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Minority voices from Kenya

14 February 2008

Kenya is an ethnically diverse country and its 33.4 million people encompass some 40 ethnic groups. As violence and tension grips the country people from minority ethnic groups tell us how they have been affected.

Cheptoo Chizupo, human rights defender and a member of the Pokot minority

The Pokot are farmers and pastoralists who live in the West Pokot and Baringo Districts in the Rift Valley province.

“There is turmoil in the towns which are ethnically mixed, looting is going on, mainly of shops belonging to the Kikuyu.

In the interior of my district, where the people are mainly Pokot, hardship is always there, nothing changes whatever the government, life goes on the same.

The Pokot are pastoralists, so the women and children are in the background, you do not see them. However in the countryside you can see Pokot men in clusters, talking about the crisis. Everyone is really annoyed, but we can only hope for the best…”

Kiplangat Cheruiyot, a Programme Officer for the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme

The Ogiek are an indigenous people, numbering some 20,000, who live in and around the Mau Forest, an area of 900 square kilometers northwest of Nairobi overlooking the Rift Valley. They also live in the forests around Mt. Elgon, in Western Kenya near the Ugandan border.

“The Ogiek are facing severe food shortages and lack of medicines. They fear coming out of the forests because of the roadblocks and threats of violence and have not been able to access the markets in the towns and villages to buy provisions for the last 11 days.

They are at risk from malaria and we fear an outbreak of cholera, particularly among the children.

We have received reports of the shooting of two Ogiek men and the rape of four Ogiek women by security forces, but so far no Ogiek people have been uprooted from their forest homes.”

MRG spoke to Kiplangat at the beginning of February for an update on his community’s plight.

“Although the situation had calmed down in the last three days, after the visit of Kofi Annan, four Ogiek members have died since MRG last spoke to me at the beginning of January.

We lost 54 houses and around 600 Ogiek families have been displaced. We’ve been suffering food shortages such as beans and cooking oil, lack of warm clothes – it’s cold and raining now – and blankets. The displaced families are now staying in schools, in very poor conditions.

Some members of the community are starving, because they are still afraid of coming out of the forest to get food.

We are still waiting for some solution concerning the elections. Maybe an interim government will assume power now and we will have new elections in the middle of the year.

We expect the government to give some help to the victims of violent attacks.”

Nyang’ori Ohenjo, Executive Director of the Indigenous Fisher People’s Network, part of the Nyala ethnic community

They are a fishing community numbering some 40,000 people, that inhabit the area around lake Victoria.

“Due to the high tension in the country, fishing activity has collapsed and all the indigenous that depend on it, like the Nyala, have no access to money at all.

Our community feels a sense of despondency. Most feel their hopes have been dashed because they were looking for a general shift in the constitutional framework that would have helped us all realise our rights better.

In general about 80 percent of my community suffer from abject poverty and they want change where they can benefit from the resources they have, change in policies where all people’s rights will be realised.

The main problem is that minorities’ issues are not being discussed by the politicians, which keeps minorities and indigenous groups – and their claims – out of the political process.”

Adam Hussain Adam, from the Nubian community

The Nubian are Muslims and are a ethnic and religious minority who mostly live in the Kibera slum areas of Nairobi.

“The whole operation of quelling down dissent took place in our area. There is a lot of insecurity and because the slum area we live in is so dense the police can only provide security to the outskirts. As a result we have been forced to put in our own security measures which has stretched the community.

The businesses around our area were burnt down and even though they are not owned by us, our community is dependent on these markets and businesses so our daily life has been affected.

Besides the looting and insecurity there is also a sense of disillusionment. This is the first time that people in our community took up ID cards and went in large numbers to vote. Now we feel disillusioned because we don’t know what’s next.

We are concerned that justice is being pushed to the sideline and peace to the forefront.”

MRG spoke to Adam on 14 February for an update on his community’s situation.

“The situation is bad and the negotiation process conducted by Kofi Annan seems to be going nowhere. Although there are lots of police around, people still feel insecure. Due to this, children are not going to school around Nairobi.

In the two weeks after the beginning of the crisis, lots of people fled to a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Nairobi. Aound 4,000 people, from different communities, are living there in poor conditions. Even though they’re receiving help from the Red Cross and the government, it has not been enough.

In the Rift Valley, violent attacks are still going on. In these areas, people do not have access to food and medicines. The economy is also very bad and the facilities in the region have been destroyed by the riots. Lots of people are fleeing to Uganda.”

Wilson Kipkazi, a member of the Endorois, a pastoralist community who form part of the larger Kalenjin ethnic group

The Endorois have lived for centuries around the Lake Bogoria region in the South Baringo and Koibatek districts of Rift Valley province.  Wilson is Secretary of the Endorois Welfare Council.

“The negotiation process conducted by Kofi Annan has helped to calm the situation down a little, but there is still a lot of tension around.

The Endorois sell animals to the people living in the towns, their livelihood is based on this. Almost no one is buying from us as lots of people have fled from the towns, so we don’t have money to buy food. In the weeks after the election, three Endorois were killed when they went to the city to buy vegetables and other food supplies.

In Nakuru, some Endorois families have been displaced.”

Ben Koisaba, from the Maa Civil Society Forum and member of the Maasai community

The Maasai number some 450,000 and are semi-nomadic pastoralists living mostly in the districts of Narok, Naivasha and Transmara along the border with Tanzania in southern Kenya.

“In a peaceful protest on 19 January, 200 Maasai were arrested in Nairok, and 10 people from other communities were killed. Since then, the Maasai community has been the victim of police harassment in Narok, in Rift Valley province, where the conflict is most severe.

Due to the atmosphere of insecurity, most markets where the Maasai used to sell their products are closed, so the community has no access to cash.

Because of the unstable situation, teachers have stopped going to work, so Maasai children cannot go to school. The level of illiteracy among the Maasai is very high. The same problem happens in the health centres, as doctors and other employees are not going to work.”

If you are from an ethnic minority or indigenous community in Kenya tell us how the recent upheaval has affected your life. You can write to us at [email protected].