Winner of the International Land Coalition (ILC) Award 2018 The Ogiek Indigenous People won a historic court battle against the Kenyan government.
The Mau forest has always been a source of livelihood for the Ogiek.
Conservation and environmental laws and policies have led to them being prohibited from living and hunting in the forest. The Ogiek have been evicted and marginalised and their forest devastated.
For hundreds of years the Ogiek have relied on the forest for all their food and medicine. They have a profound knowledge of forest resources and gather leafy vegetables and fruit…
…the Ogiek keep log beehives for honey production hidden deep inside the forest, and they hunt small animals for meat. Hunting and gathering is fundamental to their sustenance and depends upon being able to move freely through the forest.
Yet access to the forest has been restricted and the number of animals has decreased.
The Ogiek increasingly rely on non-forest meat. Nevertheless, traditional knowledge and respect for the forest is passed on to the next generation.
The Ogiek have faced a long history of evictions from the Mau Forest starting with colonial appropriation in the 1930s and escalating in the 1990s with irregular allocation of land and dispossession.
Slowly, one by one, people came into the forest and cut down old trees.
Trees have been cut and sold for timber or burned for charcoal. Part of the forest has gone from primary forest to secondary, enabling people to develop land for agriculture. The land was bought and then leased to landless farmers trying to eke out a living.
The landscape is transformed forever.
What used to be primary forest is now open agricultural land. Biodiversity has been sacrificed to industrial crops and landless farmers must rent land from large landowners.
People who used to live deep inside the Mau forest have moved to its outskirts, which hampers access to forest resources. Many Ogiek have adapted and turned to new ways of sustaining their livelihoods by growing crops and raising cattle.
In 2009, a 21-day eviction notice served by the Kenya Forest Service threatened to cause irreparable harm to the Ogiek community.
It was then that the Ogiek decided to litigate.
The Ogiek People's Development Programme (OPDP) petitioned the African Commission. OPDP's complaints led the Commission to conclude that mass rights violations were taking place. In March 2012, the Commission referred the case to the African Court for adjudication.
In 2012, OPDP started documenting offences committed as evidence to support their case with the African Union Commission and the African Court. Permissive laws continued to allow industrial agriculture to advance into Ogiek territory - the landscape was changed irreversibly.
17 years later, the Ogiek people succeeded getting their rights recognised. In May 2017, the African Court found the Kenyan government guilty of violating the Ogiek's rights to property, natural resources, culture, religion, and development and recognised them as an indigenous community.
Despite winning their case, many Ogiek remain without access to the forest. Younger Ogiek have never lived there and have adapted to a different way of life.
The Ogiek are asking for the full implementation of the Court’s ruling, including compensation and reparations.
Now it's up to the Government of Kenya let about 35,000 Ogiek families live freely on their ancestral land.