The Government has suffered a major blow in its bid to kick out the Ogiek community from the expansive Mau Forest after the African Court ruled it had infringed on their rights. The court yesterday found Kenya had breached its agreement with other African countries of ensuring all persons were treated equally and their rights respected.
In the case filed in 2006, the Ogieks complained that Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials issued them with notices to vacate the forest without factoring in how this would affect their lives. Court documents show that KFS officers then invaded the forest, destroyed properties and beat up those who resisted evacuation.
Justice Sylvain Ore and his team sitting at the Arusha based court heard that Mau Forest had been a part of the Ogiek community ancestral land for decades and thus the Kenya Government was not justified to kick them out.
“They rely on the contested land and the forest for their livelihood which includes food,” the court heard.
Through Attorney General Githu Muigai, Kenya argued that the indigenous community had not eroded all the channels of settling the disputes in the country. The AG also argued that the Ogiek had changed from its customs to modern ones and thus they were a danger to the flora and fauna in the forest.
Meanwhile, the Ogiek community living in Nakuru County have applauded the historical judgement.
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“For the Ogiek, this is history in the making. The issue of Ogiek land rights has finally been heard and the ruling has made them feel relevant,” said Daniel Kobei, Executive Director of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program.
According to Kobei the ruling would impact heavily in the Kenyan government’s management of the Mau Forest where some of the 35,000 Ogiek families reside.
“The Ogiek are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and among the most marginalized indigenous people,” he said. The court ordered Kenya to ensure the Ogieks are compensated and report progress in 60 days.