Kenya government illegally evicts Ogiek from their ancestral forests during King Charles’s state visit

November 3, 2023

An Ogiek home burned to the ground during illegal and brutal evictions by the Kenyan authorities. © Anon

In the midst of King Charles’s state visit to Kenya, local authorities have begun brutal evictions of the Ogiek people from their homes in the Mau Forest.

Rangers from the Kenyan Forestry Service and Kenyan Wildlife Service in collaboration with the Kenyan police are illegally evicting up to 700 Ogiek people from their homes in the name of conservation. Footage and images show Ogiek homes destroyed, some even burned to the ground.

It has been reported that rangers are forcing some Ogiek people to tear down their homes themselves, in an attempt to claim that the communities are leaving voluntarily.

Daniel Kobei, Ogiek spokesman and chair of the Ogiek People’s Development Program (OPDP) said today: "We want to tell King Charles to say to the President of Kenya 'respect the law. Ogiek of Mau must get their land rights.'” He added that the Ogiek “are living in absolute fear” and “have nowhere to turn”.

The OPDP has described the evictions as a “humanitarian crisis.” Ogiek elders have tried to engage with government bodies to stop the evictions but to no avail. Some claim that the evictions are related to the carbon credits market that Kenya’s government has been promoting during the recent Africa Climate Summit 2023.

Ogiek woman Elisabeth Tabinoy sits in front of the remains of her torched and smashed home after a previous eviction. Ngongeri, Njoro, Kenya. © Lewis Davies/Survival

Over the years, Kenya’s authorities have carried out many violent and brutal evictions of the Ogiek, destroying homes and property and even killing Ogiek who tried to rescue their property. Ogiek land was handed out to third parties and political cronies who logged much of the forest for substantial profits.

As a result, the Ogiek went to court to assert their land rights and won.  Two landmark rulings by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) upheld the Ogiek’s land rights in the Mau Forest. The 2017 ruling found that the government had violated the Ogiek’s land rights, and explicitly recognized the Ogiek’s crucial role in conserving and protecting the Mau Forest.

In blatant violation of the ACHPR ruling the Kenyan government continued to evict Ogiek communities from the Mau Forest. The Ogiek took their case to the African Court again. In 2022 the Court delivered a reparations ruling setting out what the government owed to the Ogiek for not complying with the 2017 ruling.

The Ogiek are a hunter gatherer people numbering between 20,000 and 30,000. They have lived in the west-central Kenya highlands since time immemorial. Some live deep in the forests, despite government attempts to curtail their hunting. Others have become more settled and grow crops and keep livestock.

The British colonial administration evicted many Ogiek communities during the 1920s - 1940s, with no consultation or compensation, to create game parks and forest reserves. Since independence, various Kenya governments have carried on with this policy, forcing many Ogiek to become “conservation refugees”.

The evictions are typical of the widespread “fortress conservation”, colonial, approach to protecting the environment, which views Indigenous people as a threat to nature; drives them out of their land; and militarizes it to prevent them returning, even though they are the best guardians of the natural world.

Survival condemns the Kenya government’s illegal actions, evictions and harassment of the Ogiek, and its violations of the ACHPR rulings. We call on the authorities to uphold the rule of law and recognize the Ogiek’s land ownership rights, and to compensate communities who have suffered repeated attacks and destruction of their property.