Ogiek killings highlight precarious position of Kenyan hunter-gatherer community
Reports received on 3rd March of the killing of a number of members of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer community in the forests of Western Kenya have led to calls for an urgent investigation and immediate measures to avoid further incident. Two politicians are reported to have been killed, and some 200 Ogiek houses burnt in the Chepyuk area near Mount Elgon, along the Ugandan border. This area was given over to the Ogiek under the previous Kenyan government, however the Ogiek claim that much of the land has been grabbed by more powerful tribal groups, who are accused of involvement in the recent attacks.
According to reports, numerous Ogiek have themselves been arrested while they claim that none of the alleged attackers have been detained. Ogiek groups have called for the release of the Ogiek, basic humanitarian assistance to help displaced families, and for international attention to be given to the current situation and the plight of the Ogiek community. The alleged attacks on the Ogiek came as a community representative was highlighting rights violations against them at the UN Working Group on Minorities in Geneva. Daniel Kobei of the Ogiek Peoples Development Program (OPDP) described the precarious situation facing the community.
Full ownership rights over ancestral forest lands and natural resources are a vital step towards securing the future of the Ogiek, one of Kenya’s most vulnerable hunter-gatherer communities, stated Mr Kobei. The Ogiek claim that ancestral forests have been handed over to multi-national companies wishing to exploit the rich timber resources of the forest which have traditionally been home to the Ogiek and vital to their rights and continued survival as a hunter-gatherer community. Pressure from more powerful ethnic groups to settle the land and government policy of turning the Chepkitale land in Mount Elgon Forest into a game reserve in June 2000 has also led to displacement of the Ogiek.
The Ogiek have brought court cases in an attempt to legally establish their rights, but these have been frustrated by delays and lack of resources. Representatives asked the Working Group On Minorities to urge the Kenyan government to come up with lasting solutions, to settle the Ogiek in their ancestral lands and allow them to have full control over their resources and other rights under international law. Ogiek people should be allowed to participate in decision making in all the political spheres and development in Kenya, which should include effective political representations. ‘The great solution for the community is to be given recognition in all aspects and above all to own their ancestral land and develop’, stated Mr Kobei.
Notes for editors
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