The Nation (Nairobi)

25 September 2006

Kenya: Damning Report On Forests

editorial

Nairobi — Most ordinary Kenyans, unless they live in or near them, do not get too excited about forests. This is because forests are far too removed from the exigencies of everyday life, or they seem to be extravagances in situations where farming land is getting scarcer by the day.

The majority, also, cannot quantify the value of forest land in monetary terms, least of all think about the damage to the environment when trees forests are felled wantonly for material gain by a few. Even a hundred trees, they argue, can hardly put a plate of ugali on the table, unless, of course, they are cut down and sold as timber.

Which is why the fight to save our remaining forest cover will be gradually lost so as long as the Government does not change its tactics and show, through example, that it is concerned about conserving our natural resources.

Only recently, an idea was mooted in Government circles to hive off huge swathes of Ngong and Maasai Mau forests to resettle squatters. Unfortunately, this idea attracted only muted outrage, which the Government might mistake as consent through silence and go ahead. Should this happen, the damage to the eco-system will be incalculable.

In a special report in todays's paper, it is calculated that the public lost Sh18.4 billion through illegal allocation of land in three forests, including Karura and Ngong.

According to the report by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and the lobby group, Kenya Land Alliance titled "Unjust Enrichment: The Making of Land Grabbing Millionaires", some people have been collecting forest land the way they would collect firewood, and robbing Kenyans of their land, their forest cover and their heritage.

They have been doing so through dummy companies, and with the connivance of Lands ministry officials.

To be sure, most of the thievery occurred during the Moi regime when nothing was sacrosanct, and it is a pity that some of the beneficiaries of this form of patronage are now busy pointing fingers at the current Government over graft.

At the rate that forests are being depleted of trees, not only will our water catchments be hopelessly compromised, this country will be gradually turned into one vast arid and semi-arid wasteland.

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