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Push for redress even as minorities celebrate

By Caroline Chebet | May 8th 2019


Endorois cultural dancers entertain guests during the African World Heritage day celebration at Lake Bogoria in Baringo county on May 5, 2019. (Kipsang Joseph/Standard)

As an indigenous minority group that once lived on the shores of Lake Bogoria celebrates African World Heritage Day, the ceremony evokes bittersweet memories.

Distinct ululations from members of the Endorois punctuate the air along the shores of Lake Bogoria as they gather to mark the day declared by Unesco to celebrate cultural and natural heritage of Africa.

To the community, it is a celebration of the lake that once harboured their secrets, a spot that that hosted rituals, a lake that ‘held them together’.

Behind the ululations, chanting and humming, traces of nostalgia and sadness are visible – the community is still banking on the Government to implement a ruling by African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

“The case has since stalled for years despite the Kenyan Government being ordered to compensate us for the damages,” Endorois Council of Elders Chairman Richard Yegon said.

The commission ruled on February 4, 2010, that the Endorois' eviction from their traditional land to pave way for tourism development violated their human rights.

The case was a first of its kind for an indigenous group to seek audience in an international court after unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Kenyan government.

In the case, the Kenyan government was accused of evicting the Endorois people from their homes near Lake Bogoria in the 1970s and was ordered to restore the community members to their historic land and compensate them.

After Kenyan courts refused to address the Endorois case, they appealed at the African Commission in 2003.

Mr Yegon said the world-famous lake is culturally significant to the community and there was need for the Government to speed up the implementation of the ruling.

“The Government formed a task force but all is silent now. We, however, still have options to compel the Government to act following the ruling, “he said.

Endorios Welfare Council Programmes Manager Paul Chepsoi called on Unesco to support indigenous communities.

Dr Kanyinke Sena, director for Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, said there was need to involve indigenous communities in conservation of heritage sites which are currently facing extinction.

He said there was need for Government to hold mediation with communities that have won cases in international courts awaiting implementation.

While Endorois case, he says, has shown some progress, the Ogiek case also awaits implementation.

In the Endorois case, he said the community gains access and also gets 10 per cent of the revenue from the county government. The community, however, said the 10 per cent should be increased.

And while the Endorios community is still optimistic, the Ogiek community that resides around Mau forest complex too, is agitating for the implementation of yet another African-court based ruling that ruled in its favour.

The community that won a case on May 26, 2017, has slated May for celebrations of the historical ruling that had ruled that its members were illegally evicted from their ancestral land in the water catchment tower and that their rights were violated.

Ogiek People Development Programme Director David Kobey urged the Government to fast-track implementation of the judgment.

Following an eight-year legal battle, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ruled in favour of indigenous hunter-gatherer community, meaning the Kenyan Government was liable to executing appropriate measures.

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