Archive 2003


Reclaiming the Land 

A Report from the 

National Constitution Conference in Kenya By Kiplangat Cheruiyot June 27, 2003

The National Constitution Conference, which commenced at the Bomas of Kenya on April 28, 2003, closed on June 6 after a month and a week of intense discussions. 

Among the many thorny issues the 600 delegates debated was the question of land ownership, especially as it pertains to indigenous pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities such as the Ogiek. The participation of many representatives from these groups in the drafting of a new constitution is being taken as a positive sign that Kenya’s indigenous peoples will have an increasingly significant role to play in future policy-making. 

President Kibaki officially kicked off the conference by noting, “My government promised not to interfere with the review process,” and that, in addition, “we will ensure the protection of minorities.” During the proceedings, some National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) Ministers sought to abolish “political Districts” largely inhabited by minority groups, but met with objections from the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Kiraitu Murungi, on the behalf of the government. “This could have led to inadequate services provided to the minorities by the government of the day,” he said. 

As the land debate came to the floor, Mr. Ezekiel Kesendany, representing Nakuru district as a Ogiek delegate, insisted that the Ogiek be allowed to live peacefully in the forest or resettled on their original lands. Peoples affected by land injustices include the Ogiek, Sengwer, Sebei, Maasai, Pokots, Rendilles, and Watha, among a number of others, most of whom come from Rift Valley Province. NARC member of parliament Mr. William Ole Ntimama said that communities that lost their land to colonists should either be compensated or have their land returned to them. Mr. Odenda Lumumba of the Kenya Land Alliance also supported plans to provide compensation for the lands taken from these peoples. Protection of the rights of girls and women to have equal chances of inheriting property also featured prominently in the discussion. Mrs. Grace Ogot and Mrs. Jane Kihara offered that men should be prohibited from selling land without family consent. 

A key and potentially promising passage of the Draft Constitution for indigenous communities is Section 234(3), which describes community land as “all land currently held under the trust lands act and all land registered in the name of group representatives in terms of the provision of the land (Group representative) act.  Land held and used by specific communities (like Ogiek) as well as community forests, water sources, grazing areas or shrines and identified by them as such is part of the community land or any land coded to a specific community by alienation, transmission or conversion.” If upheld, this stipulation could provide much stronger protections of communally owned lands in Kenya. 

The delegates also supported the formation of a national land commission under this new constitution. They claim it will coherently and consistently address and implement the broad statements of the proposed land policy. Other important proposals made at the conference include recognizing the rights of the people to go to court to seek redress for actions that damage their natural environment. 

The hunter and gatherer representatives to the forum, including Mr. Joseph Sang (Ogiek Welfare Council), Mr. Moses Leleu (Sengwer) and Mrs. Bibi Diwani (Watha) said the discussion on land will have to recognize their communities. “It is good that the constitution process will have the national land commission so it is in the position of addressing our problems,” said Leleu. Mr. Kimaiyo Towett, a keen observer of the conference proceedings, was quoted as saying, “Ogiek will soon be in Canaan after the long struggle. Mr.  Kesendany has advocated for our rights much.” 

Kiplangat Cheruiyot is the Coordinator of the Centre for Endangered Languages in Nakuru, Kenya.



On June 16 Ogiek representatives addressed the Truth and Reconciliation taskforce on behalf of the Ogiek communities. He presented the memorandum included below. 

JUNE 16, 2003 

On the behalf of the Ogiek community we present this memorandum in support of the formation of the truth and reconciliation commission. This we do so with the following reasons. It will lead to the truth: 

About the origin and causes of the tribal clashes and who were the beneficiaries; 

About the population transfer of the Kalenjin persons from their respective districts to the Ogiek ancestral lands in Nakuru District; 

The successive mistreatment of the Ogiek and their property by the Kenyatta and Moi regimes;

The mass arrests, false charges and forced disappearances of the Ogiek leaders by the state machinery; 

The looting of the forest products/trees by officer of the former regimes and how these facts affected our environment alongside the national economy; 

For in doing so, it will not only be to the Ogiek’s benefit, but also to all Kenyans who were evicted in these forests in the late 1980’s only, for the same areas to be declared an adjudication area a few years later. 

This document was signed by J.K. Towett, Kones Solomon, and Kiplangat Cheruiyot on behalf of the Ogiek people.