Small Kenyan tribe battles government over fate of forest
October 23, 1999
From Correspondent Alphonso Van Marsh
NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- A small rural tribe is taking the Kenyan government to court over the fate of precious forest land where tribe members have lived for as long as anyone can remember.
The 5,000-member Ogiek tribe hunts and gathers in the Rift Valley Tinet Forests, about 120 miles northwest of Nairobi. The Ogiek also harvest rich honey from forest beehives.
During colonial times, members of the tribe were forced onto smaller plots as British colonialists settled on the valuable land. The post-colonial Kenyan government kicked out the British in 1963.
Last spring, the government served an eviction notice on the tribe. Officials say they plan to protect the forests, but the Ogiek fear the land will be illegally sold to agricultural developers.
"They will plant tea and make a lot of money in disregard of the rights of the Ogiek community," says Joseph Sergon, an attorney for the tribe.
Last month, the tribe won a restraining order against the eviction. This week, a court is expected to decide whether the forest meets the constitutional definition of a homeland. That would allow the Ogiek to stay.
But there's no guarantee of a quick solution. Similar land cases have been stalled in Kenya's bureaucratic legal system for years. And in the meantime, the government considers the Ogiek trespassers in their own home.
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