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Two tribes yet to get formal recognition

By | June 14th 2009

By Kipchumba Some

Nearly 50 years after Kenya gained independence, the Ogiek and Sengwer are still fighting for official recognition. They are demanding to be given community codes used by the Government to recognise the country’s ethnic groups.

Presently, they have to suffer the ignominy of identifying themselves as Pokot, Nandi, Kipsigis, Marakwets or any of the larger Kalenjin sub tribes that surround them when they are applying for national identity cards.

Although they speak Kalenjin dialects, depending on their neighbours, as their first language, both communities do not consider themselves members of the ethnic group.

Historians say the Ogiek were the original inhabitants of the Central Rift Valley leading to a general feeling that only the community can at least claim to be the aboriginal East Africans since there is no evidence of them having come from elsewhere.

Linguistic Ability

However, their unique linguistic ability to adopt the languages of the surrounding tribes led some historians to conclude that they were not a genuinely distinct ethnic group but rather outlaws from other tribes who found refuge in the forest.

But they differ from neighbouring tribes in that they lack corporately organised formal institutions. Furthermore, they are not pastoralists as the other Kalenjin communities.

In a bid to push for official recognition, the leaders from the Sengwer community threatened to boycott next year’s census. Opinion is almost unanimous that such a move will undermine their efforts for recognition.

"We shall never get tired of demanding for our right to be recognised as a distinct community. If we die as a community, a part of Kenya’s history shall have died too," said JK Towett of the Ogiek Welfare Council.

The two communities have lobbied to be recognised and protected as a minority group in the proposed new constitution. Alongside this, they are pushing for the nomination of one of their own to advocate for their rights.

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