African report blames Kenya over abuses facing small communities

Thursday April 5 2012

FILE |  NATION Ms Grace Chesimit shows pieces of iron sheet that were destroyed by hired goons at Ngongogeri farm in Mau Forest. Members of the Ogiek community were being evicted three years ago

FILE | NATION Ms Grace Chesimit shows pieces of iron sheet that were destroyed by hired goons at Ngongogeri farm in Mau Forest. Members of the Ogiek community were being evicted three years ago 

By JEREMIAH KIPLANG’AT [email protected]

The government has come under fire for ignoring matters raised by the minority communities in Kenya, forcing them to look for reparation elsewhere.

Endorois and Nubians have contacted the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights after failing to get full address from local institutions.

But newly appointed Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Eugene Wamalwa has downplayed the criticism, and promised minority communities of his ministry’s readiness to involve them in national matters.

The minister said this on Tuesday when he received a report by African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Communities, an affiliate of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

The report detailed problems facing the communities, saying they were yet to receive adequate attention from government two years after the passage of the new constitution that was popularised as all-inclusive by its proponents.

The report already adopted by ACHPR revealed that the more than a dozen communities face “serious problems that continue to threaten their existence” and an aloof government that is yet to come up with tangible policies to provide for their needs.

The communities among them Ilchamus, Elmolo, Munyoyaya, Waata, Borana, Sengwer, Orma, Njemps, Endorois, Turkana and Nubians have similar complaints against past and present regimes.

They include denial of access to their ancestral land, lack of representation in the three arms of government, and government’s inability to give them basic social necessities such as education, health and food.

“The most serious threat comes from the land grabbing of their ancestral pieces of land,” the new report launched on Tuesday says. It also takes issue with the government strong stance against the cases taken to court by the minority communities.

“One of the findings is the harsh measures that the government of Kenya has adopted against indigenous communities who have taken their case to the Kenyan courts.”

It gives the case study of the Ogieks who inhabited the Mau Forest “for millennia” but now the government insists on evicting them from this ancestral home in a bid to conserve the water tower.

The Ogieks resisted the move but the High Court threw out their case in 2000 dealing a painful blow to the community’s fight to live in the forest.

Despite the marginalisation captured in the report, Mr Wamalwa extended an olive branch to the communities saying his first mission as the minister was to ensure that they were involved in national matters as well as resolving injustices meted against them in the past.

He said he was well versed with the long-standing issues raised by the report and that he would use his present position to help the communities fend off the existing notion that they were not belonging enough to participate in national affairs.

“As a practising lawyer, I would heed to the requirements of the new constitution,” Mr Wamalwa said when he received the report presented to him by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights acting chairman Samuel Tororei.

KNCHR helped the Working Group get information they were searching for about the minority groups in addition to organising meetings with members of the communities and relevant government officials.

Dr Tororei said that “indigenous people claims were often understood as hostile demands” hence their frequent marginalisation.

The report also cited one other predicament facing these groups of people as “the lack of access to justice” a problem Mr Wamalwa attributed to the old constitution that did not provide room for the participation of the minority groups in national affairs.

But he said he was ready to take advantage of the provisions in the Bill of Rights of the new constitution promulgated in 2010.

“Henceforth, there will be no more inhuman evictions nor any other ruthless displacements witnessed in the past,” the minister, who is also in charge of national healing and integration said.

In 2009, the Endorois took their discrimination case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights after failing to get recourse in the Kenya’s judicial system.

The community listed a number of accusations including displacement from their ancestral land, inadequate compensation by government, disruption of the community’s pastoral enterprise and violation of the right to practice their religion and culture.

The Commission ruled in their favour. It asked that the Endorois land be recognised and given back to them. They were also allowed unrestricted access to Lake Bogoria and they were supposed to be compensated for losses suffered and receive royalties from existing economic activities within their territory.

The favourable ruling is yet to be implemented and the government has been accused of dilly-dallying even as the Endorois continue to suffer.

Endorois Welfare Council secretary Wilson Kipkazi said they were yet to wholesomely taste the fruits of the ruling by the ACHPR.

“The former minister for Justice Mutula Kilonzo promised that the directions by the Commission would be fully implemented as soon as possible. That has not happened,” Mr Kipkazi said.

He urged Mr Wamalwa to provide a forum where indigenous communities would share their challenges with the ministry in a bid to formulate satisfactory ways to ensure their better existence.

Mr Wamalwa regretted the length of time taken to implement the ruling but expressed his willingness to fast track its implementation.