In-Depth

A Statement by the Ogiek People National Assembly (OPNA) on the Mau Forest Complex
February 2002

Background

The Ogiek people have a long history of resistance and struggle that has sustained their unity, identity and cultural distinction. Lately however, more than at any other time in their history, the very existence of the Ogiek as a distinct people has come under concerted threat. The threat has taken the form of excision of large chunks of land from their forest homes and settlement of purported squatters thereon in total disregard of the Ogiek identity, culture and way of life.

Our concern is specifically the fate of the indigenous Ogiek people of the Mau Forest. It is noteworthy that the Mau will provide 70-80 percent of the total forest area that is intended to be excised. The Ogiek have occupied this forest from time immemorial and are customarily entitled to it. To settle so-called squatters on that land will deprive the Ogiek of their land and lead to their domination and marginalisation. In view of the grave ramifications that the intended forest excisions and settlement will have for the Ogiek as a people, it is important to understand the basis of the Ogiek objection to the same.

We wish to add our voices to the local and international protests against the excision of forestland. We do not support the attempt by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to part with our national heritage and ancestral lands for the following reasons:

  1. The excisions amount to a death warrant and will lead to the extinction of our ancestral lands in the Mau Forest complex. We shall in effect lose our only home and birth right.
  2. The move will destroy our identity. Our identity has always been denied by branding us squatters and landless whilst we have distinct ancestral roots in the Mau Forests Complex. The government elbowed its way into our ancestral land through the Forest Act of 1930 and 1942 and through purported conservation declarations and other laws.
  3. The intended settlement will lead to the assimilation of the Ogiek into other groups with the express aim of rendering the Ogiek extinct. This extinction is being carried out under the guise of settling the Ogiek. The government is thus implementing the policies of the colonial government, which recommend in the 1930s that "Whenever possible the Ogiek (Dorobo) should become members of and absorbed into the tribe in which they have closet or most affinity."
  4. The move will also deny the Ogiek their ethnic and cultural identity.
  5. The excisions manifest the Kenya government's insensitivity to both local and international opinion, and disregard of its own legal system and of rights recognized by international law.
  6. Supporting the excisions amount to taking sides with powerful forces jockeying for power and control over natural resources at the expense of the rights and interests of the weaker sections of society
  7. The excisions represent a blatant violation of a court order that we the Ogiek obtained to stop the subdivision and allotment of forestland in Eastern Mau Forest.
  8. Falling into the Government trap thus making them an emerge heroes of the Ogiek negative publicity and misinformation on the Ogiek plight and struggles.

Facts about the Ogiek

The Ogiek people are the largest and the only remaining forest dwellers in Kenya. They number about 20,000 people. They live in groups and clans and are found in areas of Nakuru, Mt. Elgon, Koibatek, Nandi and Narok District. They are a cultural entity of their own. They speak the Ogiek language and practice hunting and gathering and doing a bit of traditional agriculture within the system of land tenure common to the forest dwelling communities. The tenure comprises of tree tenure, animal tenure and land tenure. The Ogiek holds their land collectively while individual community members and families enjoy subsidiary rights of use and occupancy.

These traditional lands are neither demarcated nor otherwise specifically recognized by the Kenya Laws. By threatening sacred sites and the habitat within which the community engage in hunting, gathering and other pastoral activities and farming, the logging concessions and the on going settlement scheme, not only threatens the integral aspects of the Ogiek communities existence, continuity and culture but it also seeks to kill community's hope of passing on their identity and land to its children. It will further deny the Ogiek children an opportunity to grow in their own culture and enjoy their ancestral birthright.

While the Ogiek are being evicted from one part of their ancestral lands on the ground that they are a danger to the environment, other sections are being oened up for miscellaneous settlement. The truth is that the real danger to the environment has been logging tea plantations.

The authorities have so far released many contradictory figures. Our own statistics puts the Ogiek families in Eastern Mau at 543 families with a total population of 5,484 members. There are 12 major clans who owns parcels of land in the Mau complex under the customary law where glades, valleys, swamps , rivers and traditional sacred trees serves as boundaries. This form of tenure (Land, tree, animal) is what the current advocates of the market economy tenure seek to nullify.

Government intransigence

i) The government refused to affirm the existence of the indigenous minorities Ogiek collective rights to their land, resources, and environment with this the Ogiek can cite the currents sub division and allocating of the community's ancestral lands to people allied to the government and who also happens to be from selected districts.

ii) When the Ogiek sought judicial protection by seeking redress in the courts of law the government has not complied with the decision and orders of the court, instead it has incited the selected beneficiaries to invade the community's ancestral land and sub-divide it amongst themselves with the help of the government agents.

iii) The government has also refused to recognize the fact that the land issue to the Ogiek community is not merely a question of possession and production, but it is also a material and spiritual element which they should enjoy as well as a means to preserve their cultural heritage and pass it to future generations.

iv) The government is not only discriminating against the Ogiek community by denying then equal protection under laws but also violating its obligation under international law to conform its domestic laws to give effect to the various human rights laws and instruments that are in existence.

v) The Kenya government has intentionally maintained a clear, if unstated, policy to frustrate all efforts by the Ogiek to secure legal protection for their traditional lands, culture, ethnic identity and language.

Significance of the Ogiek case (HCCA No. 635/97)

In this case members of the Ogiek community have sued the government and are challenging the legality of the demarcation and alienation of their ancestral lands. It is a case of its own kind as it exposes the government's discriminative policy against vulnerable minority communities such as the Ogiek. The continued threats to Ogiek ancestral land is thus as a result of the government sanctioning its invasion, whilst the obvious result is a major environmental disaster to the whole country and the killing the Ogiek language, culture and identity.

The Kenya Government's continued refusal to guarantee the Ogiek Community's land rights and its determination to alienate Ogiek land to powerful individuals within its bureaucracy has eroded the community's confidence in it.

Parts of the Mau Forest, for instance East Mau, are in fact the subject of an unsettled constitutional application by the local Ogiek (HCCA No. 635.97) — Nairobi seeking to declare land allocations there null and void. In October 1997 the High Court of Kenya issued an order which prohibited further allocation of the suit land until all the issues in dispute are resolved in court. The order is still in force. Hence the present purported excision of part of the Mau Forest clearly constitutes contempt of court.

The Ogiek intend to call anthropologists, archaeologists, conservationists and other experts as witnesses. They intend to adduce both oral and documented evidence in support of their case. The Ogiek regard the overt pressure being exerted upon them by sections of the provincial administration as a blatant attempt to interfere with the cause of justice.

Conclusion

From the on going full scale surveying work, title registration, increase in the administrative units and the government decision that all the forest plantations be cleared before December 2001, the Ogiek ancestral lands and once good environment are gone and gone forever. They can now feel the rising temperatures of assimilation. The Minister has accomplished the mission of super land grabbers.

Their days are numbered; crossing over the 21st century to them has been a miracle. We highly believe that we were condemned to death without being given an opportunity to be heard. Our land issue had been ignored or postponed from colonial times to this day. "JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED."

Our advice

With this uncertain future, then the Ogiek cannot support the decision of the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources to degazette parts of its ancestral lands for it spells doom to the Ogiek future.

If the Kenyan government is interested in having the Ogiek community to contribute to its rich culture and history, then it should conserve the community's habitat both for the Ogiek and the majority of Kenyans whose livelihood depends on the preservation of the Mau Forest Complex ecology.

The forest excisions are thus continuing without Ogiek support. To our fellow Kenyans, we tell them to be wary of land grabbing interests that support forest excisions whilst purporting to be Ogiek.

Our demands

  1. Immediately stop the excision of our ancestral lands.
  2. Allow Ogiek cases pending in court should be expeditiously heard and resolved.
  3. Legal entitlement to the Mau forest as our community communal property and thus be provided with "ANCESTORSHIP DOMAIN CERTIFICATE OF TITLE."
  4. Allow the Ogiek to exclude any intruders in their communal ancestorship.
  5. End the political manipulation of the Ogiek.
  6. Allow the Ogiek to participate in the Constitutional Review Process exhaustively.
  7. Require that the Njonjo Commission, which the Ogiek petitioned for their ancestral lands, should publicize its reports.
  8. Recognize the Ogiek as conservators of the Mau forest as a community forest under joint forestry management initiative.
  9. Conserve the Mau Forest as a national and regional water catchment area.

LONG LIVE OUR FORESTS, LONG LIVE OGIEK

(Signed)

Joseph Kimaiyo Towett
Chairman
Ogiek People National Assembly (OPNA)
Nakuru, Kenya

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