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Ogiek History

The Ogiek community is an indigenous minority ethnic group in Kenya. They inhabit the Mau Forest Complex Rift Valley (Nakuru County, Narok County, Londiani Sub-County, Uasin-Gishu County, Nandi County and Eldama Ravine Sub- County) and Mt Elgon Forest in Western part of Kenya.

The Mau Forest Complex is the largest remaining block of moist indigenous forests in East Africa covering some 900km2. First gazetted in 1932, many changes in its Management Policy have resulted in excisions, boundary alterations and fragmentation. Prior to 1932, the forest was intact under the management of the Ogiek people who depended on the Mau Forest Complex for their subsistence lifestyle. The Ogiek are the traditional inhabitants of the Mau Forest Complex and have inhabited the region for centuries.

Ogiek depended on the forest for their livelihood and preservation of their culture. Collection of wild fruits and nuts, hunting, honey harvesting were a daily routine. The Ogiek had maintained their traditional knowledge systems in conservation of the Mau Forest resources. Only the experienced elders were allowed to make beehives and harvest honey to avoid destroying trees. At no time was a patch of forest cleared for farming. Harvesting of trees such as Olea europaea and Dombeya goetzenii mainly used as bee forage and herbs was prohibited. The elders only allowed the use of Juniperus procera for making hives. The forest was also divided into blocks, each given to a clan, which divided them according to family lines. Each family was supposed to take care of its block. The elders had a sound management plan that ensured these forests remained intact.

Ogiek land rights challenges began during the British Colonial period. The degazettment of the forests to become part of crown land in 1930 left the community to continue occupying the Mau Forest as squatters of the state. At Independence, “Crown Land” became government land; in effect the Ogiek continued to live as squatters on government land. Land and Forest legislation such as the Forest Act Cap 385 enacted in 1942 and amended at the turn of Kenya’s independence gave the government powers to: declare any unalienated land to be a forest; declare and alter boundaries of such forests; and issue licences for the use of forest produce. This resulted in the excision of much Ogiek ancestral land and their eviction. Also by using forest products, the Ogiek found themselves contravening the law.

Differentiated land tenure systems and regimes over the years have negatively affected the Ogiek community leaving them landless and unable to access the forest for their traditional livelihoods. For instance the Ogiek close to the Maasai Mau found themselves in the Narok County Council, hence the land under their occupation became Trust Land at independence.  In contrast, Ogiek in Central Mau-Tinet, Marioshoni, Baraget and other areas were designated as Government forest areas under the Government Lands Act and Forest Act, hence the Ogiek communities in these areas became squatters on Government Land. The Ogiek of Mount Elgon, on the other hand, became dispossessed of any entitlement under Trust Land by virtue of the creation of the Mount Elgon Game Reserve and a few of them became beneficiaries of small parcels of land granted through the Registered Lands Act. 

Over the years, Ogiek groups have suffered dispossession of their ancestral lands without their consent and without the provision of compensation. Previously, this loss of land occurred because of agricultural expansion, introduction of exotic plants, logging, and other development activities. These activities have contributed to the environmental degradation of the Mau Forest Complex, and, over time, have led to an increasing inability of Ogiek communities to practice their traditional economic activities. More recently, the Ogiek have lost vast amounts of their traditional lands to state-sponsored conservation efforts, primarily the establishment of national parks and protected areas, which has resulted in the eviction of Ogiek communities from their ancestral lands and the denial of access to the forest resources upon which they depend for their survival. The planned evictions outlined in the Mau Taskforce Report (2009) are part of this long-standing government approach to conservation, that which has total disregard to the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Ogiek community continues to be threatened with eviction from their current homes.  Their ability to make use of the indigenous forest for food, cultural and religious ceremonies, and traditional medicines, is under threat.  Their exclusion from effective participation in the management of their ancestral land, their inability to share in the benefits of logging concessions granted over it, and indeed their inability to challenge their eviction, threatens their very existence, and results in a violation of their right to economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity. 

Notes

A lot of information on this article has been borrowed from the:-

  • Ogiek legal submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights(ACHPR)
  • Report by the Forner UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Prof. James Anaya. Cases examined by the Special Rapporteur (June 2009–July 2010).

For more information Click here (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/15session/A.HRC.15.37.Add.1.pdf)

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