The Ogiek are an indigenous people that live in and around the Mau Forest, an area of 900 square kilometers (550 square miles) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and in the forests around Mt. Elgon at the border to Uganda.The Ogiek are a hunter-gatherer community living in the forest practicing selective hunting of animals that are not endangered. These animals are hunted for food, not for sport but due to the destruction of their natural habitat, they are slowly embracing other livelihoods like cattle keeping and crop farming.
The Ogiek are estimated to be around 30,000 spread across different forest blocks in 5 different counties in Kenya. Majority are found in Nakuru County in Mau forest. Others are found in Mt Elgon forest, Kipkuruere forest, Koibatek forest and Kinale forest. The KinaleOgiekhas since been assimilated among the Agikuyu community of Kiambu.
For decades, the Ogiek have fought with different government regimes since colonial times. First, they fought with the British colonial Governemnt and the successive post colonialKenyan regimes over the right to inhabit the Mau Forest, where they have lived since time immemorial. Over the years, the Kenyan government has insisted that the area is a forest zone and environmentally protected under the Forest Act until 1997 when the KANU government hived part of the Mau forest ostensibly to “settle” the Ogiek community in their ancestral land. This however, never materialized as it was a scheme hatched to dispossess the community of their rights and reward the loyal government operatives and their tribesmen. The Ogiek believe that they have a right to live in what they consider to be their ancestral home and that they want to own thee land communally as was their tradition.
For years, Ogiekhave petitioned the successive governments to address the historical land injustices which date back to 1930s but this was never to be. This resulted into the community taking the Government to Court over the same In 1997 to stop Kenyan officials from surveying and allocating the Ogiek's land to non Ogiek. They wanted a declaration that their right to life had been violated by being dispossessed from their ancestral lands/forests. The case was disposed in 2014, after 17 years, with a judgement that required the Government through the National Land Commission to give the community their land back. This has however, not been effected, almost two years down the line. This has been compounded by lack of a strong and vibrant community organization to press for the implementation of the court judgement.
The Constitution of Kenya has recognized the challenges faced by the Ogiek and other Kenyan marginalized communities. This is by defining what is community land and aso addressing the issue of representation in governance structures. However, the subsequent laws/Acts to actionize the constitution has not been given a priority and there is no participation from the marginalized communities. The Community Land Bill has been prepared with little input from the Ogiek Community. While Article 100 of the Constitution requires for an Act to be prepared by parliament by the year 2015 (Schedule 5 of the Constitution) to address the issue of political representation of the minority and marginalized communities, this is yet to happen
Challenges and problems faced by the Ogiek Community
The following sums up the issues, challenges and problems faced by the community;
Ø There is high Illiteracy among the youthful population due to cultural lifestyle of life (Hunter-gatherer) and lack of education facilities.
Ø Historical land injustices – the community has over the years lost their land rights to other domineering communities who are politically connected. Due to their small population, the Ogiek are regarded as insignificant politically and their cries do not attract justice from the leadership and relevant institutions.
Ø Early marriages and FGM–high poverty rates coupled with cultural stereotypes associated with FGM and high illiteracy rates drives teenagers into family life at early stages of life. This has also been catalyzed by lack of role models in the community.
Ø Assimilation and cultural erosion- the invasion of Ogiek land by other dominant communities has led to serious assimilation of the community members as well as erosion of their cultural identities in all Ogiek inhabited areas a
Ø Employment opportunities – due to low bargaining power of the community as a result of their small population, the Ogiek are being marginalized in Key Government Positions and political representation in both County and National Governments.
Ø Destruction of livelihoods and cultural shrines – the clearance of the indigenous forests by successive regimes and replacing with exotic plantations has deprived the community of its livelihood in terms of honey gathering as well as hunting. Commercialization of the forests and forest fires as a result of charcoal burning activities has also led to destruction of cultural shrines.
Ø Limited development opportunities – as a result of low population, the successive governments have ignored the areas inhabited by the Ogiek by depriving them of key infrastructures like roads, education, health, water and other social amenities. This has led to increased poverty and high mortality rates among the Ogiek leading to low population.
2)Preparing a Traditional Smoker for honey harvesting
1) Ogiek men climbing a tree to harvest honey
3) An ogiek elder acending to his hive to harvest honey
4) Ogiek cultural exhibition Sponsored by Alexander Eichner,an ogiek friend
Establish and support the community in planting of indigenous trees.
Supplement the traditional beehives with modern beehives and modern bee keeping techniques.
Advocate for communal land ownership to promote traditional conservation of forest resources.
initiate entrepreneurship spirits among the youth
Mentorship programs for the youths to take up leadership positions.
Establish a bursary scheme for needy students.
Carry out anti-FGM campaigns.
Plan academic tours and exchange programs for the youths.
Engage the youths with sports tournaments.
Research and documentation of traditional knowledge of conservation.
Hold regular press conferences and advocacy programs through print media.
Lobbying political leadership and relevant institutions on Ogiek matters at County and National Government as well as at International level.
Establishment of Ogiek cultural centre.
Documentation of the Ogiek language and history.
Lobby for resources for infrastructural development.