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Kenya’s High Hills honey gatherers need urgent help

The Ogiek of Mount Elgon and the Sengwer of the Chepkitale hills

"Relief assistance through the Kenya Red Cross .... prevented from reaching the Ogiek. Since then, the roads to Chepkitale have been blocked by KFS officers..."

On 6 June 2000 the Chepkitale moorlands (the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon) were gazetted: the grazing lands and forests where the Ogiek have lived since time immemorial were turned into a game reserve without consulting the Ogiek. They were then forced to abandon their hills, forest, honey, cattle and transhumance and made to live on tiny 2.5 acre land parcels down in the lowlands. Here, dominant neighbouring peoples were given land around them. Whipped up by politicians in the run up to the 2007 elections, these people formed an armed militia gang, the SLDF (Sabaot Land Defence Force), who raped and murdered the Ogiek until they fled back up into the Chepkitale Highlands.

The Ogiek assumed the attacks were in order to take their farmland, but instead they were pursued. The Ogiek tell how, although very outnumbered by the armed SLDF militia, they came down from the Highlands and had no problem forcing the SLDF back, using arrows in self defence and in defence of their land.

Efforts by NGOs to assist the Ogiek have been frustrated by the Provincial Administration. In 2008, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic providing medical assistance to the Ogiek was burnt by the police and Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) rangers. Relief assistance through the Kenya Red Cross was also prevented from reaching the Ogiek. Since then, the roads to Chepkitale have been blocked by KFS officers and vehicles trying to visit the Ogiek have not been allowed through; not even to take pregnant women or seriously ill people to hospital. Meanwhile elephant numbers – reduced to just 50 by poachers while the Ogiek were away – have risen to over 300 within a few years of the Ogiek’s return.

The situation needs to be resolved before the new elections in 2012 when a great deal of power will be devolved to county governments dominated by the same people who seek to dominate both the Ogiek of Mt Elgon and the Sengwer people of the forest glades in the neighbouring Cherangany Hills. The Sengwer and Ogiek lead similar lives and face similar threats: every year all Sengwer homes are burnt by the KFS.

The Ogiek and Sengwer need urgent help to regain their rights to their lands, their forests, and their security. They are seeking the following support:

(i) For their court case against the 2000 expulsion of the Ogiek from their lands.

(ii) To end violations of Ogiek and Sengwer human rights, and deal with the impact of the new constitution.

(iii) For institutional strengthening, and in particular the establishment of a Hunter-Gatherers’ Forum that advocates for the fundamental freedoms, human and indigenous rights of Ogiek, Sengwer and other hunter-gatherer ethnic minority indigenous peoples.

(iv) To petition the World Bank Inspection Panel – already there are notable violations of the Indigenous Peoples Planning Framework (IPPF) Kenya adopted to receive funding for the Natural Resource Management (NRMP) and Western Kenya Flood Mitigation (WKCDD/FMP) projects.

Fred Ngeywo (Ogiek of Mount Elgon) Yator Kiptum (Sengwer Indigenous Development Project), Kanyinke Sena (IPACC, Kenya) and Justin Kenrick (Forest Peoples Programme).

14 April, 2011

Contact: Justin Kenrick