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Hope 'shattered' for Kenya's forest people three years after landmark ruling

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 16:58 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: General view of tree stumps and vegetation at the Mau forest, August, 26, 2008. Picture taken August, 26, 2008. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (KENYA)

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The African Court on Human and People's Rights ruled Kenya had violated the Ogiek people's right to live in the Mau Forest

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya's indigenous Ogiek people are being harassed and threatened with eviction from the country's largest forest, despite a landmark court ruling three years ago recognising their right over their ancestral land, activists said.

The African Court on Human and People's Rights - Africa's highest human rights body - ruled on May 26, 2017 that Kenya had violated the Ogiek's right to live in the Mau Forest in the central Rift Valley, by attempting to expel them from the area.

But three years on, attempts to resolve the issue through the appointment of various government task-forces have failed, said campaigners, leaving the Ogiek to face continued harassment and eviction threats from forest officials.

The interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment but the government has justified previous evictions on the grounds of environmental conservation.

Daniel Kobei, executive director of the Ogiek People's Development Program, said the community was anxious and needed a resolution soon.

"The judgment called for the government to respect our rights, formally recognise our time-immemorial title, enhance our participation in the sustainable management of the forests," he said in a report launched on Tuesday.

"This renewed hope lies shattered as this task-force appears to have made no progress."

About 45,000 Ogiek people depend on the Mau forest for their traditional livelihoods, including hunting game and gathering plants for foods and medicinal use.

Since colonial times, they have faced repeated evictions, while their land has been allocated to other communities for political rand used for commercial purposes, including logging.

The Kenyan government has said the Ogiek's removal was necessary to protect the Mau Forest, which is known as the east African nation's "water tower" because it channels rainwater into a dozen major rivers and lakes.

Land has been an explosive issue in Kenya since the colonial era, with government reports showing corrupt officials have allocated large parcels to reward supporters and win votes.

Since Kenya's independence in 1963, the Mau forest has lost almost 37% of its original area to unchecked settlement, illegal logging and the burning of charcoal - with the greatest losses recorded in 2001/2, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Lucy Claridge, senior counsel at the Forest Peoples Programme, called on Kenyan authorities to act quickly.

"The Kenyan Government has declared its commitment to the implementation of the Ogiek judgment, but this will require a systemic change in policy and practice towards all its indigenous communities," said Claridge.

"It requires action, not words."

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(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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