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Land Rights Advocacy among the Ogiek People

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The Ogiek people of Kenya were excluded in 1933 from the 42 tribal groups given settlement rights by the colonial government. Their cultural survival - linked to their land rights - has been the focus of Ogiek self-help organisations set up to increase communication and cooperation between clans and to advocate for their land rights. The advocacy efforts include a website and a mapping project. The website posts the Ogiek's history and details of their struggle for territorial recognition, as well as news updates and organisational links. The participatory mapping of their ancestral territories was done using the Participatory 3-D Modelling method to retain elements of knowledge of the elders not previously recorded.

Communication Strategies: 

The Ogiek People website is maintained by Ecoterra International, an independent international non governmental agency (INGO) and civil society organisation (CSO) engaging with work on the protection of the natural environment as well as human and civil rights, particularly with indigenous groups. The website is a collaboration of a number of Ogiek organisations and programmes including: Ogiek People’s National Assembly (OPNA), Ogiek Peoples Development Program (OPDP) of the Mau Forest Ogiek, and Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples' Development Programme (CIPDP) of the Mt. Elgon Forest Ogiek. In addition to their history and news updates of their struggle for land rights, the site includes: a photo gallery; links to organisations supporting their efforts; a frequently asked questions page; resources in English and French, including documentary films; Ogiek language resources; and links to land rights documents, declarations, treaties, and actions of international organisations, national governments, and other indigenous groups. For example, according to a website posting, advocacy efforts resulted in a March 20 2007 agreement described as: "The Government of Kenya has entered into a loan agreement with the World Bank and therein recognizes that the Sengwer and the Ogiek are Indigenous Peoples. In the document, it actually undertakes to rehabilitate previously displaced forest communities. This is a binding agreement that will be useful if the two communities use it to pressure the Government to restore land rights."

As part of their self-advocacy efforts, the Ogiek sought to engage geographic information technologies to map their ancestral lands and inventory natural and cultural resources in order to pursue obtaining extra-judicial resolutions to their land rights disputes. According to the authors of "Through the Eyes of Hunter-Gatherers: participatory 3D modelling among Ogiek indigenous peoples in Kenya", from the online journal Independent Development [footnotes removed by editor]: "In June 2005 ERMIS-Africa [Environmental Research Mapping and Information Systems in Africa], with financial and technical assistance provided by the Eastern and Southern Africa Partnership Program (ESAPP), assisted members of 21 Ogiek clans in using aerial ortho-photomaps to identify ancestral landmarks and delineate the clans’ territorial boundaries. In the process, elders from neighbouring clans validated the boundary outlines. The encompassing areas were further divided into main family lineage units and finally into natural resource management units. Map attributes for indigenous spatial units and features were included using vernacular toponomy. The data were transposed into a geographic information system (GIS) and overlaid with additional information. Ogiek elders requested the mapping of their entire ancestral territories and deliberated on the need to develop, publish and disseminate (to various government ministries, research and education institutions, and development organizations) a multimedia atlas consisting of interactive maps and media capturing and disclosing selected knowledge and wisdom of the Ogiek clans....

Ogiek activists learned about P3DM at the 2005 Mapping for Change Conference in Nairobi [Kenya] and requested for the method to be introduced in support to their ongoing participatory mapping efforts. Participatory 3D modelling (P3DM) is a communicative facilitation method. P3DM integrates people’s knowledge and spatial information (contour lines) to produce stand-alone scale relief models as relatively accurate data storage and analysis devices and at the same time excellent communication media. The difference between an ordinary contour map and a 3D relief model is the vertical dimension. This provides important cues to stimulate memory and facilitates the establishment of spatial associations.""

The 3D mapping method included the establishment of an organising committee and consultation with and mobilisation of students and stakeholders, as well as mapping preparation work. During the 11-day mapping process, the following took place:

  • "delivering an orientation on facilitation techniques and P3DM practice
  • facilitating the construction of a scaled and geo-referenced 3D model by school children
  • facilitating the composition of the map legend depicting mental maps by elders
  • extracting of these data via digital photography."

"Students manufactured the blank scaled 3D model in three days. Once the model was completed elders from selected clans worked on it in three shifts each lasting approximately 1.5 days. Each shift accommodated 5-7 clans and every clan was represented by four to five elders. Participants were provided with all necessary tools and codes to work on the model.... The authors of this paper facilitated the exercise together with the trainees, who formed a well-assorted multidisciplinary team."

A dedicated exercise for the assembling of a map legend went through the following phases:

  • "one-to-one consultations
  • focus group discussions
  • composition and adoption of a draft legend
  • discussion among elders on the understanding of the proposed definition of a series of land units
  • realization that there was lack of consensus
  • matrix making [To address a lack of consensus on descriptions of uses of some land units, a matrix was used to collate terminology.] The matrix would enable informants to clearly discern the individual land units by describing their biophysical and cultural characteristics....
  • composition of a final draft legend
  • updating of the legend."
Development Issues: 

Rights, Democracy and Governance

Key Points: 

The Ogiek people of Kenya share a hunter-gatherer heritage in which natural resources play an important role in the shaping of a culture and the survival of a society. Since 1933, when land rights were granted by colonial powers in Kenya to some tribal groups and not others, the Ogiek people have been engaged in seeking recognition for their ethnic and cultural identity as a tribal group and their territorial rights to the forests in which they live. According to their website, the Ogiek have existed for centuries in a symbiotic relationship with their homeland. They are seeking a change in the Kenyan national constitution in order to have specific recognition and inclusion as a tribal group with land rights. As reported on their website, the existence of the Ogiek as a distinct people has been threatened by the excision of land from their forest homes for both commercial logging and for the settlements of those who are outside their ethnic group. Ogiek self-help organisations have been set up for participation in work on land rights and cultural security issues.

According to the online journal article, the Ogiek are active in advocating for the retention of their lands and the protection of their heritage, having joined with other groups to form the Hunter-Gatherer Forum to create a coherent platform for dialogue with the Kenyan State and their neighbours. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Africa Conservation Foundation, and Egerton University have expressed interest in helping the Ogiek community explore how the P3DM process, and particularly the legend and matrix, can be used to promote education for sustainable development. Government officials from the National Water Service/Management Board expressed interest in using the model for participatory watershed management planning. The Ogiek elders expressed a desire to extend their model to cover the entirety of the 21 clans' territory.

Partner Text: 

Ecoterra International, Eastern and Southern Africa Partnership Program (ESAPP), Hunter - Gatherers Forum (HUGAFO), Environmental Research Mapping and Information Systems in Africa (ERMIS-Africa)

Source: 

Information Development, Vol. 23, Nos 2/3, 2007, a publication of Sage; The Ogiek People website, on February 18 2010; and email from Thari Kulissa to The Communication Initiative on February 22 2010. Image source: © Virginia Lulling/Survival

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