The Ogiek
An in-depth report by John Kamau, Rights Features Service

Introduction

 

They ask...
" Why are they evicting us…we have not tampered with the trees, we are an environmentally friendly community"
— Susan Tanui, an Ogiek woman.

And say...
" We are not of much use to (the) government. (To the government) we are just a nuisance"
— A memorandum by Ogiek leaders pleading with members of Kenyan parliament to raise the Ogiek issue.

The above quotes summarise the disbelief that continues to haunt each and every Ogiek in Kenya. The Ogiek inhabit the 100-mile long Mau highland forest along the western escarpment of the great Rift Valley in Molo South, Nakuru District of Kenya.

And now the Ogiek are on the verge of losing the land they have held so dearly for ages. The unassuming community has lost traditional hunting land previously through white settlement and through declaration of their land as forest reserves and now settlement of other communities. These processes have not only led to the destruction of the natural forest, as the Ogiek know it, but has seen the replacement of the indigenous forest with conifer plantations which are useless to the Ogiek.

The Mau Forest complex, the last Ogiek base, covers an area of 900 square kilometres and lies 200 kilometres Northwest of Nairobi. It contains the largest remaining block of indigenous forest in East Africa and is under intense pressure from developers and non-Ogieks.

The Ogiek are on the verge of losing the homeland they have held for ages.

From 1902 forests have been seen as government land and are covered by the Forest Act. Under the Act only through degazettement can forestland cease to be a forest and be inhabited.

It is because of this that the Ogiek ancestral land is seen as government land and the reason why the Ogiek are seen as intruders in their ancestral land. According to the Forest Act it is illegal to hunt in the forest or collect honey without a special permit. This means that the Ogieks are breaking the law when they go hunting or collecting honey from their ancestral forests, a legal anomaly that should be addressed.

A Kenyan High Court has validated the eviction of the Ogiek from Mau Forest saying "the eviction is for the purpose of saving the whole Kenya from a possible environmental disaster and is being carried out for the common good within the statutory powers".

Nowhere did the court say about the huge logging operations which have been destroying other parts of the Mau forest and tea plantations owned by a company belonging to President Daniel arap Moi. The only thing we hear is that the Ogiek should vacate the forest, which they have inhabited and preserved from time immemorial.

Members of the community have records dating back to 1900, which indicate they are the original inhabitants of the forest. It is this determination to live on and save their home base that is the focus of this document.

During colonial times, the Ogiek were forced onto smaller plots as British colonists took their land.

The struggle by the Ogiek to preserve their land is a re-play of the overall struggle of the minority in the whole world. For years, the indigenous communities have been exploited by other groups and dispossessed from their hereditary lands leading to a general destruction of their culture.

During colonial times, members of the Ogiek tribe were forced onto smaller plots as British colonialists settled on their valuable land. Tinet Forest is part of the forest that they moved into until it was gazetted as a government forest in 1961. Since then they have lived as squatters and have been subjected to constant harassment by the authorities.

In 1991 the government sought to legitimise the Ogiek's habitation of the forest and started allocating five acres of the forest per family to the 5,000 members. The exercise was marred by political influence as powerful interests set in. Also, the Ogieks thought they were being swindled of the remaining land if they agreed to the five-acre scheme. The other interests wish to occupy the forest for timber cutting and tea plantations and that is the bottom line.

Coupled by these interests and threats to evict them, the Ogiek moved to court after the Nakuru District Commissioner issued a 14-days ultimatum.

The Court ruling notwithstanding time has come to say no to such wanton contempt of a community that peacefully resides in its own ancestral land.

Kenya is duty bound to help the Ogiek preserve the characteristics that distinguish them from the majority by satisfying their special needs. The Ogiek nationals should be able to preserve the peculiarities, traditions and national characteristics that make them unique.

This document has been prepared to put into perspective the struggle of the Ogiek People against the current onslaught on their traditional homeland. It stitches together the events that have taken place on the Ogiek land giving the reader a sound understanding of the tragedy that awaits the Ogiek. It is the first publication that has looked at the problem.

We recommend that the government enact an Ogiek Land Act bill that would recognise the tribe as the true inhabitants of the Mau Forests. Further we demand that the government stop the enforced assimilation of the Ogiek. And finally we ask the Kenya and international community to boycott any wood sourced from Mau forests until such a time when the rights of Ogiek are respected.

Through this publication we want people to understand the nature of the conflict and to take steps that will guarantee the Ogiek of Kenya their right to livelihood. It is a Herculean task but it can be done and should be done.

Nairobi, Kenya
September 2000
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments
Introduction

Ch. 1: Ogiek: History of a Forgotten Tribe
Ch. 2:
The Struggle Begins, The Struggle Continues
Ch. 3:
The Closed Society

Ch. 4:
Wanton Destruction
Ch. 5:
Promises and More Promises
Ch. 6:
Threats and Lies
Ch. 7
: The Court Battle
Ch. 8:
The Aftermath

Appendix
Pt. 1:
The Ogiek Community Submission before the Njonjo Land Commission
Pt. 2: Epilogue
Pt. 3: Conclusions
Pt. 4: Recommendations

Annex 1: Declarations on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
Annex 2
: The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
Annex 3:
Legal Instruments that Govern Land in Kenya

The Ogiek: The Ongoing Destruction of a Minority Tribe in Kenya Copyright © 2000 Rights News and Features Service. Citations on this document may be made freely but copyright is vested in Rights News and Features Service. Unless otherwise stated all the views expressed here are those of the authors and are endorsed by Rights News and Features Service, which is responsible for the content in this publication. First published in Nairobi by Rights News and Features Service, First Floor, College House, University Way, P.O. Box 63828, Nairobi, Kenya. Phone: +(254-2) 311724. E-mail: rightsfeatures@alphanet.co.ke. Copies of the report may be ordered from Rights News and Features Service.

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