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Deep Ecology debate and the Ogiek (Emily)

November 15, 2009

A story in today’s New York Times drove home the debates in the articles we read for this week. The Ogiek who live in Kenya’s Mau Forest are facing possible eviction from the land by the Kenyan government to make room for sawmill and timber projects. The Ogiek hunt antelope and also are major honey producers. The forest is their ancestral home and now a number of factors are coming into play that may force them to leave. The Kenyan government had portioned up much of the forest in the last two decades to give to political friends and connections, providing these friends with resource rich parcels of land which were in turn depleted leading to a 25% loss of forests.  Now the economics of the sawmills are driving the reclamation.

Most interestingly there is a paragraph that seems to anticipate the kinds of arguments that Arne Naess might make. The article quotes an Ogiek leader as saying “The government wants that forest for economic reasons not conservation reasons.” Later in a conversation with the district commissioner of the area the article says “compared with the outside settlers who have chopped down trees to make cornfields, [the Ogiek] were ‘so kind to the forest.’ But he [the district commissioner] was noncommittal on whether or not the Ogiek would get a special exemption.” Formulated in this way it seems that the special exemption would be based on the Ogiek’s “kindness” to the forest rather than on their ancestral rights to live on that land. This framing puts the Ogiek in the cross-hairs between Naess’ co-existence with forests in a sustainable way and Guha’s appeal for social justice. In the weeks to come it will be interesting to see how this develops both in Kenya for the Ogiek and in the Western world’s coverage of the issue.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/world/africa/15kenya.html?_r=1&ref=world

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One Comment leave one →
  1. danieljplatt permalink
    November 26, 2009 8:55 pm

    This is a really great article, Emily. Thanks for posting!

    It’s interesting how the journalist characterizes the Ogiek throughout the piece:

    He starts with this romantic, pre-modern image of the Ogiek (“since time immemorial…” and the struggle “to survive the press of modernity”).
    Then, toward the end, he brings in the image of the cell-phone toting Ogiek trying to “balanc[e] their traditions with the trappings of modern life.”
    Finally, he closes with the image of the “traditional” Ogiek, tossing off his modern sneakers and climbing a tree.

    It makes me think back to Cronon’s argument about how deep ecology separates the pre-modern/natural from the modern/unnatural (and values the former over the latter). If the New York Times is any indication, the Western reader still prefers their forests wild and their hunter-gatherers shoeless.

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