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Boot camp re-energises Kenya’s indigenous activists

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By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

Elias Kimaiyo has seen it all. On the frontline fighting for the land rights of the Sengwer people, an indigenous hunter and gatherer community in western Kenya, Elias has been arrested, assaulted and even shot at by Kenya Forest Services (KFS) officers as he documented abuses against his community in Embobut forest.

These unfortunate experiences do not break Elias’ spirit. To the contrary, the human rights defender is only growing stronger. Last week, together with other activists from Sengwer, Elias joined fellow Kenyan activists from Ogiek of Mau and Elgon and the Endorois from Baringo at a boot camp on social movement building for minority and indigenous communities in Elementaita, Nakuru County in Kenya.

The goal of the three-day training, organised by the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) in collaboration with Minority Rights Group, was to empower these activists to build sustainable movements to advance their economic, social and cultural rights, with particular attention to education and healthcare access.

Elias says the boot-camp was timely, and has given him renewed zeal to fight for more than just land rights for the Sengwer people.

‘We have been pushing for rights to use our ancestral land for a long time. I must admit that we focus on land so much, that we forget about other things that make life better—like education and health,’ he notes.

‘When you do not have good education and health as a community, you cannot achieve your fullest potential as a community.’

At the boot-camp, activists learnt about the values needed to build strong social movements and networks. Some of the values that came out prominently are transparency, accountability and trust among others.

Lydia Liyio, a trained laboratory technician and Ogiek human rights activist says the boot-camp has inspired her to continue championing quality service delivery in her community. Lydia has already played an integral role in setting up a committee in her community to address emergencies such as the payment of medical bills and school fees for poor villagers.

Lydia reckons that the best approach for communities is to take the lead in improving social services in their localities. She says the valuable lessons she learnt from the boot camp about social movement building will be used in the next big project in her community.

‘We are now planning to build a primary school in our community so that our children do not have to walk long distances (to school). Luckily, elders in the community have given us land to build the school. We are now mobilising resources to buy building materials so that we can kick-off construction work soon,’ she reveals.

On the last day of the boot-camp, the activists went on a fun and yet gruelling twenty kilometre walk in the Great Rift Valley—an activity that required them to put to test some of the values learnt during the week, such as teamwork.

Everyone passed the challenge.

Elias Kimaiyo (left) with other Sengwer activists at the boot camp at Elementaita, Nakuru County in Kenya. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo / MRG.

Featured photo: Lydia Liyio, an activist from the Ogiek makes a point at the boot-camp at Elementaita, Nakuru County in Kenya. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo / MRG.

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