Kenya’s Indigenous communities demand action on land rights

On a hot, sunny February morning in Nairobi, close to 60 members of the Ogiek and Endorois Indigenous communities marched through the streets of the Kenyan capital chanting protest songs.

The group headed towards the Attorney General’s office to deliver a letter which challenged the government’s failure to implement court rulings that would compensate both communities and give them back their stolen ancestral land.

‘The document has been received, they have stamped our copy, which is evidence that we have presented our document today,’ explained head of the Endorois Community Welfare Council, Richard Kamworor.

Richard Kamworor
Richard Kamworor, CEO of Endorois Welfare Council, marches with his community members during their land rights protest in Nairobi, Kenya on 6 February.

A tale of two evictions

The Kenyan government forcefully evicted the Endorois people, a traditional pastoralist community, from their homes near the fertile lands of Lake Bogoria in central Kenya in the 1970s to make room for a game reserve and tourist facilities. Around 60,000 people were uprooted and forced to congregate on arid land, where many of their cattle died, devastating them economically, socially and culturally. 

In 1986, the Endorois tried, unsuccessfully, to petition the Kenyan government to reverse its evictions policy. They were also denied any share in the revenue generated from tourism sector in the region.

 

When the Kenyan courts refused to address their case, the community went to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). In 2009 the court made a landmark ruling, considered a victory for Indigenous peoples across Africa, ordering the Kenyan government to restore the Endorois to their historic land, compensate them from losses and to pay them profits from the Lake Bogoria game reserve.

But over a decade later, the Endorois are still waiting to return to their land.

THE IMPACTS OF Non-Implementation

A 2022 report by Minority Rights Group found that the non-implementation of the Endorois decision has consigned many of its members to 'severe poverty, illiteracy, poor health and a life of destitution.'

The Endorois case was an important precursor to another landmark case at the ACHPR, this time brought by the Ogiek people who had experienced multiple evictions from their ancestral homes in the Mau Forest in south western Kenya. The Ogiek were first evicted by the British colonial government in 1920, with the latest evictions occurring at the hands of the Kenyan authorities last November during the visit of Britain’s King Charles III. Human rights lawyers say the government is also illegally evicting the Ogiek in order to profit from carbon offsetting schemesSeven-hundred households in Sasimwani in Narok County were targeted, including Judy Nagol’s.

‘I was evicted yet I was born in Sasimwani and even my grandparents were born there,’ she said. Nagol, who is disabled, now lives at a well-wisher's house in Olkirkirai, near the edge of the forest, with her three children. 

Judy Nagol breaks down during the protest
Judy Nagol, an Ogiek community member who was evicted from her home in November is overcome by emotion during the protests.

These latest evictions happened despite their success at the ACHPR. In 2017, the Court ordered the Kenyan government to restitute the Ogiek ancestral land and pay a compensation of 157,000 Kenyan shillings ($1,026) per person. But as in the case of the Endorois, the government has so far failed to implement the court’s orders, leaving many Ogiek unable to return to their rightful land.

'I am so sad to be here asking to be allowed to go back to my home.'

‘We demand our land’

Fed up with the government’s inaction, the two communities came together in Nairobi on 6 February with the support of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to demand the government implement the rulings. 

Nagol was among the protesters.

‘I am so sad to be here asking to be allowed to go back to my home,’ she said.

Speaking during the protest, Daniel Kobei, the Executive Director of the Ogiek People’s Development Programme said his community is angered by the continuous delays and that they have given the government three weeks to respond to their demands.

‘It is not to our liking to be in these streets in Nairobi,' he said. 'We could have been at home but because of this we have come to see the Attorney General for him to tell us why the implementation of the Endorois and Ogiek ruling has delayed. We demand our land, we demand for our rights.'