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Six years on: Celebration mixed with concern for the Ogiek of Mau

26 May 2023

By Samuel Ade Ndasi, African Union Advocacy and Litigation Officer at Minority Rights Group International

The Ogiek indigenous people of the Mau Forest in Kenya are poised for another anniversary celebration on 26 May 2023. This day commemorates their historic victory against the Republic of Kenya in their claim to their ancestral lands, recognized in the landmark Judgement by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights six years ago.

Six years after the judgement and almost one year after a follow-up decision in June 2022 on reparations by the same Court, the mood within the Ogiek community is a blend of celebration and hope but also of deep concern. Celebration of the gains attained in their many decades’ struggle to regain their ancestral lands, hope for a better future for all Ogiek, but nevertheless a deep concern around the lack of implementation by Kenya of both judgements.

The historic judgement celebrated today includes a key provision, namely that the Court recognizes the ‘Ogiek as an indigenous population that is part of the Kenyan people and having a particular status and deserving special protection deriving from their vulnerability’. The Court issued a specific order for the government of Kenya to take all appropriate measures within a reasonable timeframe to remedy the violations and inform it of the steps taken within six months after the date of the judgment.

Sadly, despite this hugely important ruling, very little was actually done by the government. Therefore, in the reparations judgement which followed five years later, the Court set out remedies for the breaches found in the 2017 judgment, such as compensation for the damages incurred and an order to delimit, demarcate and title Ogiek ancestral lands. It instructed the government to grant collective title to these lands in order to ensure their use and enjoyment by the Ogiek. This judgement explains and refines the scope and content of Kenya’s obligations to uphold indigenous peoples’ land rights and stresses the importance of protecting these rights as necessary for the fulfilment of other rights, including notably social and cultural rights.

Kenya should adopt legislative, administrative and any other measures to give full effect to the terms of both judgments as a means of guaranteeing that the violations identified by the Court do not continue. Unfortunately, the lack of implementation of the twin judgments amounts to a clear dereliction of the Kenyan government’s obligations under international human rights law and more specifically under the African Charter, and undermines the authority of the Court as a continental human and peoples’ rights adjudication body. The actions but mostly the omissions of the government of Kenya have sadly deprived the Ogiek of reaping the fruits of their many years of struggle, namely to be recognized by their own government as a people deserving to be treated with human dignity and without discrimination.

Still, members of the Ogiek community of Kenya are in very high spirits as they look forward to celebrating this significant day. The history of the Ogiek indigenous people of Kenya will never be complete without mention of this historic date, when hundreds of Ogiek graced the premises of the Court and received with euphoria the first of the two judgments. Ultimately, the Court’s decisions are set to change the course of the Ogiek people’s history and direct their destiny along a new path where they can finally realize their rights as an indigenous people.

According to Daniel Kobei of the Ogiek People’s Development Program, ‘what I have noticed in the Ogiek community is their resilience and the spirit of not getting weary of the delays and challenges in getting the government of Kenya to implement the African Court’s orders – the Ogiek remain hopeful that justice will finally come to the Ogiek.’ This is the spirit of the Ogiek as we join with them to commemorate the sixth anniversary of their landmark triumph.

Photo: Ogiek peoples celebrating their victory in Mau forest, Kenya, May 2018. Credit: Lucy Claridge / MRG.