The Ogiek indigenous community is a hunter gatherer group who depend on the forest for food, medicine, shelter and preservation of their culture. They are foresters and conservators of nature, and so live in places where trees, birds and wild animals provide them with psychological comfort.
The Ogiek have a population of about 20,000 people throughout Kenya inhabiting mainly the Mau Forest Complex in the Great Rift Valley Province, and Mount Elgon. Approximately 15,000 Ogiek live in the Mau Forest Complex, which they have occupied for at least 150 years. The Mau is divided into 22 areas, with Ogiek inhabiting 12 of these (Marishooni, Nesuit, Saino, Sururu, Kiptungo, Sogoo, Nkaroni, Tinet, Sasimwani, Oltpirik, Nkareta and Olmekenyu).
However, in common with most indigenous people, the Ogiek have no title deeds evidencing their propery rights over the land. Common problems faced by indigenous groups include the lack of “formal” title recognition of their historic territories, the failure of domestic legal systems to acknowledge communal property rights, and the claiming of formal legal title to indigenous land by the colonial authorities.
In July 2008, the Kenyan Government launched an aggressive campaign to evict people living in the Mau Forest Complex that it deemed to be living there “illegally”, including the Ogiek, ostensibly in order to protect Kenya’s forests. The action was taken in response to concern about the loss of forest cover in Kenya and its wide-ranging negative impacts, including drought, loss of livelihood and reduced access to basic environmental services such as clean water.
The Mau Forest is one of five main water catchment areas in Kenya, feeding Lakes Victoria, Nakuru and Natron and supporting the ecosystems and livelihoods in the Maasai Mara National Park and the Serengeti. However, according to the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme and the international NGO Survival International, the main cause of loss of forest cover is the more recent encroachment of purely commercial interests, including logging and the clearing of forests for human settlement and agriculture, not the activities of the Ogiek and other indigenous people living there.
Fortunately the Kenyan government has temporarily rescinded its plan to evict Mau Forest inhabitants and the Mau Forest Task Force (which originally recommended the eviction of forest dwellers and is charged with developing and implementing a plan to preserve the Mau Forest ecosystem) has now incorporated members of the Ogiek Elders Council. MRG sees this as a positive step towards inclusion of this important indigenous group in decisions which will affect the development of a delicate environment so crucial to their survival.
MRG’s Head of Law, Lucy Claridge, went to gather evidence in the Mau Forest in June 2010 for an ongoing legal case in support of the Ogiek community.
For more information contact MRG's Press Office in London
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