Ongoing evictions of Indigenous Ogiek from ancestral forest in Kenya increases risk of environmental trauma, says Land Body Ecologies
Press release 9 November 2023
Land Body Ecologies (LBE) is deeply concerned by the devastating news of ongoing evictions against the Indigenous Ogiek community of Mau Forest Complex. On 2 November 2023, the Kenya Forest Services and Kenya Wildlife Service started illegally evicting and destroying the homes of the Ogiek people in Sasimwani, Narok County. Since then, more than 700 Ogiek have been declared homeless with nowhere to go and facing a humanitarian disaster.
These illegal evictions come in spite of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights 2017 judgment ruling in favour of the Ogiek. This ruling was a landmark case won against the Government of Kenya that upheld Ogiek rights to their ancestral lands in Mau Forest and recognised the Ogiek as legal owners of the Mau Forest. This ruling marked the first judgment from the highest institutional human rights body in Africa to favour the cause of Indigenous Peoples, setting a precedent for similar cases across the continent.
Daniel Kobei, Founder and Director of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) says: "Over the past week the Ogiek of Sasimwani are witnessing the highest level of human violation, whereby your house is being destroyed and torched at their glance coupled with absolute helplessness. The Ogiek are now in the cold and being rained on, facing a humanitarian crisis, and nobody is paying attention to their unjust suffering. This is not just a human rights situation, it is also a mental health crisis of hopelessness when all we want to do is live on our ancestral land and protect the forest for future generations."
Victoria Pratt, Director of Invisible Flock and LBE team member says: "The idea that the Ogiek needs to be removed from their ancestral lands for conservation purposes is absurd. The ongoing mental health impacts for Indigenous communities encountering this forced severance from their homes, cultures, and lands is an epidemic. Our research shows that communities are not only living through significant health challenges caused by climate change, but that they are also expected to deal with constant attempts to disregard their right to live as an Indigenous people and to practice their culture. This is just as much a health issue, as a human rights issue, as a climate issue.”
These violent actions, carried out for the purposes of conservation, serve as a threat both to the health of our forests and to the health rights of Indigenous peoples who have conserved them for time immemorial. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) highlights the right of Indigenous Peoples to health and social security as denoted in The Lancet. The impact of such actions are violations of human rights, including the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples’. LBE calls for an immediate halt to the evictions of the Ogiek and to return their ancestral lands, as ordered by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is crucial that the world recognize the harm caused by colonial conservation policies that view nature as separate from human beings. With the immense damages to Indigenous health and wellbeing, these policies cannot continue to be used as justification for evicting Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral lands worldwide.
Dr. Nicole Redvers, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Western Research Chair & Director, Indigenous Planetary Health Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry University of Western Ontario says:“The health of the planet is intrinsically tied to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples. When Indigenous Peoples have their Land, culture, and sovereignty, they are more likely to have greater wellbeing. Thus, they will continue to sustainably care for the 80% of the remaining biodiversity on the planet they currently steward. It is imperative that Indigenous Peoples’ health is approached from a holistic lens that acknowledges their Land Rights as being crucial for the health of the entire planet. Ongoing colonial and violent conservation practices that have continued to evict communities like the Indigenous Ogiek Peoples from their lands are what got us into this current climate change mess in the first place. Learn from the past conservation mistakes and violations, do better.”
Ayesha Ahmad, Reader/Associate Professor in Global Health Humanities at St George's University of London, UK say: “Severance from the land annihilates the blood flow that sustains and nourishes the Ogiek’s wellbeing; without a presence upon their land, communities such as the Ogiek experience an embodied suffering and their land is also in a void, in pain from an absence of the reciprocal relationship that maintains the environment inhabited since their ancestor’s stories. Finally, when the land connection severance is from an injustice, a violation of human rights, and thus, a form of land-based violence that LBE has been advocating to be recognised as a source of psychological trauma, then the suffering and mental distress is also a grief of loss of dignity and dehumanisation.”
There are many examples across Africa that evidence the harmful implications of these violations for Indigenous Peoples. In Uganda, Batwa are still living with the health consequences of their violent evictions from their ancestral forests in the 1990s. At the time, government authorities claimed it was necessary in order to conserve wildlife and biodiversity. Today, those ancestral lands have been turned into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Echuya Central Forest Reserve. This model of fortress conservation resulted in evictions that left the Batwa struggling to survive with long-term mental health consequences, as evidenced in a recent study led by Action for Batwa Empowerment Group (ABEG), a member of LBE. Further, the community faces extreme discrimination by the majority of society while living on the margins of their former home.
Other examples in Africa include the Maasai community in Ngorongoro conservation area, Tanzania, Sengwer people in Embobut Forest, Kenya, the Endorois community in Kenya for the development of the Lake Bogoria National Reserve, and Batwa in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the alleged conservation of Kahuzi Biega National Park.