From email@example.com Sat Apr 21 14:15:07 2001
Kenya's Parliament in an Uproar Over Forest Destruction
By Tom Osanjo, Environment News Service, 19 April 2001
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 19, 2001 (ENS) - Proposing radical environmental protection measures, Kenyan members of Parliament Wednesday launched an attack against the government accusing it of systematically destroying forests and taking a casual attitude towards conservation.
During a charged debate the legislators - from the ruling party and the opposition - warned that unless serious conservation efforts are put in place, the country will soon be turned into a desert.
Professor George Saitoti, Kenya's Vice President, concurred with his colleagues but hastened to add that environmental protection is the concern of everyone, and should not be left to the government alone.
The legislators were debating a motion that the government must prepare, within six months, a master plan on forest rehabilitation, protection of rivers and vegetation to be supervised by the National Environment Management and Coordination Act. This would serve as the reference document in all future handling of forests and other environmental matters, the motion proposes.
The motion comes at a time when the Kenyan government has announced a massive forest excision plan that would see some 167,000 hectares (644 square miles) of forest land dished out for settlement and farming.
Moving the motion, Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri warned that the country is losing forests at an alarming rate. He cited Mount Kenya forest which he said was nearly extinct due to wanton destruction.
MP Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi said it is ironic that Kenya is the headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and yet the government is the biggest culprit in environmental degradation. He termed the decision to give out forest land "criminal," and said it indicates that there is "a governance crisis."
The MPs said that their master plan would give back to the government powers to conserve the environment, a task they claimed has been handed over to the Green Belt Movement. The movement, headed by renowned environmentalist Professor Wangari Maathai is a non-governmental organization that has planted millions of trees and works for forest conservation not only in Kenya but across Africa.
Martha Karua, the MP representing Gichugu, said that Parliament is giving the government time to conserve forests because "lately, the authorities have become reactive instead of proactive and are busy causing desertification."
"By passing this motion and giving the government a time frame, Parliament is reclaiming its position of leadership in forest conservation," she told the cheering House.
Environment Minister Francis Nyenze while announcing the forest excision earlier this year said that there are many landless Kenyans who need to be settled in such forest land. But he has run into opposition from environmentalists and the public. A court sitting in the Western Kenyan city of Eldoret has since stopped Nyenze from excising the forests.
During Wednesday's debate, the members of Parliament revisited the excision issue with one of them demanding that the minister make public the names of all those benefiting from the land allocation. An opposition MP, Professor Anyang Nyong'o, claimed that one of President Daniel arap Moi's sons, Gideon, is a beneficiary of the allocations because he was given 10 acres of land within Nairobi.
Land speculating is a major business in Kenya where people get government owned land at the cheapest rates possible and later sell the same at exorbitant prices to developers. Nyong'o appealed to Kenyan Muslims to declare a fatwa, an Islamic decree, against those destroying forests.
Cabinet Minister William ole Ntimama said that he opposes the move by Environment Minister Nyenze to excise forests because conservation would be for the good of future generations. He said the Mau Forest, which is one of those targeted for settling people, should not be tampered with because it is host to wildlife and takes in the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
"We must be very careful about what we do with our forests, otherwise we shall be blamed for not having left a legacy," the minister warned.
In a move similar to that of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, another MP announced that he has formed a commission to reclaim all land owned by non-indigenous Kenyans.
Juja Member of Parliament Stephen Ndicho, speaking on the same motion, said the Kenya Land Claim Commission would catalogue all idle land owned by foreigners and propose that it be given to the landless indigenous Kenyans.
Ndicho claims that Kenya is a reckless country that allows foreigners to own huge chunks of land while its own people suffer.
Last year Mugabe gave tacit approval to a wave of violent occupation of farms owned by whites in his country. Like Zimbabwe, Kenya has a small proportion of white land owners who control huge estates. They are mainly involved in large scale farming like tea, horticulture and coffee.
Last year Ndicho spearheaded a campaign for the boycott of products from Del Monte, a European multinational which is the leading pineapple exporter in Kenya. The MP claimed then that the working conditions at the company were harsh. He later called off the boycott after a meeting attended by Del Monte management, an Italian human rights campaigner and Kenyan human rights activists.
Ndicho said on Wednesday that he admires the way Mugabe ordered the forceful takeover of farms in Zimbabwe. "Although Mugabe has woken up rather belatedly, I support him in his efforts to reclaim land owned by foreigners and give it the people. I am now demanding that President Moi and his government wake up to this reality," he said.
Ndicho's first target, he disclosed, is famous author and conservationist Kuki Gullman. The legislator claimed that Gullman owns thousands of acres of land in Laikipia yet there are very many Kenyans going landless.
The results of a 1999 aerial survey of the destruction of the forest on Mt. Kenya conducted by the Kenya Wildlife Service is available online at: http://www.kws.org/surveyt.htm