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Kenyan tribe slowly driven off its ancestral lands

First it was colonists who put the Ogiek on reserves in Mau Forest. After freedom corrupt officials drove them out as they set up farms. Now a reforestation effort has forced them even farther away.

January 04, 2010|By Robyn Dixon

"I felt angry, because there was nothing I could do. It used to hurt my heart."

He and other Ogieks were moved to Kurbanyat village, where they began to farm millet. When they wanted honey, they often had to buy it.

In recent months, the Kenyan government has evicted 5,000 people from the Mau Forest, including Ogiek tribesmen and small farmers who had been given land during election campaigns.

Odinga has earned praise from environmentalists in his push to reforest the Mau, and revive the rain catchment -- and has made powerful enemies in his political party, the Orange Democratic Movement.

A group that includes Agriculture Minister William Ruto has been critical of the inhumane treatment of those evicted. Some tried to plot a parliamentary rebellion and no-confidence vote.

Odinga, in return, accuses his opponents of defending their own illegally acquired land.

"I have personally never seen a group of Kenyan politicians so desperately trying to build their leaderships and hang on to their illicit landholdings through such grossly parochial and divisive campaigns as these Kalenjin MPs [members of parliament] are," Odinga said in a newspaper column -- a reference to a tribe of some of his opponents.

"We all know that such leaders are fighting not for the squatters or settlers, but to protect their own illicit interests in the forest. They should leave their Mau holdings, like the settlers moving voluntarily are doing."

The struggle will probably cost Odinga electoral support in the crucial Rift Valley, but he declares he's willing to pay a political price.

Ngeny, meanwhile, sits in his tent, surrounded by sacks containing his belongings and memories of better times.

The Kenyan government has promised compensation -- but only to those with title deeds.

"They [government officials] said move there [in 1993]. We'll give you a title deed. And that has never happened, ever."

Ngeny fears the Ogiek people won't get compensation -- nor a place to live -- and that their ancient way of life will be lost.

"Our tears and anger go directly to the government. The way we see things going, the way of life of the Ogiek will just be over. It's like death.

"When I die, you don't see me. It is the end of me."

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