In Kenya, the Ogiek indigenous group has long inhabited the Mau mountain forest near the Rift Valley. Since colonization, this primarily hunter-gatherer group has faced increasing marginalization. New laws prohibiting the hunting of wild animals and the exploitation of the forest by loggers and plantation owners threaten their survival. In 2005, Kenyan police forces set fire to some Ogiek communities, leaving many homeless. However, the 20,000-strong Ogiek have attained political representation and are seeking to amend Kenya’s Constitution to include protection of their rights and to prevent their eviction from traditional lands.
Moses Cheboi, a member of Parliament, represents the Ogiek, among other tribes and sub-tribes from the Kalinjin community. He spoke with English to Africa’s about the issues facing the Ogiek.
“They’ve had problems with different administrations right from the colonial era. They never actually owned land. The governments have also not recognized their right of ownership…. They have been subjected consistently to eviction from forested areas. Last year they were issued title deeds. But not all of them got land…. Now that they are in new settlement areas they need some action that would make them come up economically.”
He says the government has neglected this group – from lack of education to poor social welfare. “The government has not directed any specific resources to them, unlike the communities in northern Kenya, where the government has pumped in some money…. We are unable to cope with the difficulties so this is a community that needs some…affirmative action to come to par with the rest of Kenya.”
Despite the rejection of constitutional propositions that would have helped the Ogiek, Cheboi is not giving up. “The current Constitution does not recognize the issue of the minority rights…so as we fight to have a new Constitution we remain at a very disadvantaged position.”
Cheboi says the Ogiek’s interests need to be represented in every institution to help improve their lives. “Even socially, their own cultures are fast fading…. We are proposing…that they get representation not through competitions because they do not form a majority.”
He says the first step is the preservation of their lands: “Ogieks don’t have anywhere to go…. This is a community which has for quite a long time conserved the forests…. So we have a problem with not having anywhere to live.”
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