Kenya’s Ogiek Community fighting Evictions from their Lands

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[Kenya’s Ogiek Community]
Oakland Institute: "The Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program elevated the issue to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2009. This was done soon after the government issued eviction notices to around 35,000 Ogiek."
Photo: YouTube

Members of the Ogiek community have been under attack by interests intent on stealing their ancestral lands.

On June 27, 2020, a heavy contingent of security officers from the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) started an operation to flash out grazers at the Logoman Forest station, one of the blocks in the Eastern section of the Mau Forest Complex in Kenya.

One of the major water catchment areas of the country, the Mau Forest Complex is primarily the ancestral home of the marginalized, Indigenous hunter-gatherer Ogiek community. Over the past decade, other communities have invaded the ancestral lands of the Ogiek—allegedly settling there through fraudulent methods. This has intermittently led to resource conflicts on ethnic lines. Using the cover of settling these conflicts, the Kenya Forest Service has been carrying out brutal evictions, deeming the Ogiek as encroachers on their own land.

After over a decade of seeking justice in Kenyan courts, the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program elevated the issue to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2009. This was done soon after the government issued eviction notices to around 35,000 Ogiek, plus other settlers. The case was then referred to the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights in Arusha, Tanzania on the basis that it evinces serious and mass human rights violations.

The Kenyan government was found to be in severe violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and a historic judgment was issued in the community’s favor in 2017. The judgment was also significant as it recognized the indispensable role Indigenous communities play as the guardians of local ecosystems. The African Court of Human and Peoples Rights stressed the importance of recognizing the community’s land rights as well as cultural rights, both deeply imbricated in the matrix of the forest’s ecosystem.

It is also significant that the verdict, unlike the Kenyan government, recognized the Ogiek's Indigenous status. The 2017 ruling also called for the Ogiek’s right to reparations from the Kenyan government for the suffering they have endured through forcible evictions. While the government of Kenya had promised to abide by the ruling, three years since the landmark judgment, the implementation process is barely existent.

In November 2017, the Kenyan government gazetted a Task Force to facilitate the implementation. Subsequently, more such task forces have been allotted to implement the Arusha judgment and to supposedly ensure participatory models of community—led forest conservation. However, the task forces are feeble and lack any representation(link is external) from the Ogiek community. They have a reputation for neglecting to include the local communities, including in the mandated free and fair consultation processes. The Task Force’s neglected duties also include (link is external)helping determine the status of the land, making recommendations for reparations for the Ogiek and raising public awareness about Indigenous rights.

The recent evictions in the Mau Forest Complex are in clear violation of this ruling, and against the moratorium placed on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the harsh cold and wet weather conditions of July made things extremely bleak for the 600 Ogiek people rendered homeless.

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