Protecting the rights of Kenya’s Indigenous People
There are roughly 14 groups in Kenya who self identify as indigenous peoples, and they can be roughly categorised as either hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek, Sengwer and Sanya or pastoralists including the Endorois, Maasai and Samburu. As Kenya continues to develop, outside forces come into contact with indigenous communities more frequently. This has significantly affected, and in many cases threatened, their way of life. One particularly pressing issue is displacement from ancestral land and resources in the name of development, national security, wildlife conservation and environmental protection. The rights of indigenous peoples are often marginalised or overlooked by more powerful actors in pursuit of development or conservation goals.
Since being established in 2003, IMPACT has been at the frontlines of indigenous peoples’ struggle for recognition, rights, representation and territorial and cultural resources in Kenya. IMPACT works with communities to defend their land rights, to address historical injustices, and to prevent the exploitation of resources. Communities bring their concerns directly to IMPACT who then advises them on the best way forward. In some cases, this involves providing legal support and seeking financial resources to enable communities to file legal claims to protect their rights.
IMPACT has been involved in resolving several legal cases that have benefited hundreds of indigenous peoples. IMPACT assisted the Lekiji Community who were facing threats of displacement from nearby ranch owners. With IMPACT’s assistance, the Lekiji Community received a favourable ruling from the court, resulting in the protection of the land rights of over 400 families. IMPACT also remains involved in on-going legal cases, such as the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project case. To make way for what is promised to become the largest wind farm in Africa, a group of about 1,200 indigenous peoples have been resettled without adequate consultation. IMPACT continues to battle for indigenous ways of life to be respected in this case. Another ongoing legal case concerns a proposed dam on the Ewaso Ngiro River. Over 3 million peoples, mostly nomadic communities and their livestock, depend on the river for survival, and the dam would instead divert water to the proposed Isiolo Resort City. To protest this proposition and raise awareness of the issue, IMPACT Kenya leads Camel Caravans across the arid landscape, using a nomadic tradition to highlight the injustices facing nomadic communities.
The founder of IMPACT, Johnson Malih Ole Kaunga, has argued that traditional means of livelihood are treated as inferior and “primitive” and indigenous peoples’ culture is being criminalised to justify the displacement of indigenous groups from their ancestral lands. Indigenous groups’ voices and rights should not be marginalised by the national government, powerful elites, multinationals and the development sector. IMPACT continues to fight for their voices to be heard.
IMPACT is a finalist for #WalkTogether Prize for Courage as part of The Grassroots Justice Prize.