SECTIONS

Indigenous communities push for recognition of land rights

Ogiek Council of Elders Chairman John Sironga. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Minority communities from East Africa are planning to meet to discuss their land rights and role in conservation.

The groups are preparing proposals on their models of conservation to present during the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 18-23.

The communities include the Ogiek of Mau and Mt Elgon, Batwa and Benet communities of Uganda, Aweer of coastal Kenya, Sengwer of Embobut (Kenya), Maasai of Simanjiro in Tanzania and Yaaku of Laikipia (Kenya).

They have been holding meetings to deliberate on issues of indigenous land rights and sustainable management.

“We are part of these critical talks and we have a role to play as indigenous communities living in areas, which are gazetted as protected areas. We are deliberating and consolidating on issues that cut across like indigenous land rights and our participation in conservation to present during the IUCN African Protected Area Congress,” Mr Cosmas Murunga, an Ogiek elder said.

The communities will be presenting their models of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, which protect an enormous range of natural environments, species and agricultural and pastoral landscapes. These they manage through traditional bylaws and community values.

Chepkitale Indigenous People’s Development Project Director Peter Kitelo said while the communities have a shared vision, their talks are also centred on how they can work together.

“Despite their immense contribution to conservation through indigenous knowledge, conservation has instead been used against them and their contributions have never been recognised. Indigenous knowledge could be the solution in solving challenges such as climate change,” Kitelo said.

Many indigenous communities in the region have been victims of evictions and have been fighting for their traditional land rights given the countries’ overriding approach to conservation, forbidding settlement in forests.

The congress will incorporate voices of women, youth, indigenous and local communities about the future they want. It will also focus on policy changes and solutions.

“We live in makeshift houses in Embobut forest because we are not certain of what tomorrow holds. We conserve these landscapes because it is our home but conservation approaches overlook such. We have a lot of sites where we do our rituals and would not in any way destroy them. This is why our voices in conservation should count in such important events,” Paul Kibet, a member of the Sengwer community said.

The congress is expected to position protected and conserved areas in Africa within the broader goals of economic development, and community well-being, and to increase the understanding of the vital role that parks play in conserving biodiversity and delivering the ecosystem services that underpin human welfare and livelihoods.

Patrick Kipalu, Rights Resource Initiative’s Africa Programme director, said Kenya is among the world’s 50 countries that have committed to placing 30 per cent of Earth’s terrestrial and marine environments under formal conservation by 2030.

However, the area under forest cover is now estimated at about 7 per cent and the government’s efforts in increasing this to 10 per cent have resulted in human rights issues in areas like Mau complex and Embobut forest.

“Recognising contributions of indigenous communities will contribute to area-based conservation targets. Examples are the Ogiek who are doing great work in conservation that can be replicated in other areas,” Kipalu said.

He added that while Kenya’s ambitious conservation targets are set against a background of intense competition for land there is a need to incorporate indigenous and local communities by helping them secure land tenure rights.

Rights Resource Initiative’s Africa Regional Facilitator Kendi Borona, said that despite the contributions to conservation by indigenous minority groups, the majority of the communities still struggle for land rights.

Lack of political goodwill, weakness in technical capacities and lack of awareness remain a challenge in implementing landmark rulings where indigenous groups have won big.

Minority communities from East Africa are planning to meet to discuss their land rights and role in conservation.

The groups are preparing proposals on their models of conservation to present during the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 18-23.

The communities include the Ogiek of Mau and Mt Elgon, Batwa and Benet communities of Uganda, Aweer of coastal Kenya, Sengwer of Embobut (Kenya), Maasai of Simanjiro in Tanzania and Yaaku of Laikipia (Kenya).

They have been holding meetings to deliberate on issues of indigenous land rights and sustainable management.

“We are part of these critical talks and we have a role to play as indigenous communities living in areas, which are gazetted as protected areas. We are deliberating and consolidating on issues that cut across like indigenous land rights and our participation in conservation to present during the IUCN African Protected Area Congress,” Mr Cosmas Murunga, an Ogiek elder said.

The communities will be presenting their models of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, which protect an enormous range of natural environments, species and agricultural and pastoral landscapes. These they manage through traditional bylaws and community values.

Chepkitale Indigenous People’s Development Project Director Peter Kitelo said while the communities have a shared vision, their talks are also centred on how they can work together.

“Despite their immense contribution to conservation through indigenous knowledge, conservation has instead been used against them and their contributions have never been recognised. Indigenous knowledge could be the solution in solving challenges such as climate change,” Kitelo said.

Many indigenous communities in the region have been victims of evictions and have been fighting for their traditional land rights given the countries’ overriding approach to conservation, forbidding settlement in forests.

The congress will incorporate voices of women, youth, indigenous and local communities about the future they want. It will also focus on policy changes and solutions.

“We live in makeshift houses in Embobut forest because we are not certain of what tomorrow holds. We conserve these landscapes because it is our home but conservation approaches overlook such. We have a lot of sites where we do our rituals and would not in any way destroy them. This is why our voices in conservation should count in such important events,” Paul Kibet, a member of the Sengwer community said.

The congress is expected to position protected and conserved areas in Africa within the broader goals of economic development, and community well-being, and to increase the understanding of the vital role that parks play in conserving biodiversity and delivering the ecosystem services that underpin human welfare and livelihoods.

Patrick Kipalu, Rights Resource Initiative’s Africa Programme director, said Kenya is among the world’s 50 countries that have committed to placing 30 per cent of Earth’s terrestrial and marine environments under formal conservation by 2030.

However, the area under forest cover is now estimated at about 7 per cent and the government’s efforts in increasing this to 10 per cent have resulted in human rights issues in areas like Mau complex and Embobut forest.

“Recognising contributions of indigenous communities will contribute to area-based conservation targets. Examples are the Ogiek who are doing great work in conservation that can be replicated in other areas,” Kipalu said.

He added that while Kenya’s ambitious conservation targets are set against a background of intense competition for land there is a need to incorporate indigenous and local communities by helping them secure land tenure rights.

Rights Resource Initiative’s Africa Regional Facilitator Kendi Borona, said that despite the contributions to conservation by indigenous minority groups, the majority of the communities still struggle for land rights.

Lack of political goodwill, weakness in technical capacities and lack of awareness remain a challenge in implementing landmark rulings where indigenous groups have won big.