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Endorois in Kenya

  • Profile

    The Endorois are an indigenous people who live around Lake Bogoria and Mochongoi Ol-Arabel and Marmanet Forest in Marigat (Baringo South Constituency) Mogotio sub-counties of Baringo County, as well as in Nakuru and Laikipia Counties within the Rift Valley of Kenya.

    The connection between the Endorois community and Lake Bogoria is ancestral. Mochongoi Forest and Lake Bogoria are regarded as sacred grounds by the Endorois, whose culture and beliefs is deeply connected to sacred sites in and around the lake.

    Because the Kenyan government has never aggregated data on the Endorois, population numbers are inexact. There are more than 45,000 Endorois according to the 2019 Kenya government census, yet the actual number could be as high as 60,000.

    Both the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPRs) Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities (WGIP) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights recognize the Endorois as indigenous people.

    Historical context

    The ancestral home of the Endorois people is Lake Bogoria, where communities claim to have been living continuously since time immemorial. The Endorois way of life – health, livelihood, religion and culture- is inextricably linked to Bogoria. This situation changed with the settlement in Kenya by British colonists in the late 19th century. Even though Kenya was declared a colony as late as 1920, the formal British colonial presence in Kenya began with a proclamation on 1 July 1895, in which Kenya was claimed as a British protectorate. The Endorois remained undisturbed during the colonial era despite this land being converted to Crown (Government) land. In the post-colonial era, Endorois land was held in trust by the County Councils under Article 115 of the Kenyan Constitution at the time.

    The situation changed dramatically in 1973, when the Kenyan government decided to evict Endorois people from their homelands to create the Lake Hannington Game Reserve. In 1978, the area was re-branded as Lake Bogoria Game Reserve without any consultation with the Endorois community. The result of this programme of land grabbing was that the Endorois began to be denied access to the land where they had lived for centuries. This effectively meant denial of a collective ownership of land, restricted access to religious sites, negation of cultural life and restricted free access to natural resources, among other rights violations that continue to this day.

    Current issues

    In 2008, the Endorois community on the shores of Lake Bogoria in the Rift Valley reported that 500 of their kinsmen and women had fled cattle raids by the Pokot. Advances made by the Pokot had also pushed the Ilchamus pastoralists onto territory usually occupied by the Endorois. There had been no government assistance to help with the internally displaced people. In 2006, the Kenyan government launched an operation aimed at collecting up to 30,000 illegally held weapons in Kenya’s west. Local Pokot and Samburu people claimed that the operation was undertaken without adequate consultation and had sparked the flight of thousands of pastoralists across the border. Pokot cattle raids in 2006 drove thousands of Samburu into camps, and have been marked by widespread murder and rape.

    Attempts to re-claim ancestral lands have also continued. In October 2006 and again in May 2008, Samburu pastoralists pressed claims to ancestral rights to graze their cattle on private farms in Laikipia. The security services moved in to forcibly evict the herders.

    In February 2010, the African Commission found that the Kenyan government had violated certain fundamental rights of the Endorois community. The decision created a major legal precedent by recognising, for the first time in Africa, indigenous peoples’ rights over traditionally owned land and their right to development.

    The Commission recommended that the government restore Endorois ancestral land and ensure that the community has unrestricted access to Lake Bogoria and surrounding area. The Commission also recommended that the government pay compensation to the community and pay royalties to the Endorois from the profits of the reserve.

    The African Commission found that the Kenyan Government had failed to recognise and protect Endorois’ ancestral land rights and failed to provide sufficient compensation or alternative grazing land following their eviction.

    In September 2014, the government established a Task Force to implement the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights regarding forced the eviction of Endorois from the Lake Bogoria National Reserve. This includes the recognition of Endorois ownership of the land, restitution of the land and compensation. However, the Task Force’s terms of reference limited its mandate purely to whether implementation was possible, rather than how to implement the decision; the Endorois were not part of the Task Force and its terms of reference did not require consultation with the community. The Task Force made no meaningful progress during its 12 months’ operation and to date, its mandate has not been extended. Only a small amount (2 million Kenyan shillings or approximately US$20,000) in compensation for bio-enzyme extraction royalties has been paid.

    Environment

    A series of rapidly accelerating droughts have left pastoralist communities more and more vulnerable. Pastoralists have also been struggled with the risks associated with climate change. Many of these communities are already dealing with the consequences of global warming – but national governments, such as Kenya’s, have yet to identify long-term strategies to help them. Crucially, pastoralist communities need to to be consulted on adaptation processes, and for an end to development policies which pushes communities to settle in resource-poor areas.

    Conflicts over natural resources have increased as communities – particularly pastoralists – compete for diminishing water, pasture and food resources. In 2011 the government declared a national disaster as Kenya suffered the most severe drought in decades, which affected over 5 million people. After three years of poor rains, severe drought returned to Kenya again in early 2017. Another national disaster was declared, with 23 out of 47 counties facing insufficient rainfall. By May 2017, UNICEF was reporting that 2.6 million Kenyans were food insecure. Facing the risk of famine, northern pastoralists were forced to move their livestock in search of grazing and water.

    During the first months of 2017, tensions and conflict arose, especially in Laikipia, as pastoralists encroached upon private lands. By April 2017, at least 14 people had been killed in incidents in Laikipia which drew attention to the underlying issue of land inequality whereby large tracts are owned by the expatriate community. Local politicians were accused of fomenting violence in the lead-up to forthcoming elections.

    The government was also criticized for adding to the tensions when it sent in the military in March. In neighbouring Baringo County, attacks by armed groups during spring 2017 targeted indigenous women and children. According to local indigenous community leaders, seven indigenous children and two indigenous women were killed in an incident at a school where they had taken shelter. At least two Endorois women were badly wounded in attacks, and many have been displaced. In March 2017, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission estimated that the conflict in Baringo County had led to at least 10,000 displaced.

Updated February 2024

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