Africa

Kenyan authorities brutally evict Ogiek during King Charles’s state visit

Footage and images show Ogiek homes destroyed, some even burnt to the ground

 
By Fiona Watson
Published: Thursday 09 November 2023
Photo: From video shared by @Brian_J_Keane / X (formerly Twitter)__

Local authorities in Kenya have begun brutal evictions of the Ogiek people from their homes in the Mau Forest amid the state visit of United Kingdom’s King Charles.

Rangers from the Kenyan Forestry Service and Kenya Wildlife Service, in collaboration with the Kenyan police, are illegally evicting up to 700 Ogiek people from their homes in the name of conservation. Footage and images show Ogiek homes destroyed, some even burnt to the ground.

It has been reported that rangers are forcing some Ogiek people to tear down their homes themselves, in an attempt to claim that the communities are leaving voluntarily.

Daniel Kobei, Ogiek spokesman and chair of the Ogiek People’s Development Program (OPDP), said the Ogiek “are living in absolute fear” and “have nowhere to turn… Ogiek of Mau must get their land rights”.

In a video directed at President Ruto, Ogiek elder Esther Ngusilo said: “I have nowhere to go. We were on this land a long time ago… Now where will we Ogiek go? Show us where we should go, as we are not leaving! …. Our children were born here. We have buried our parents here. Everyone is buried here.”

The OPDP has described the evictions as a “humanitarian crisis”. Ogiek elders have tried to engage with government bodies to stop the evictions but to no avail. Some claim that the evictions are related to the carbon credits market that Kenya’s government has been promoting during the recent Africa Climate Summit 2023.

Over the years, Kenya’s authorities have carried out many violent and brutal evictions of the Ogiek, destroying homes and property, and even killing Ogiek who tried to rescue their property. Ogiek land was handed out to third parties and political cronies who logged much of the forest for substantial profits. Individuals have also grabbed Ogiek land to grow cash crops for export. As a result, many Ogiek have become more settled and grow crops in gardens and keep some  livestock.

The Ogiek have gone to court to assert their land rights and won. Two landmark rulings by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) upheld the Ogiek’s land rights in the Mau Forest. The 2017 ruling found that the government had violated the Ogiek’s land rights, and explicitly recognised the Ogiek’s crucial role in conserving and protecting the Mau Forest.

In blatant violation of the ACHPR ruling the Kenyan government continued to evict Ogiek communities from the Mau Forest. The Ogiek took their case to the African Court again. 

In 2022, the Court delivered a reparations ruling setting out what the government owed to the Ogiek for not complying with the 2017 ruling.

The Ogiek are a hunter gatherer people numbering between 20,000 and 30,000 and live in different clans. Each clan has a totem animal that its members protect and never hunt. 

They have lived in the west-central Kenya highlands since time immemorial. Some live deep in the forests, despite government attempts to curtail their hunting. 

The Ogiek are famed as expert honey collectors. The beekeepers move between different forest zones gathering the honey from large beehives placed in the trees, according to the three main honey seasons. 

Ogiek forests are an important source of medicinal plants used to treat a variety of illnesses. However, due to the destruction of their forests, Ogiek herbalists are finding fewer plants to treat illness, which has impacted on people’s health and well-being. 

The British colonial administration evicted many Ogiek communities during the 1920s-1940s, with no consultation or compensation, to create game parks and forest reserves. Since independence, various Kenya governments have carried on with this policy, forcing many Ogiek to become “conservation refugees”.  

The authorities started to evict the Ogiek in early November during the state visit of the UK’s King Charles, when he visited Nairobi National Park to witness the work of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The evictions are typical of the widespread “fortress conservation”, a colonial approach to protecting the environment, which views Indigenous people as a threat to nature; drives them out of their land; and militarises it to prevent them returning, even though they are the best guardians of the natural world. In the case of the Ogiek, they have conserved their forest lands for hundreds of years.

Survival International, an independent movement for tribal rights, condemned the Kenya government’s illegal actions, evictions and harassment of the Ogiek, and its violations of the ACHPR rulings. We call on the authorities to uphold the rule of law and recognise the Ogiek’s land ownership rights, and to compensate communities who have suffered repeated attacks and destruction of their property.

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