Conserving the Mau Forest: the Ogiek’s fight for their land

Author:- intern Dora Horvath

Kenya is situated on the eastern coast of Africa, bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania. As a coastal state, Kenya’s borders also stretch along the Indian Ocean.

A presidential republic led by Uhuru Kenyatta since 2013, Kenya is home to some 54,685,051 residents, in its 47 counties with the majority of the population concentrated in the western region, along with Lake Victoria. As the country’s GDP is predominantly dependent on agriculture it comes as no surprise that over 48.1% of Kenya’s noteworthy 569.140-kilometer square territory is dedicated to cultivation. Yet, as of 2004, the Government took a strong stance against the Ogiek, a hunter-gatherer community residing within the Mau Forest, by evicting them from their land for what the State sees as activities endangering the conservation efforts of the state’s largest forest. The Mau Forest, which spans across four of Kenya’s counties, Bomet, Kericho, Nakuru, and Narok, plays a vital role in the Kenyan water ecosystem as it provides for the Sondu Miriu, Yala, Nzoia, Mara, and Nyando rivers which supply most of the country’s Western population.

2021 marks the fourth anniversary of the landmark ruling in favor of the Ogiek by the African Court of Human and People’s Rights. The Ogiek, a hunter-gatherer community, who rely on the natural resources of the land for survival, were wrongfully, and violently, evicted from the Mau Forest.
Although evictions in the forest have occurred during the British colonial rule, the efforts to eliminate all human activities within the Mau intensified in the 2010s. In fact, most sources suggest that the vast majority of evictions by the state-established conservation group Kenya Forest Service took place after the court ruling in 2017. Specifically, since 2018, over 50.000 people were forced to abandon their land in the name of conservation is indicated by Government communications. One such comment came from Dr. Chris Kiptoo, the principal secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, who reiterated that the Government’s primary concern is the protection of Kenya’s largest water drainage basin, which is situated at the heart of the Mau Forest. These comments are further substantiated by the installment of fences within the forest by the Kenya Water Towers Agency in January 2021 who, once again, underline the need to shield natural resources from unwanted human activity. The aforementioned is used to justify the Ogiek community’s mistreatment despite the African Court of Human And People’s Rights, the highest Human Rights body in Africa, clearly stating that while environmental degradation has occurred in the Mau Forest, it was not caused by the Ogiek people’s activities. 

As the process draws out, the Kenyan Government leaves some 50.000 people of the Ogiek community already evicted since 2004 to fend for themselves, with many currently residing in temporary camps. Despite having a rightful claim to the Mau Forest territory, the Ogiek are to this day unable to return to their land. Every day 50,000 people are waiting for justice to be delivered. 

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