Kenya: Victory for Ogiek tribe in historic court ruling

An Ogiek man prepares his bow and arrows.
An Ogiek man prepares his bow and arrows.
© Yoshi Shimizu

In a landmark decision, the African Court has ruled that the government of Kenya violated the rights of the Ogiek tribe by repeatedly evicting them from their ancestral lands.

The court found that the government had broken seven articles of the African Charter and ordered it to take “all appropriate measures” to remedy the violations.

The Ogiek had sued the government for violations to their right to life, natural resources, religion, culture, property, development and non-discrimination.

The case was brought by the Ogiek Peoples Development Program (OPDP), the Center for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) and Minority Rights Group International, and was first lodged eight years ago.

Daniel Kobei, director of OPDP said: “For the Ogiek, this is history in the making. The issue of Ogiek land rights has finally been heard and the case has empowered them to feel relevant… This is a chance for the government to restore the Mau [Forest] and to restore the dignity of the Ogiek people".

The Ogiek are a hunter-gatherer tribe who have lived in the Mau Forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley since time immemorial.

They have suffered a long history of discrimination and eviction from their land from colonial times to the present.

This woman's home was demolished during illegal evictions from Ogiek ancestral land.
This woman's home was demolished during illegal evictions from Ogiek ancestral land.
© Survival

Much of the Ogiek’s rich forest has been invaded and destroyed by outsiders, and converted into logging concessions. Some government officials even attempted to justify the evictions in the name of conservation, by falsely accusing the tribe of destroying the forest.

Evictions are often violent and Ogiek people have been killed and had their homes burned. They have never been consulted about the evictions nor received any compensation.

Last month a UN body expressed its concern over Kenya’s treatment of hunter-gatherer tribes, and called on the government to: “Ensure legal acknowledgement of the collective rights of the Sengwer, the Endorois, the Ogiek and other indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their lands, resources and communal territories”.

It is hoped the ruling will set an important precedent for other indigenous land rights cases in Africa.