Ogiek celebrated 4th Annual Ogiek Cultural Day on August 23,2019 with calls to the government to safeguard their human rights as a bridge to preventing extinction of their language and culture.
As an indigenous community faced with land tenure insecurities over their ancestral land in Mau, existence of Ogiek language, the community’s values, traditions and customs in the next 10 years is uncertain unless the challenges are addressed.
The event was held at Maasai Girls Secondary School in Narok town, Narok County and attended by the Ogiek, representatives from both national and Narok county government’s ministries, agencies and departments including National Museum of Kenya and Office of Narok South Deputy County Commissioner and Office of Narok North Assistant County Commissioner, human rights advocates, partners of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program(OPDP) and members of other communities.
It drew attention to the urgency of protecting indigenous languages in the country as means of communication and forms of educating generations importance of sustainable management of natural resources.
Mr Daniel Kobei, Executive Director of OPDP said “lack of clear understanding of who the indigenous communities are by the government and other stakeholders has continued to expose these communities to adverse marginalization.”
He added that years of continued marginalization would only end up to extinction of cultures, traditions and languages of these communities.
Mr Kobei said the community is steadily gaining recognition of the government giving an example of the population census code 413 accorded to Ogiek as an identifier during the 2019 tallying of Kenyan citizens.
He urged the community members to avail themselves to be counted as their numbers were significant in guiding the structure of the country’s development master plan.
Various OPDP’s partners added their voice to the significance of engaging in determined efforts to revive and preserve indigenous languages and cultures.
Mr Stanley Riamit, Director of Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA) said although the new constitutional dispensation has guaranteed indigenous communities freedom of expression, use of language and enjoyment of their cultural heritage, efforts to remind the government of their rights has to be maintained.
For Mr Joseph Kamasiai, Director of Africa Indigenous Agency for Development, Ogiek have made progress towards ending their discrimination in the civil, social and political space owing to their win at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Mr Paul Cheruiyot of International Land Coalition (ILC), classified the occasion as an avenue of nurturing Ogiek youth to carry on the community’s fight for land justice.
Ms Ruth Kimani, representing Voice Kenya, said events such as the 4th Annual Ogiek Cultural Day encourages the grantor organization to continue supporting the indigenous peoples to strengthen and reinforce their voices.
Ms Lilian Amwanda, curator at Hyrax Hill Museum said organizing cultural days is an effective way of preserving languages and cultures as it offers members of the community to reflect on their way of life.
“As the National Museum of Kenya, we are very much happy that the Ogiek community is preserving its culture. I’ll encourage the community to continue holding the cultural day annually,” Ms Amwanda said.
Nominated Member of Nakuru County Assembly Benazir Busienei noted of fair treatment of Ogiek by the current government being a result of numerous and persistent dialogues with the leadership to recognize and respect the rights of Ogiek.
“We must all unite against discrimination. We will be writing letters to all government agencies to warn them of people masquerading as Ogiek in order to benefit from the opportunities preferred for the Ogiek,” said Mr Busienei.
Mr Busienei was concerned that planned eviction of the community from Maasai Mau forest would aggravate their human right situations and further disintegrate their unity towards reclaiming their rights.
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry Keriako Tobiko had indicated plans of a subsequent removal of settlers in the said forest preceding July 2018 evictions.
Narok South Deputy County Commissioner Felix Kisau said the government was aware of the African Court’s ruling which recognized the community’s right to live in their ancestral land and would look into their concerns over the impending eviction.
In his speech, nominated Senator Victor Prengei said his nomination was a result of the community’s tenacity in pushing for their integration in national and county development.
He urged the community to avail themselves for counting during the national census as the data would be pivotal in lobbying and advocating for the socio-political and economic rights of the community.
The cultural day was graced with performances exhibiting the community’s traditions. Some community members also displayed food they lived on while in the forest, traditional brew and objects that were used as tools and equipment for hunting, harvesting and storing honey.