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Communities mark Indigenous People's day amid evictions and broken promises

By Caroline Chebet | August 9th 2020
Ogiek community members light a fire before retrieving honey from a traditional beehive at the Mara forest, on July 20, 2017. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

As the world celebrates the International Day of World’s Indigenous People's today, it is a dull moment for those living in Kenya.

Local forest indigenous groups say while courts have come to their protection, marginalisation continues with long-standing unimplemented court rulings, evictions and ethnic clashes amid a raging global pandemic. 

“But we have nothing to celebrate because of continued marginalisation and empty promises. The indigenous communities have won big in both local and international courts while fighting for their rights but the ruling in their favour against the government remain empty years later,” said Joseph Towett, chairperson of groups.

The theme of this year's celebrations is "Covid-19 and Indigenous People's Resilience", a pandemic that Minority Rights Group International has termed as a crisis deepening poverty and discrimination for minorities and indigenous peoples.

“It is time the government realised that rights of all people matter and should be respected because most of them have faced forceful evictions amid the pandemic. The Ogiek and the Sengwer communities have been subjected to forceful evictions from their homes during the pandemic period, which is really sad,” Towett said.

Richard Yegon, one of the elders from Endorois community, an indigenous minority community living on the shores of Lake Baringo, said community is yet to be given land after it was forcefully evicted to create a national reserve in 1970s.

Following unsuccessful efforts to resolve the situation at the national level, in 2003, Endorois lodged a case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The case challenged lack of consultation or compensation for the forced displacement, and lack of protection to the Endorois’ traditional way of life, and claimed violations of the Endorois’ rights to non-discrimination, property, access to natural resources on their land, religious and cultural life, and to development.

In a landmark decision adopted by the African Union on February 2, 2010, the African Commission declared the expulsion of Endorois from their ancestral lands illegal.

The African Commission found the Kenyan Government failed to recognise and protect Endorois’ ancestral land rights and failed to provide sufficient compensation or alternative grazing land following their eviction, or to grant restitution of their land, and similarly failed to include the community within the relevant development processes. It also made a series of recommendations for the government to follow.

“We won the case but what has only been implemented is that we are only allowed to access the park. The government is yet to give us alternative land or compensate us. Marking this day however is a recognition that we still exist and that we are still fighting on,” Yegon said.

Ogiek Peoples Development Programme Director Daniel Kobei said the day is a special recognition for indigenous communities land rights and territories and their aspirations as well as their dignity as a people. “This year however, we have been affected by evictions where the communities have been forced to seek refuge and congest themselves. It is a scare in containing spread of pandemic within the community,” Kobei said.

According to Minority Rights Group International, coronavirus pandemic is deepening poverty and discrimination for minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

“As cold weather prevails mid-year in Kenya and temperatures plummet in the highlands where traditional forest peoples live, Covid-19 is surging across the country. But rather than being able to shelter safely in their homes, Indigenous and forest-dwelling communities are being evicted from their ancestral lands, and their homes and farms destroyed by their own government,” the report said.

Covid 19 Time Series


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