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Kenyan government should respect pro-indigenous rights rulings

31 March 2022

By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

2010 was a monumental year for the land rights of indigenous communities in Africa. In a landmark decision, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) ruled that the Kenyan government, in the 1970s, irregularly evicted the members of the Endorois community from their ancestral lands around Lake Bogoria.

The ACHPR ruled that in these evictions, the Kenyan government had violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, specifically the rights to religious practice, to property, to culture, to the free disposition of natural resources, and to development.

The excitement and ululations with which the Endorois community welcomed the decision has, ten years on, been replaced with frustration at the pace with which the recommendations of the court are being implemented. The Kenyan government has largely failed to comply with the recommendations of the ruling, albeit certain aspects have been implemented.

The Endorois Welfare Council, with the assistance of the Center for Minority Rights Development, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and WITNESS filed the case with the Commission. As parties to the case, we are calling upon the Kenyan government to abide by its international human rights obligations by respecting such judicial decisions.

The failure to abide by such judicial decisions compromises the abilities of indigenous communities to enjoy their socio-economic rights. The right to access and use ancestral lands is central to the enjoyment of such rights.

Land means more to indigenous peoples than just a place to build houses, grow crops and graze animals. Land is at the foundation of the identity of indigenous peoples. These people often have a spiritual and cultural connection to their land.

As is with many such cases in Kenya and other countries across the continent, these forceful evictions were carried out in the name of nature conservation to promote tourism.

While governments are justified in their decisions to boost tourism through conservation, indigenous communities should be viewed as allies, as opposed to threats. Indigenous communities are the first custodians of their ancestral lands, and often possess invaluable indigenous knowledge on how to take care of their natural environments.

Photo: Veronica Ketany, an activist from the Endorois Community, photographed in September 2021 at a bootcamp for ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG.