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30.7.05

Maathai Goes Mainstream

Kenya's Maathai Upbeat On G8, Unhappy At Evictions

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai condemned the brutality used against thousands of peasants in Kenya's forest eviction programme but defended the policy as vital to save the east African nation's environment.

... The government says the clearances are the first in a long-term project to reclaim Kenya's once-mighty forests, which have dwindled to a mere 1.7 percent of national territory and collect water vital to agriculture and wildlife.

-- via Gristmill


I don't know the details of this particular scheme, but what I know of the history of conservation in Africa makes me suspicious. It's unclear what, precisely, the evictees were doing in the forest -- though I don't doubt that for many observers, "being there" was enough of a sin. Colonial and postcolonial governments have seen the environment through a lens of wilderness worship. It's troubling that someone who once argued that "If you want to save the environment, you should protect the people first, because human beings are part of biological diversity" would now limit herself to asking for a kinder, gentler exclusion of humans. Kenya has a long history of shuffling populations around to solve political and environmental problems (which were often caused by the previous shuffling). Too often in the Third World, when the environment is at stake, it's the poorest and most marginalized people who are asked to make sacrifices.

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