The Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program: Fighting for Rights to Identity

This year the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) celebrated its 20th birthday. As Africa’s oldest community foundation, its journey is an important example of how new ways of sustaining locally driven development initiatives are possible. While it has grown its own endowment of almost USD $8 million, it has also been liberated from the constant cycle of pursuing donor tenders and writing project proposals aligned to donor driven priorities that most non-profits must do. Instead, since its humble beginnings, the foundation has dispersed more than USD $20 million to over 2,000 local partners across the country, linked to a broad array of issues and themes. While the funding has been important, grantees have also benefited from technical support, advice, and skills that have helped them to grow and sustain their own organizations.

To highlight this different way of doing development, and to coincide with KCDF's 20th year, the GFCF is pleased to profile local organizations that have benefited from KCDF’s support, in order to better understand the critical role these organizations have played in community owned transformation.

Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP)

Like many indigenous people around the world, the Ogiek people of Kenya continue to suffer from discrimination, and high rates of landlessness and joblessness. Traditionally, hunter-gatherers, the majority live across seven counties namely Nakuru, Narok, Baringo, Kericho, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Bungoma. They were evicted from their traditional home of the Mau Forest Complex, which runs across the counties mentioned above, in the 1930s. The communities are in remote areas where gravel roads impassable during wet season.  They tend to have limited access to clean piped water, health centres are ill-equipped and schools can be located more than 10 kilometers away from homes of the students. Having experienced evictions, landlessness, poverty and a lack of adequate social services and poor infrastructure, an estimated 90% of the Ogiek are illiterate; subjecting them to further marginalization.

Leah Kawawa, an Ogiek woman in her home in Nakuru County

The OPDP, a Kenyan NGO, works to help fight for the rights of the community. It first began as an association in 1999, constituting of Ogiek elders, opinion leaders, farmers and professionals, they formed together to work to fight against oppressive laws, policies and deep seated discrimination and exclusion. The organization focuses on land and natural resources rights, strengthening good governance and institutional capacity, building community identity and active participation, as well as increasing gender and youth empowerment.

They have had some notable successes. In 2010, the passage of Kenya’s new Constitution recognized for the first time the needs and identify of minorities and marginalized groups, and introduced clauses intended to foster their development. It has sought to address these social injustices through: affirmative action programmes tailored towards participation and representation in governance and other spheres of life of minorities; provision of special opportunities in education and economic fields; provision of special opportunities for access to education as well as equitable access to water, health services and infrastructure as provided in Article 56 of the Kenyan Constitution.[1]

The second success came from a legal battle on the survival of the Ogiek as a community and on their civil and political, socio-economic and peoples’ rights guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 2009, the Government of Kenya, through the Kenya Forestry Service, issued a thirty days eviction notice to the Ogiek and other settlers of the Mau Forest on the ground of seeking to conserve the forest as a water catchment area.

The African Commission, following seizure of the communication filed on behalf of the Ogiek and the non-implementation by Kenya of its provisional measures, referred the case to the Court in July 2012 pursuant to Article 5(1)(a) of the Protocol the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of the Court (the Court Protocol).

The final judgement handed down by the Commission “vindicates the rights of the Ogiek community who have been impeded from securing ownership and use of their ancestral land on which they depend for their social, economic and cultural existence, after being demanded by the Government of Kenya to move out of the Mau Forest Complex.” The African Commission, citing the rights guaranteed in the African Charter including those of peoples’ rights that protect indigenous populations/communities and other ethnic minorities, urged the Government of the Republic of Kenya to abide by this judgement in full and respect the right of the Ogiek community to live on their land in the Mau Forest.

While celebrating the recognition that these communities have suffered from marginalization due to previous policies and practices, OPDP knows that there is a lot more work to be done to undo the decades of damage done and discrimination experienced.
Since the Court case, in 2016 the OPDP has partnered with Kenya Forest Service, a state statutory body managing forests, in rehabilitating 20 hectares of Logoman Forest, within the expansive Mau Forest Complex.

The three-year project “Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Natural Resources Rights and Community-Led Forest Conservation” entails engaging the community in replanting indigenous trees in areas where exotic trees have been harvested or indigenous trees illegally logged. So far, they have planted 10,000 seedlings of seven different species of indigenous trees in ten hectares.

Support from KCDF has been significant in helping their work to empower women. In 2012, OPDP received a KES 1.7 million grant to work with Ogiek women in Nakuru County to improve their economic livelihoods. Thanks to this project, 30 women organized into informal groups were enabled to venture into beef and poultry farming. By the end of the one-year project, the women had risen from a zero income to an average monthly income of KES 3,500. Establishment of the economic enterprises provided the women, who were previously extremely poor and illiterate, with skills on marketing, financial management and enterprise development which they applied in their businesses.

To continue to build on these efforts, OPDP are now launching a new funding appeal on Global Giving to support Kenya’s indigenous Ogiek women to improve the livelihoods of their family by investing in training, equipment and skills for dairy farming. Like many small organizations in Kenya, they rely on small donations and grants, both within Kenya and internationally. The support of KCDF, as a community foundation, that provides small grants and technical support to their work has been invaluable.
 
This story was first published on the GFCF website: www.globalfundcommunityfoundations.org/latest-news

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