Ogiek protest evictions from Mau Forest, warn of humanitarian crisis

Evictions termed as blatant disregard and disobedience of the African Court orders.

In Summary
  • The Ogiek fear they will also be  evicted, despite two judgments by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights recognising their rights over the Mau forest
  • They say this leaves them with nowhere to turn, especially those in Sasimwani and Nkareta areas. 
The Ogiek community marks Ogiek Day celebrations on Thursday, May 26, 2022
The Ogiek community marks Ogiek Day celebrations on Thursday, May 26, 2022
Image: OPDP/ X

The Ogiek indigenous community are in fear of another wave of forced evictions from the Mau Forest, which they consider their ancestral land. 

In a statement on Thursday, the community warned of a humanitarian crisis, if authorities proceed with the evictions.   

"These orders compel the Ogiek to vacate their ancestral lands immediately, without regard for their well-being or future," the statement read.

"The area chief has taken a strong stance, urging the Ogiek to remove their families and possessions from their homes in preparation for the impending destruction. He claims he is acting on orders from his superiors and he has no alternative.”

They say this leaves them with nowhere to turn, especially those in Sasimwani and Nkareta areas. 

Daniel Kobei, the executive director of Ogiek Peoples' Development Program, said they have been informed the eviction is about to start in the Sasimwani area of Maasai Mau, Narok county. 

"There are several Kenya Forest Service rangers’ vehicles within the area. One senior ranger told one of the community members to remove their valuables and move,” he said. 

Rift Valley County Commissioner Abdi Hassan confirmed the evictions, saying the operation to evict those who have invaded the Mau Forest will proceed and no one will be spared. 

Speaking in Narok on Thursday, Hassan said the operation has started in five areas that border the forest.  

"We will not discuss, there is no debate. I urge all those in the forest to immediately get their valuables and find the shortest possible route out of the forest,” Hassan said, adding that some 400 houses have already been destroyed. 

Hassan said they had evicted 3,000 people, found 1,330 cider posts and 1,245 timber, which they destroyed, and 58 charcoal kilns, demonstrating the destruction of the forest. 

While he said the operation intends to remove forest invaders, the Ogiek fear they will also be evicted in the process, despite two judgments delivered by the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights recognising their rights over the Mau complex.

On Friday, seven Ogiek Council of Elders met with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)officials to deliberate on how to block the planned eviction.

Bid to meet Kenya Forest Service officials for talks over the matter did not bear fruit.

Ogiek Council of Elders in Nairobi in after meeting with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) officials.
Ogiek Council of Elders in Nairobi in after meeting with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) officials.

On June 23, 2022, the court ordered the government to undertake ‘an exercise of delimitation, demarcation and communal land titling in order to protect the Ogiek people's right to property, which in this case revolves around their occupation, use, and enjoyment of the Mau Forest and its various resources.’

This was to be done in consultation with the community and/or their representatives, and the order directly relates to the entire 22 blocs of Mau, including the Sasimwani area. 

The court also directed the government not to repeat any further violations, and to pay the community Sh57.8 million in compensation for the loss of property and natural resources, and Sh100 million for moral prejudice suffered due to violations of the right to non-discrimination, religion, culture and development. 

This compensation is yet to be paid 16 months later, despite petitions to different government agencies as well as Parliament, the community says.

A lawyer aware of the matter said there is a blatant disregard and disobedience of the African Court orders after more than 30 years of struggle.  

"This land [Sasimwani] is a trust land of the Ogiek of Maasai Mau community, not a public forest. It is disregard by the state of its international obligations that it bound itself when it ratified the African Charter in Human and Peoples’ Rights,” the lawyer said, adding that each state organ is duty bound under Article 10 to obey the rule of law, in this case, the judgment.  

Additionally, Article 2(5) of the Constitution states laws ratified by Kenya become part of domestic law, as it did the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights it was found to be in violation of.  

The 2022 ruling followed that of May 2017, which found that Ogiek's rights to property and natural resources under the African Charter, among other issues, had been violated. 

The community has faced previous evictions on the premise of conservation, with at least 300 Ogiek families being evicted by KFS in July 2020. 

While the government cites public interest justification for conservation for the eviction of the Ogiek, the 2017 ruling said the state did not provide any evidence to the effect that their continued presence in the area is the main cause of the depletion of the natural environment.  

"Different reports prepared by or in collaboration with the respondent [Kenyan government] on the situation of the Mau Forest also reveal that the main causes of the environmental degradation are encroachments upon the land by other groups and government excisions for settlements and ill-advised logging concessions. 

"In its pleadings, the respondent also concedes that 'the Mau Forest degradation cannot entirely be associated or is not associable to the Ogiek people'," the court said.  

Consequently, the court found the continued denial of access to, and eviction of the Ogiek cannot be necessary or proportionate to achieve the "purported justification of preserving the natural ecosystem of the Mau Forest". 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also recognised the role of indigenous communities in conservation efforts.  

It recognises that securing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, livestock herders and farmers encourages sustainable farming and forestry protects wildlife and habitats, enables people to live sustainably off their lands, and reduces the risk of climate actions. 

As a traditional community that, "out of a need or desire to preserve its unique culture" and is indigenous having retained and maintained a traditional lifestyle, the Ogiek are recognised by Article 260 of the Constitution. 

To seek reprieve, the Ogiek Council of Elders, under the leadership of National Council of Elders chairman Lobolo Sironga and Ogiek Council chairman Narok Chapter Wilson Memusi are making efforts to engage government authorities in Nairobi.  

"These elders are attempting to garner the support and intervention of vital agencies, including the Commission on Administrative Justice, KFS, and KNCHR,” they said. 

They, however, said efforts to seek an audience with the Ministry of Environment, Narok Governor Patrick Ole Ntutu and county commissioner Isaac Masinde have all been unsuccessful. 

In January this year, CAJ called out the government for failing to honour the African Court ruling. 

CAJ chairperson Florence Kajuju regretted that the community was subjected to brutal evictions from their only known habitat on the justification of protecting forests from human encroachment. 

"It is documented that the community has coexisted with the forest ecosystem from time immemorial," she said. 

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