Kenyan government orders 10% of nation’s diminishing forests to be cut down

The Kenyan government has announced that it is to clear more than 170,000 acres (70,000 hectares) of its remaining 3% of territory covered by forests, for what it calls resettling of squatters and harvesting of mature trees, the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation has reported.

The announcement of the implementation of a dormant law principally aimed at settling tribes displaced in 1991 clashes was made by Minister for Environment Noah Katana Ngala only one week after he gave orders for tree planting to commence in degraded forest areas and upheld a ban on logging. The forest, taken from about 10 forests in the Rift Valley, constitutes about 10% of the nation’s meagre forest stock, in a nation which only has 3% of its territory forested and is home to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Ngala himself has described the nation’s forest cover as “glaringly inadequate”.

Eastern Mau Forest, which is a source of livelihood for the Ogiek tribe, will lose 50% of its land. The forest is an important catchment area for the Molo River, which flows into Lake Baringo and also for the Nyangores, a tributary of the Mara River that supports wildlife in the sprawling Maasai Mara National Reserve.

The announcement came just after the launch of a UNEP report on the 1999/2000 drought in Kenya which is critical of the government’s decision to excise forests. Devastating Drought in Kenya: Environmental Impacts and Responses recommends the strengthening of forest management practices to protect against further disaster, including strengthening sustainable forest management policies.

The East African Wildlife Society and the Kenya Forests Working Group accused the government of ignoring public opinion, which has already seen legal proceedings commence against the proposed excisions of forests.

“It is curious that after 10 years the Government has just realised how important it is to settle people displaced in the 1991 tribal crashes,” an environmentalist reportedly told Daily Nation. Conservation groups have argued that the Government is in a rush to reward groups and individuals just before the general election next year. “In Mau East, one of the key water catchment areas, politicians, university lecturers and senior Government officials have been allocated forest land of 10 to 50 acres each,” another unnamed source reportedly told the newspaper. “A former forest officer has allocated himself a Government house in the forest while a former District Commissioner is also a beneficiary.”

However, the Government says that it needs to clear the land for the resettling of squatters and harvesting of mature trees and has even expressed concern over the slow pace at which forest land excised last year is being cleared to allow resettlement because of recommendations made by environment committees taking too long to be implemented, the newspaper report said. In the same week, Ngala announced the creation of a tribunal to hear disputes on environmental degradation and a complaints centre to enable the government to gauge public feelings about the environment.

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