Kenyan President implicated in tribal forest land grab

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi has been exposed as one of the main beneficiaries of a controversial plan to cut down nearly 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of Kenya's remaining forest, much of it in the Mau forest, home of Kenya's Ogiek tribe. The clearance was touted as a scheme to provide land for Kenya's landless poor, but now documents leaked to the Nairobi 'Daily Nation' show that the real beneficiaries are President Moi and other members of the political elite.

The Ogiek, who number about 20,000, are hunter-gatherers, famous as collectors of honey from beehives which they place in the high branches of the forest trees. When the plan was announced to hand out their land to setters from outside, the Ogiek protested desperately. Joseph Towett of the Ogiek Welfare Council said, 'Settlement of other people in our midst would mean that the Ogiek culture would cease. We will be wiped out.'

It was in October 2001 that the then Environment Minister, Noah Katana Ngala, ratified the order to 'degazette' 4% of Kenya's state-protected forest, opening it for settlement. But now it seems that much of the forest was shared out years before and mostly in secret. The degazettement was simply a ruse to legitimise it. Among those named as owning large chunks of forest land are President Moi, the present Environment Minister Joseph Kamotho, and former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta. Mr Kamotho has denied any knowledge of this.

Environmentalists say that cutting down the highland forests threatens Kenya's water supply, as the forests are the source of the country's main rivers. The drying up of rivers has recently caused serious power rationing, since Kenya derives much of its electricity generation from hydropower.

On 21 February the Kenya High Court will hear the case that one Ogiek group is bringing for the right to live on their land in the East Mau forest.

Survival's director Stephen Corry says, 'The Ogiek, who never damaged the forest, have been evicted from it time and again, while the powerful are allowed to take it over and destroy the natural heritage of these people.'

Photos and maps available to the press: contact Virginia Luling (+44) (0)79500 71236 or email [email protected]