• Indigenous peoples in Kenya

    Indigenous peoples in Kenya

    The indigenous peoples in Kenya include hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek, Sengwer, Yaaku Waata and Sanya, while pastoralists include the Endorois, Turkana, Maasai, Samburu and others.
    Kenya has no specific legislation on indigenous peoples and has yet to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Peoples

    79,000 people in Kenya are hunter-gatherers.
    25 per cent of Kenya's population belong to pastoralist groups.
  • Land rights

    26 May 2017, the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights judged in favor of the Ogiek community of Kenya. The judgement was a historic victory for the Ogiek, who were acknowledged as indigenous and won both compensation from the government of Kenya and the right to stay in the Mau forest.
  • Rights

    Kenya has no specific legislation on indigenous peoples and has yet to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169

Kenya

Indigenous peoples in Kenya

 

The indigenous peoples in Kenya include hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek, Sengwer, Yaaku Waata and Sanya, while pastoralists include the Endorois, Turkana, Maasai, Samburu and others. Kenya has no specific legislation on indigenous peoples and has yet to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The indigenous peoples in Kenya face land and resource scarcity and insecurity, poor services and discrimination.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples not adopted

Kenya has no specific legislation on indigenous peoples and has yet to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169.

However, Kenya has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Chapter Four of the Kenyan Constitution contains a progressive Bill of Rights that makes international law a key component of the laws of Kenya and guarantees protection of minorities and marginalized groups. Under Articles 33, 34, 35 and 36, freedom of expression, the media, and access to information and association are guaranteed. However, the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) remains unrealized in Kenya.

Indigenous peoples in Kenya

In Kenya, the peoples who identify with the indigenous movement are mainly pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, as well as some fisher peoples and small farming communities. Pastoralists are estimated to comprise 25 percent of the national population, while the largest individual community of hunter-gatherers numbers approximately 79,000.

Pastoralists mostly occupy the arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya and towards the border between Kenya and Tanzania in the south.

Hunter-gatherers include the Ogiek, Sengwer, Yiaku, Waata and Aweer (Boni), while pastoralists include the Turkana, Rendille, Borana, Maasai, Samburu, Ilchamus, Somali, Gabra, Pokot, Endorois and others.

Main challenges for indigenous peoples in Kenya

The indigenous peoples in Kenya all face land and resource tenure insecurity, poor service delivery, poor political representation, discrimination and exclusion. The situation of the indigenous peoples seems to get worse each year, with increasing competition for resources in their areas.

Drought forms one of the major disruptions and devastating natural occurrences affecting Kenya’s indigenous peoples, who depend largely on the environment and traditional production modes for their food security and general well-being. In 2016, 23 of Kenya’s 47 counties were reported to be affected by drought and famine. The counties hardest hit by drought and famine included Turkana Marsabit, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Isiolo, Samburu and Mandera - all inhabited by indigenous peoples, who are mainly pastoralists.

Kenya’s indigenous women are confronted by multifaceted social, cultural, economic and political constraints and challenges. Firstly, by belonging to minority and marginalized peoples nationally; and secondly, through internal social cultural prejudices.

Promising progress: Community Land Act

After many years of debate and consultations, a Community Land Act was finally adopted in 2016, giving effect to Article 63 (5) of the new Constitution.

The Community Land Act came into effect on 21 September 2016, thereby legally recognizing community tenure and officially marking the transition from Trust Land and Group Ranch tenures. The Community Land Act is potentially a very important piece of legislation for indigenous peoples in Kenya due to the fact that most communities under the community land regime are pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.

Still, one of the key challenges with the Community Land Act is the fact that the Constitution of Kenya itself, which forms the mother law of the Community Land Act, lacks clarity over precisely what community land is - especially in areas where there exist overlaps with public land.

Despite strong recommendations from indigenous peoples during the consultation processes, the Community Land Act has not delivered clarity on what can be registered as community lands - and whether community lands take precedence over public lands.

Case: Ogiek and Endorois victories

The Ogiek peoples took their case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has referred it to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The final judgement was a historic victory for the Ogiek, who were acknowledged as indigenous and won both compensation from the government of Kenya and the right to stay in the Mau forest. 

The Endorois people are still waiting for implementation of the progressive decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights relating to the takeover of their land around Lake Bogoria for the establishment of a national park.

Indigenous peoples’ rights violated in the name of conservation

Conservation of bio-diversity appears to come at a price. But who really bears this cost?

The current friction which exists between conservation policies and indigenous communities is evident in the experiences of the Sengwer and Ogiek peoples in Kenya. Cherangani Hills in western Kenya, is home to several indigenous peoples including the Sengwer community. However, Kenya's conservation policies have resulted in alienation of indigenous peoples from their lands.

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African Court to hear Ogiek community land rights case against the Kenyan government

The Ogiek are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling communities and one of the most marginalised indigenous peoples in Kenya. The Ogiek allege violation of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture by the Kenyan government under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Kenya is a signatory.

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Kenya: Landmark decision recognizes Ogiek community as indigenous right-holders

In a landmark decision, the court of Kenya identifies the Ogiek community of Mau forest as both indigenous and minority, using ILO 169 definition of Indigenous Peoples . The decision affirms that the community has been and continues to be discriminated against through evictions and that their rights to livelihoods based on hunting and gathering cultural traditions have been threatened. We are happy to see that according to this decision the Ogiek community should be resettled in their ancestral home within a year.

About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Download here.

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