Kenya Honey-Gathering Forest Tribe Caught in Violence

Nicholas Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
February 5, 2008

The violence that has swept across Kenya since December's presidential election has hit the tiny forest-dwelling Ogiek tribe, bringing to the fore grievances that have been simmering for years.

The Ogiek, best known for their traditional methods of beekeeping, have become caught up in ethnic clashes following the vote, resulting in the deaths of nine tribal members at the hands of police, according to leaders.

The killings may have been retribution for the tribe's support for opposition candidate Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), in the recent election, tribal officials say.

"I am not allowed to enter town because people say they are hunting for my life," said Daniel Kobei, chairman of the Ogiek People's Development Program.

"Being a strong supporter of ODM, I am one of the people who has been affected. Right now I can't go to work because they say they are looking for me, so I am waiting for the situation to calm down."

All across the country, regional ethnic majorities have driven out minorities in recent weeks, and there is perhaps no minority more vulnerable than the Ogiek, who have no militia, no government representative, and only bows and arrows to defend themselves.

On February 4, the Ogiek issued a statement saying they were being hunted "like rabbits" by a militia group dominated by the larger Kalenjin tribe.

"The situation for the Ogiek is very, very bad. They don't have any security at the moment," said Kanyinke Sena, of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, a network of indigenous groups across the continent.

"People are taking advantage of the insecurity in the country right now to commit all sorts of atrocities."

Bee Cultivators

Living in the Mau Forest northwest of Nairobi, the Ogiek are one of the few remaining forest-dwelling tribes in Kenya (see map).

For centuries they made their living collecting herbs and cultivating bees, hanging hollowed-out sections of logs from trees where bees could nest and produce honey.

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