In Defence of a Minority Tribe Fighting for Survival
A book review, African Church Information Service, 3 July 2001
Title: The Ogiek - The on-Going Destruction of a Minority
Tribe in Kenya;
Nairobi—The Ogiek a.k.a Dorobo, is a small tribe inhabiting the expansive Mau forests in central part of Kenya's Rift Valley province.
Over the years, the small "tribe" has found itself homeless following the gazetting of all forestland in Kenya by both the colonial and the post-independent governments.
John Kamau, the author is a freelance journalist based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and specializes on human rights issues.
The book does not only seek to assist the Ogiek search for their identity but also indicates the consequences of the failure by the government and others to identify the Ogiek as a tribe.
The current onslaught on the fertile, hardwood rich Mau Forest of the central Rift Valley province marks the final onslaught on the Ogiek people whose only crime is to inhabit a forest they deem as their own.
According to the author, the struggle by the Ogiek to preserve their land is a replay of the overall struggle of the minority in the whole world.
For years, the indigenous communities have been exploited by other groups and dispossessed from their hereditary lands leading to a general destruction of their culture, says Kamau.
During the colonial times, members of the Ogiek tribe were forced onto smaller plots as British colonialists settled on their valuable land. Tinet Forest is part of the forest that they moved into until it was gazetted as a government forest in 1961.
Since then, they have lived as squatters and have been subjected to constant harassment by the authorities. In 1991, the Kenya government sought to ligitimise the Ogiek's habitation of the forest and started allocating five acres of the forest per family to the 5,000 members.
The exercise was however marred by political influence as powerful interests set in. The Ogieks thought they were being swindled of the remaining land if they agreed to the five-acre scheme. The bottom line is that the other interested groups wish to occupy the forest (and some have already done so) for timber cutting and tea plantations.
The author recommends that the government should enact the Ogiek Land Bill to protect the Ogieks as the true inhabitants of the Mau Forest.
The 74-page book is a must read for those wishing to keep abreast with the human rights issues and the especially the plight of the marginalized indigenous tribes.
Copyright 2001 African Church Information Service. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).