".46

Indiscriminate felling of trees had not started then. Rather, it had been going on at the Ogiek forest bases especially in Teret and Likia. Although Teret and Likia are still gazetted as forests logging had continued with non-Ogiek — who care less about the forest — allowed to harvest logs and clear the bushes.

Rather than lose the entire forest the Ogieks had no alternative but to agree to the five acres given out by the government hoping that this would help them save the forest as their own. But surprisingly they were informed that they would get only 100 trees while the rest was said to belong to the Forest Department.

This saw a scramble in the forests as wanton destruction started in 1995 with the Forest Department personnel selling of the trees. Log harvesters descended with tractors, powerful saw and other mechanized tools and besieged both Likia and Teret.

This was despite the fact that besides offering the Ogiek, part of their livelihood, the forest also hosted important rivers including Njoro, Ndarugu and Bagaria, which feed the Lake Nakuru. The rivers are also relied upon by the local communities as a source for domestic water.

In October 1996 angry Ogieks decided to bar saw millers from entering Nessuit. The area chief then ordered the arrest of the Ogiek leaders. Three of them Simon Muchura, Johana Tekeju and Mrs Agnes Ngeywa were arrested and locked at Njoro Police Station. They were never taken to court.

47 "Official: Forest Owned by Government", Daily Nation, 29 October 1996.  

The government insisted that it owned the trees at the forest and local media quoted Rift Valley Provincial Forest Officer John Rotich, saying that the 7,500-acre cypress tree plantation was established by the government with a loan from World Bank.47 The official said that the government, through the Department of Forestry, had licensed a timber company to fell trees worth Kenya shillings 2 million in the areas settled by the Ogiek.

But what was happening was different.

48 Munuhe Gichuki, "The rape of Mau East Forest", The People, April 9, 1999.  

"Trees that should go for shillings 800 is sold at between shillings 20 and shillings 50...ninety percent of the sawmillers in Elburgon are not licensed. Yet with verve and virility, their 64 tractors are racing at break-neck speed to get the most wanted product for processing. The foresters are millionaires per se. What with their lavish lifestyle come evening one does not need to ask who is who but to enter the local pub where they share the spoils. The forest guards are the tax collectors and bribing them to get a permit to mint millions for yourself is not a crime there."48

The Ogiek protested this wanton destruction and insisted that the trees did not belong to the government and in any case they had been allocated the land in question plus the trees. But the forest officer shot back and told the press that that was government land:

"You cannot give out government trees to individuals free of charge", he said.

A spokesman for the Ogiek, Simon Muchura later accused the area chief Stephen Kiwotai of ordering the arrest of Ogieks who were opposed to the presence of saw millers in the forest. This saw the scenario change and the new chorus was that the "Ogiek should stop politicising the settlement exercise as doing so would derail the programme".

Although the Agriculture Act says that logging should not be done on a 50% gradient slope that was what was happening at the Ogiek land that was overlooked when it came to the Ogiek land. Before the rape of the forest began Mau East was a symbol of forestry gone right. The forest was evergreen with trees towering 25 to 35 metres. Some of them formed a canopy. Below the canopy were herbs, grasslands where the Ogiek lived by hunting and collecting honey, thus earning the nickname "Honey-Hunters of Kenya".

Nobody wants to comment on Mau East Forest. And journalists who have tried to get to the bottom of the saga found a thick wall from administrators. Munuhe Gichuki did his best:

49 Munuhe Gichuki, "The rape of Mau East Forest", The People, April 9, 1999.  

"The Marioshoni Forest officer could not comment, would not say a word. At his office the area District Officer, John Litunda was non-committal on forest affairs and refered us to the office of executive officer who, despite refusing to give his name, admitted that the rate which the forest is being depleted is unwarranted".49

The official was quoted saying:

"The grabbers are only interested in selling the trees. They know that because forest is not yet degazetted. It will be hard for them to become the legitimate owners."

What that means is that the purpose was to exploit the fall out between the Ogieks and the administration and deplete the forest before the Ogieks get the land after all the Ogiek were not keen on living in the open.

In a memorandum written to members of parliament the Ogieks lamented the continued loss of their land.

50 "Help us live in Our Ancestral Land and Retain Both Our Human and Cultural Identities as Kenyans of Ogiek Origin", a memorandum submitted to all Members of parliament by the Representatives of Kenyans of Ogiek Community living in Nessuit and Marioshoni Parts of the Mau Forest, dated July 15, 1996.   "Our ancestral land has been turned into private property. We, as it were, commit tresspass when we go to our ancestral land. Most of the men in our community are employed as manual labourers by saw millers earning as little as Kenya shillings 30 a day. We have been driven out of Sururu, Likia and Teret forests. A part of our ancestral lands has been allocated to "foreigners". We are forced to live in Nessuit location of Njoro in abject poverty. We are, as it were, in exile."50
51 "Mau Forest hit by degradation", Daily Nation, 11 March 1999.   A survey carried by local NGOs in March 1999 reported that most of the plantation forests in the Mau had been cleared to pave way for agricultural activities there-by opening up the core indigenous forest block to much exploitation.51
52 "Mau Forest hit by degradation", Daily Nation, 11 March 1999.  

"The degradation of the forest is destroying this catchment area thus affecting the flow of water to the [Rift Valley] lakes". The reduced flow of water has an adverse effect on the people living along the rivers".52

Mau Forest serves as the catchment area for major Rift Valley lakes that include Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo.

53 Paul Njuguna, Maurice Mbegera and Daniel Mbithi, "Reconnaissance survey of forest blocks in the West and East of the Rift Valley", Permanent Presidential Commission on Soil Conservation and Afforestation, 1999.  

A recent survey53 in the major forest blocks in Kenya reported that the Mau Forest where the Ogiek live is under real threat. The report showed that the total closed forest in Kenya cover an area of 1.40 million hectares representing 2.5% of the total land area.

This implies that Kenya should increase but not decrease its forest cover. It was noted that an approximated 5,000 hectares were lost every year through excision and Mau Forest was one of the most threatened.

"Formal and informal groups are asking to be allocated land from gazetted forests", said the report commissioned by the Permanent Presidential Commission on Soil Conservation and Afforestation".

54 See also, Mathews Ndanyi, "Report details the rape of government forests", The People, 20 December 1999; Aghan Daniel, "Rift Valley forests poorly managed", Daily Nation, 23 December 1999.

55 Mark Agutu, "Forests under siege", Daily Nation, 11 January 2000.

  The report further accuses forest managers in Mau of "being unable" or "unwilling" to stop the destruction of the forests. It established that some 60,000 ha of forest cover had been lost in the recent years.54 It then appeared that the government did not want to get the blame for what is happening with the Rift Valley. The region's Provincial Commissioner Francis Baya argued55 that the forest guards and other officials deployed in the region were too few to effectively curb illegal harvesting of forest products in the Mau.
56 Stephen Mburu and Stephen Makabila, "Three Firms Exempted from logging ban -PS", East African Standard, 3 July 2000.   But instead of stopping the harvesting, the government has slapped a partial ban on logging which exempts three giant logging companies.56 It is these companies which are officially destroying the Ogiek forests and they are Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber and its sister firm, Timsales Ltd. These firms have been allowed to harvest timber from Bararget, Nesiut and Mauche areas according to Dr Mohammed Isahakia, a Permanent Secretary at the ministry of natural resources. Nesiut and Mauche are dominated by Ogieks.
57Kennedy Masibo, "Logging ban explained", Daily Nation, 4 July 2000.   The government says that the three were exempted because Raiply and Timsales "employ over 30,000 Kenyans and cannot therefore be closed" while Pan African was exempted because "the government has shares in it and is important to the economy".57
58 Elijah Kinyanjui and Patricia Sewe, "Sawmillers now question government's licensing of Asians", The People, 16 July 2000. See also "Saw millers allege bias in logging", Daily Nation, 5 July 2000; "Low supervisoty capacity abetting forest destruction", Daily Nation, 6 July 2000.   Raiply, one of the largest licensed wood companies has been accused of capitalising on lack of government supervisory capacity to even harvest indigenous wood. Critics say that its owners have political godfathers who protect them.58
59 Rocken Masinza and Titus Maero, "Government told to act on forest destruction", East African Standard, 31 July 2000. Kosgey was fired as a government minister.  

A cabinet minister, Henry Kosgey publicly wondered why forests in the Mau area were being destroyed and why the government was not taking action. He said that those behind the destruction are known and wondered why no action was being taken against them.59

The wanton destruction of the Mau forest, which in the past was a haven for bees owing to many beehives, the Ogiek had mounted in the forest. Animals were plenty but are now running away fearing exposure due to the continued obliteration of the vast forest. Also, streams are drying up as a result of perturbation in catchment areas with a gradient of 50 percent, which is unlawful.

60 Olivia Owuor, "Fire claims massive part of Likia Forest, The People, 26 February, 2000

61 Chesot was interviewed in Marioshoni Forest in August.


Also, the invading communities have been burning parts of the forest in contempt of the Ogiek tribe and in February 2000 some 100 hectares of land were lost after a huge forest fire consumed parts of the Mau forest.60

Our investigations revealed that the destruction of the forest has been continuing. Daniel Chesot61 an official of Ogiek Welfare Council said:

"This morning the Marioshoni forester, Paul Ochonda, told me all the trees in the forest settled areas must be cleared by the end of next month (September)."


We conclude that the destruction of the Ogiek land is not due to land pressure per se but the demand of timber both locally and internationally. We demand that a boycott of timber that is being harvested from Mau Forests be put into place so as to safeguard the Ogiek right to livelihood. MORE>>



Ch. 1: Ogiek: History of a Forgotten Tribe
Ch. 2:
The Struggle Begins, The Struggle Continues
Ch. 3:
The Closed Society

Ch. 4:
Wanton Destruction
Ch. 5:
Promises and More Promises
Ch. 6:
Threats and Lies
Ch. 7
: The Court Battle
Ch. 8:
The Aftermath

Pt. 1:
The Ogiek Community Submission before the Njonjo Land Commission
Pt. 2: Epilogue
Pt. 3: Conclusions
Pt. 4: Recommendations

Annex 1: Declarations on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
Annex 2
: The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
Annex 3:
Legal Instruments that Govern Land in Kenya

The Ogiek: The Ongoing Destruction of a Minority Tribe in Kenya Copyright © 2000 Rights News and Features Service. Citations on this document may be made freely but copyright is vested in Rights News and Features Service. Unless otherwise stated all the views expressed here are those of the authors and are endorsed by Rights News and Features Service, which is responsible for the content in this publication. First published in Nairobi by Rights News and Features Service, First Floor, College House, University Way, P.O. Box 63828, Nairobi, Kenya. Phone: +(254-2) 311724. E-mail: Copies of the report may be ordered from Rights News and Features Service.