Yesterday, PM Raila Odinga received a large delegation of Ogiek community leaders in his office. As usual our mainstream media have given the momentous occasion little publicity. The hide-attired Ogiek delegation comprised of representatives from the Ogiek Peoples National Assembly (OPNA), Ogiek Welfare Council and the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme (OPDP) whose executive chairman Daniel Kobei doubled as their spokesman.
At the end of the meeting, the PM called a press conference attended by local and international press in which it was announced that the Ogieks were ready to move out of the controversial MAU forest on condition that the government resettles and compensates them adequately. Sadly, the NMG did not even bother to publish this story in its Nation newspaper. For those who have been following the protracted Mau saga, this announcement constitutes one of the most significant coups by any official of the government of Kenya since independence in the efforts to reclaim the forest and puts the PM in frame for international environmental honours.
The Ogieks who number about 20,000 people are not squatters but are in actual sense the only indigenous dwellers of the Mau Forest. They have since colonial times suffered eviction, persecution, harassment, intimidation, death threats and even murder from successive governments and their agents under the excuse of 'protecting the environment'. That the PM has persuaded them to peacefully leave their ancestral homeland and appreciate the importance of preserving this water catchment area is a great achievement indeed. No other government officials or Rift Valley MPs were present in this historic meeting and surprise, surprise….no tear gas canisters were unleashed on hapless Kenyans!
To put other Kenyan communities in perspective; can the proud Luo, for instance, ever accept to be evicted from the shores of Lake Victoria or perhaps are the populous Kikuyu ready to accept to be moved away from the Mount Kenya region even if it is for preserving the environment? You and I know this is an impossible dream.
Although the Mau Task Force is still working on modalities for handling the Mau crisis, it is not lost on political observers that Raila is already making inroads on the ground and is successfully working with grassroot communities in resolving the impasse. It should therefore not surprise anyone when a delegation of Kipsigis or Maasai community leaders or elders visits the PM in the near future and agree to be relocated from the Mau.
Whereas it is the right of any Kenyan community to public appointments, journalists attending the PM/Ogieks function were shocked to learn that no single individual from the Ogiek community has been nominated to parliament or appointment a minister, PS or even an MD of a public corporation, although quite a number of them are educated and qualified for public service jobs. The Ogiek never feature anywhere on the national radar apart from when they are resisting attempts to evict them from their homeland.
It will be interesting to hear what the so called Kipsigis and Maasai MPs have to say about yesterday’s meeting which was devoid of any political agenda. Meanwhile, the PM marches on……..