Indigenous peoples' rights and development


Indigenous peoples' rights and development


'These Dorobo [i.e. Ogiek] … have been "driven like chaff before a wind of progression" … we should now recommend a definite reserve for them.'5

This conclusion of the Carter Land Commission6 (1932-8) gives a picture of what the Ogiek have undergone over the years. The Commission recommended that the Ogiek be allocated land near communities with whom they had affinity, to enable assimilation. However, the Ogiek wanted development on their own terms. According to Kaliasoi Chesimet, an Ogiek elder in Tinet: 'The newcomers came and … cut down the forest for tea and flower farms… the Ogiek should be allowed to elect their own leaders and choose their own way of life on their land.'

From colonial times onwards, Ogiek groups have been displaced from their ancestral lands without consultation, consent or compensation. They have been excluded from development plans and pushed onto land that is not suitable for their way of life. Joseph Towett sums it up: 'We are not only being dispossessed of our ancestral lands, our livelihoods are being killed. They say … that we must develop: but tell me, where or what is this development?'7 Human rights scholars have warned that development can be a catalyst for ethnocide.8

Culture is the fabric that holds the Ogiek together. According to Mrs Rael Kibilo from Tinet forest: 'Before our forests were cut down, we had our culture and traditions … anyone who is destroying our forest is destroying our culture.' Displacement from the forests that are their cultural and spiritual temples erodes Ogiek culture and violates international human rights standards, some of which Kenya is party to (e.g. Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which Kenya has ratified).9

The Kenyan government controls Ogiek ancestral lands through three Acts of Parliament: the Government Lands Act (1970, revised 1986), the Forests Act (1957, revised 1964) and the Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act (1977, revised 1985). Ogiek ancestral lands are gazetted as government forests or national game parks/reserves. The government is not required to consult the Ogiek with regard to development plans.

Logging has been a major cause of the destruction of the forests in Ogiek-inhabited areas, especially from the 1990s onwards.10 Three giant logging companies - Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber and its sister firm, Timsales Limited - are exempted from the general government ban on the grounds that Raiply and Timsales 'employ over 30,000 Kenyans', while the government itself has shares in Pan African Paper Mills.11

Ogiek land has also been lost through government excision. Such land has sometimes been allocated to politically influential individuals under the pretext of resettling squatters or environmental conservation.12 Excisions have been ongoing since 1932 with 48,000 ha of forestland converted to settlements under the Forests Act between 1963 and 1971.

Development projects have also contributed to the loss of Ogiek lands, for example the establishment of Mt Elgon Game Reserve in western Kenya in the 1980s - which became Mt Elgon National Park in 1992.

Ogiek ancestral land has also been taken by private individuals under the existing land laws for cultivation of export crops such as tea, pyrethrum (a plant used to make insecticides) and flower farming. Pyrethrum cultivation is bad for the traditional Ogiek activity of honey production - also a viable foreign exchange earner - because the poisonous pyrethrin kills bees.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that poverty arises when people have no access to resources because of who they are, what they believe or where they live.13 This is clearly relevant to the Ogiek and explains why more than 95 per cent of the Ogiek are poor

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