In the heart of the lush Mau Forest in Kenya, the Ogiek have woven their lives intricately with the whispers of the ancient trees.

For generations, this verdant expanse has served as more than just a habitat; it’s been a canvas for their existence as hunters and gatherers.

However, a recent government decree has cast a shadow over this symbiotic relationship, pushing the Ogiek towards an uncertain future.

The Kenyan government’s call for the Ogiek to relocate from the forest, framed as an environmental necessity, is sending ripples through the roots of their traditional lifestyle.

As the government seeks to reclaim the Mau Forest Complex, citing concerns of encroachment and destruction to its vital water tower, the Ogiek find themselves at the intersection of conservation and cultural survival.

In the midst of this environmental tug-of-war, the Ogiek of Sasimwani, numbering at least 700, is facing an imminent humanitarian crisis.

Despite previous court rulings that temporarily halted such eviction exercises, the government’s relentless push to clear the forest leaves the Ogiek feeling like strangers in their own land.

“The Ogiek of Sasimwani are living in despair and feeling like aliens in their own country,” said Daniel Kobei, the Director of the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme.

He recounted the destruction of their homes, a silent spectacle where victory in an African Court case seemed to fall on deaf ears.

In 2017, the Ogiek achieved a landmark legal triumph, with the African Court of Human and People’s Rights affirming their right to the land and condemning the government’s violation of their rights through eviction attempts.

A section of Ogiek community being evicted. Image: courtesy.
A section of Ogiek community being evicted. Image: courtesy.

Despite the court’s clear stance, the Kenyan government’s actions remain in stark contrast to the rulings.

The court not only mandated reparations for past evictions but also instructed the government to consult the Ogiek on any projects affecting their land.

Lucy Claridge, Director of the International Lawyers Project, who has represented the Ogiek since 2010, said the Court was very clear that the Ogiek are the owners of this land, and that the Government must return it to them, through a fully consultative process.

Yet, the wheels of eviction continued to turn. On October 26, the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme published a chilling statement, revealing that local authorities had ordered the community to vacate their ancestral lands.

Despite efforts by Ogiek elders to engage in dialogue with various authorities, the evictions unfolded a week later, leaving the community in a state of fear and uncertainty.

“We are living in absolute fear,” said Daniel Kobei, echoing the desperate plea for justice. “We are calling on the Kenyan government to respect the rule of law, the African Court, and the law of the Ogiek Community, and leave these lands in Ogiek hands.”

In a poignant statement published recently, the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme urgently called upon local and international entities to intervene, preventing a looming humanitarian crisis.

They also drew attention to international funders who, in their efforts to protect Kenya’s water towers and natural areas, might inadvertently be supporting human rights violations instead of genuine conservation efforts.

Eunice Chepkemoi, a member of the Ogiek of Mau community and the East Africa Women-Led Assemblies, shed light on the complexities at play.

“It is the government trading with our environment, our land, disconnecting us from our environment,” she asserted.

Allegations surfaced that climate-related funds and projects might be catalysts for these evictions, plunging the Ogiek community into a cycle of suffering.

As the government’s actions reverberate through the ancient groves of the Mau Forest, the Ogiek find themselves entangled in a struggle for the preservation of their culture, their home, and their very identity.

The verdant canvas that once embraced their way of life now bears the brushstrokes of uncertainty, as the Ogiek stand resilient in the face of an impending storm.