Hopes by members of the Ogiek community of returning to their ancestral land in the Mau Forest complex have been thrown into limbo amid fresh evictions from the water tower.
The implementation of a landmark judgement, delivered on May 26, 2017 by the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which directed the Kenyan government to resettle thousands of members of the community, now appears to have run into headwinds, with the government instead determined to evict thousands of settlers from Mau Forest.
An exclusive interview with leaders of the Ogiek, revealed that members of the community are apprehensive and worried that the implementation process might be derailed following the recent developments.
According to Mr Joseph Towett, the Ogiek Council of Elders chairman, justice for the Ogiek has been delayed and remains elusive.
“The government has been renewing the term of the taskforce since last year. We are yet to see even an interim report by the team. Justice delayed is justice denied. We are very apprehensive that the same government evicting settlers from the Mau Forest Complex, will honour the judgement,” Mr Towett told the Nation.
NO DIALOGUE YET
Another leader, James Cheruiyoit, expressed his apprehension, saying the taskforce formed by Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, appears to be buying time, but is not ready to implement the judgement.
“The taskforce is yet to fully involve us as they spearhead implementation of the court ruling. We haven’t seen serious dialogue with the community,” added Mr Cheruiyoit.
The leaders are apprehensive and doubt the government’s commitment to implement the historic judgement.
The government, which is fighting encroachment into water catchment areas, seemingly appears reluctant to implement the ruling.
Since 2018, the government has stepped up its bid to evict illegal settlers from the Mau Forest complex, before the bid was slowed down by political bickering.
However, after the first phase of the evictions, CS Tobiko has now stepped up a second phase which he says is aimed at reclaiming the key water tower that is the source of many rivers that support millions of lives in the region.
CS Tobiko has maintained that the second phase of Mau Forest restoration will not be negotiable, days after he announced the cancellation of at least 1,200 title deeds which he said were obtained through unscrupulous means.
Five ranches which are believed to have extended their land into the water tower are being targeted for reclamation.
The second phase of the evictions has Nkoben, Ilmotiok and Ololung'a, Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian areas on the radar.
The Ogiek community has now threatened to go back to the Arusha court if the government derails the implementation of the judgement.
“The best option we will have as a community will be to go back to the Arusha-based continental court to seek reparations and sue the government for contempt of court. We continue to suffer even after the court directed the Kenyan government to remedy all the violations established within six months of the judgement,” Mr Towett further told the Nation.
Others who have been pushing for implementation of the Arusha judgement include Mr Daniel Kobei, the Executive Director of Ogiek Peoples' Development Programme (OPDP), a Kenyan-based NGO that brought the case against the Kenyan government before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2009.
The commission then referred the case to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) in 2012.
The Ogiek argue that if resettled in their ancestral land, they will protect and take care of the Mau water tower through community forest protection associations.
The forest dwellers survived mainly on wild fruits and roots, game hunting and traditional bee-keeping.
The African court, in its judgement issued against the government of Kenya in respect of the rights of the Ogiek, found that the 35,000-member forest-dwelling community were illegally evicted from their ancestral land in the water catchment tower and that their rights were violated.
The court also found that the community 's rights on religion, life, property, culture, development and non-discrimination were violated during the eviction exercise after they resisted.
The African court in its findings last year, said the Ogiek were not consulted about the evictions they suffered.
The court delivered the major victory for the Ogiek following repeated evictions from their ancestral land in the Mau Forest.
It ordered the government “to take all appropriate measures within a reasonable time frame to remedy all the violations established” and inform it of the progress within six months.
The court asked the Ogiek to file their requests for reparations.
However, two years later, little has been achieved. Justice for the Ogiek remains elusive.
The nearly 35,000 Ogiek who are victims in the landmark case, have been living in the Mau Forest complex.
Ms Lucy Claridge, a London based lawyer litigated the case before the African Court on behalf of the indigenous Ogiek.
The government on November 10, 2017, through the Environment and Forestry Ministry, gazetted a taskforce to implement the judgement.
The Task Force comprises officials from the offices of the President and Deputy President, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Land and Physical Planning, the National Treasury, the office of the Attorney-General, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, the National Land Commission, the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Kenya Forest Service.
Under its mandate, the task force is required to study the judgment of the African court and any other local judgments related to the case as well as relevant laws and policies, and to establish the status of the land in question.
The Dr Robert Kibugi-led taskforce is charged with recommending measures to provide redress to the Ogiek, which could include restitution, compensation or the provision of alternative land.
The task force is also mandated to conduct studies and public awareness on indigenous peoples’ rights.
In March this year, the National Land Commission (NLC) recommended that claims of historical injustices against the hunter-gatherer people who lived in the Mau Forest complex be conclusively addressed.
NLC in a gazette notice, allowed the claim by the Ogiek and recommended that the matter be handled by the taskforce formed by the government to implement a judgment by the Arusha-based court issued against the Kenyan government in May 2017.
“The claims by members of the Ogiek are allowed and are hereby forwarded to the Kenyan government task force formed to implement the Arusha based African court's verdict,” read the gazette notice.