Hope for Ogiek as State to tackle land injustices

Ogiek Council of Elders chairman John with community members on September 16, 2022 in Nakuru City. [Daniel Chege, Standard]

Ten months after a landmark ruling by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights on Ogiek community, the government of Kenya has illustrated a reparation plan for the community.

The court based in Arusha, Tanzania, made a ruling ordering the government of Kenya to recognise the Ogieks as an indigenous community, demarcate and issue a collective title for their claimed ancestral land among other reparations.

In its ruling, the court ordered the government to guarantee full recognition of the Ogiek as an indigenous people of Kenya in an effective manner, including full recognition to the Ogiek language, cultural and religious beliefs.

State agencies mandated with execution of the various orders issued by the court have made illustrated actions taken to resettle the community, as outlined in a consultative meeting by the Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ).

The National Land Commission (NLC) was tasked with demarcating the Ogieks' land, determining the leases and returning the land (Mau Forest) to the community. NLC was also tasked to ascertain the claims on historical land injustices.

“We will be making ground visits in June to establish the legitimate members of the Ogiek community because there has been infiltration by people from other communities,” said NLC Commissioner Professor James Tuitoek.

Tuitoek also told the CAJ that title deeds issued in East Mau have been revoked.

In the ruling, the government was found to have violated the right to life, property, natural resources, religion and culture of more than 30,000 people of the Ogiek community after forceful evictions from the Mau Forest which they claim to be their ancestral land.

The Commissioner noted that NLC will complete the exercise to establish existing leases by the Ogiek community by August before the land is returned to them as directed by the court.

As a way of recognising the rights of Ogiek, the ministry of Interior committed to include them in various administrative services.

The court also awarded Sh157 million for material and moral damages to the Ogiek from the Government of Kenya, which was to be paid into a Community Development Fund established within 12 months of the date of the judgment.

“A lot of progress has been made and we hope when we are reporting to the court on the progress of the matter we will have all of these done,” said CAJ chairperson Florence Kajuju.

Traditionally, Ogieks are forest dwellers who inhabited Mau Forest, but were subjected to evictions from the forest by the government without consultations and compensations for conservation of the forest.

However, the regional court ruled that the community could not be held responsible for destruction in Mau Forest, hence the government could not justify the evictions or denial of access to their land.

Agostinho Neto, who represented the ministry of Environment at the forum, said the ministry formulated an interministerial committee to fast track implementation of the ruling and request a letter written to the National Treasury to pay the Sh157 million awarded as damages.

Other state agencies listed in implementation of the ruling including the Kenya Forest Service, Kenya National Human Rights Commission, ministry of Lands, ministry of Environment and Forestry, the National Treasurer, office of the Attorney General, ministry of Interior and the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC).

"I sincerely thank the government for taking this matter seriously to recognise the rights of indigenous communities. We appeal to the State agencies to execute their mandates in consultations with the Ogiek community," said Daniel Koibei, a representative of the community.

Koibei said issuance of communal land will ensure the community do not go back to the forest and will also prohibit them from selling land.

"We have planted trees in the Mau and we are going to take care of the forest. We can coexist with the forest," said Koibei.