The Ogiek Welfare Council envisages a just and equitable society where all people enjoy basic human rights and live in dignity.


The mission of the Council is to fight for the constitutional rights of the Ogiek people, to promote their well-being and to preserve their environment, culture and identity.


Improvement of the socio economic well being of the Ogiek people.


  • All persons and communities are created equal.
  • All persons have the right to realize their full human potential.
  • The Ogiek Welfare Council believes in the integrity of creation.
  • The Ogiek Welfare Council believes in the recognition of indigenous peoples identity.





The Ogiek people are the last remaining forest dwellers and the most marginalized of all indigenous peoples and minorities in Kenya.  The Ogiek are traditionally hunters and gatherers of the past, who survive mainly on wild fruits and roots, wild games hunting and traditional bee keeping and are therefore friendly to their environment on which they depend.  They were nicknamed “Dorobo” a derogatory term given to them by their neighbours, the Maasai.  The correct term used by them is “Ogiek” which literally means “the caretaker of all plants and wild animals”.  A British researcher Mr. Guy Yeoman in his article titled “ High altitude forest conservation in relation to Dorobo people described the Ogiek as follows: -

  The Ogiek are uniquely specialized people intimately related to a particular ecosystem.  They are incapable of retaining their essential characteristics, if that ecosystem is destroyed.  In the beginning of the last century their ancestral lands were taken from them in a manner little different from the seizure of the Native American hunting grounds in today U.S.A, but with the difference that no Ogiek Reserves were retained.  To this great injustice has been added the effects of the forest policy that has progressively and on immense scale replace their natural forests with conifer forests that are, to the Ogiek, totally sterile and unproductive, useless for either bees or wild animals.  Ironically and tragically, the employment offered by the forest department makes them work for their own extinction.  Every hectare of plantation trees they plant is a hectare of their birthright lost forever.                            

Ogiek have a unique way of life well adapted to the forest.  Their adaptations and their traditions have made them to be successful foresters and greatest environmentalists than any other community in Kenya.  The survival of the indigenous Mau forest is inextricably linked with the survival of the community. 

The Ogiek are believed to be the first people to have settled in Eastern Africa and were found inhabiting all Kenyan forests before 1800 AD.  Due to domination, assimilation, the community is slowly becoming extinct with the 1989 figures showing about 20,000 countrywide.

The Ogiek have been living in Mau Forest since time immemorial in communally held pieces of land, which were administered through council of “Elders” according to clans and family units. It was during the colonial administration that the customary land tenure was partially destroyed when The Exotic tree plantations were introduced weakening the direct control of the forest to Ogiek. The Council of elders or “Poisionik” administers and controlled the Ogiek destiny and helps in solving among other things, disputes over land, which was community held. 

The Ogiek today in Mau number close to 10,000 (1998 figures).  They have been slowly transformed to cattle keepers and to an extent, peasant farmers. Their linguistic facility enables them to adopt their neighbour’s language and thus get “absorbed” easily and become victims of assimilation by their neighbours. Ogiek are also happy in situation of isolation in the forest where birds, trees and wild animals provide them with “good neighbourhood” that one may seek from becoming a member of larger communities.

They are self sufficient in forest products except for some few irons to make into arrowhead spheres and knives.  Their skills and expertise lies on:

  •       Marksmanship with their powerful bows and arrows.

  •       Skills in management and training of hunting dogs.

  •       Ability to recognize and identify both flora and fauna very quickly.

  •       Good mapping skills and knowledge of the forest

  •       Acute eyesight with good tracking skills.

It is commonly believed by the Ogiek and surrounding communities that the Ogiek were the first people to settle in the East African forests.  Their great affinity to forests has made them successful foresters and environmentalists in the past.  They have considerable affinity with their environment. Trees, birds and wild animals provide them with the psychological comfort that other people attain by being members of larger communities.  For this reason the Ogiek has always dwelled in areas where there are forests adjacent to plains.  During the dry season they would live in the forests, moving out to the plains during the rainy periods.

The Ogiek community is believed to have occupied the coastal regions of East Africa as early as 1000 AD.  They moved from these areas following attacks by slave traders and other migrating communities.  This was the Ogiek first dispersal.  It saw one group moving to Tanzania where they settled among the Hadzabe and Maasai tribes.  This first group has been assimilated by the Maasai and now speaks a dialect that is very close to Maasai.  A second group moved to the plains of Laikipia bordering Mt Kenya forest from where they dispersed to various locations in northern and central rift valley and western Kenya.


Due to their small numbers, the Ogiek have been an easy target for those seeking land on which to farm or graze.  Further, they have not been able to speak up and be heard for the same reasons.  Every one has ignored the fact that they too have a right to life.  When the British carved areas of Kenya into tribal reserves to be occupied by various tribes, the Ogiek were excluded as they lived in small, scattered groups over a large geographical area and did not appear to have any property.

Serious encroachment of Ogiek rights to their land can be said to have started in 1856 when the Maasai attempted to annex Ogiek lands in Mau and Laikipia.  This led the two tribes to go to war.  The Ogiek lost the areas around Lake Naivasha but continued to retain the lands around Nakuru.

In 1903 the colonial administration started negotiations with the Maasai over the transfer of land.  This culminated in an agreement, signed in 1911 between the Maasai and the colonialists in which the Maasai handed over rights to land in Nakuru, Naivasha and Laikipia for the settlement of white farmers.  Ironically it appears to have been lost to the colonial authorities that the land signed over by the Maasai was Ogiek land.  This effectively dispossessed the Ogiek of their ancestral lands and was a victory to the Maasai who had failed to forcibly take over these lands in the war of 1856.  In 1932 another agreement between the Maasai and the colonial authorities gave out the Mau areas to the colonial settlers.

The first forcible eviction of the Ogiek took place between 1911 and 1914 following the signing of the first pact between the colonial authorities and the Maasai.  Colonial soldiers were used to evict the Ogiek and their animals from Mau to Narok.  The Maasai accepted the Ogiek in Narok on condition that the Ogiek surrender their animals, language and culture.  This was agreed upon by the colonial District Commissioners in Narok and Nakuru without consulting the Ogiek.  Once in Narok, most of the Ogiek refused to surrender their animals and to adopt Maasai lifestyles.  They moved back to Mau Forest.  However, the majority of those Ogiek who had been moved from the areas around Lake Naivasha opted to remain, and having surrendered their animals, were assimilated and lived as slaves.  To date, these are the poorest of the Ogiek.

A second eviction took place in 1918.  Once again African soldiers in the employ of the colonial authorities were used to forcibly evict the Ogiek from the Eastern Mau to Olpusi-Moru in Narok.  Once again the Ogiek refused to surrender their animals and found their way back into Mau forest.

Further evictions of the Ogiek from their ancestral lands were executed by the British colonial administrators in 1926 and 1927.  In these evictions, those Ogiek who had remained on lands that had been converted to settler farms were forced into the forests.  However, these forests had been declared Crown Lands.  The Forestry department was therefore unwilling to allow the Ogiek into the forests and further evictions took place. 

Following the agreement of September 1932, the Ogiek were invited to testify before the Carter Land Commission.  Ogiek elders appeared before the Hon Harris Carter on 17th October 1932.  The elders presented the Ogiek’s stand, which was that the Ogiek would not move out of the forests.

The report of the Carter Commission recommended that the Ogiek should be moved to reserves of the bigger tribes with whom they have an affinity.  These were the Maasai and the Kalenjin.  These recommendations were drawn from those of a committee made up of white settlers and colonial administrators who had expressed fears that should the Ogiek be left in the forests, their population would increase leading them to claim their land which was now under the white settlers.  They saw the dispersal of the Ogiek to various different locations as a means of having them assimilated by bigger tribes hence reducing the possibility of claims to their ancestral lands.  In 1933 the then Provincial Commissioner recommended to the Chief Native Commissioner “Whenever possible the Dorobos should become members of and absorbed into the tribe with which they have most affinity.”

Following the recommendations of the Carter Commission, harassment and disinheritance of the Ogiek continued:

Documents available from the National archives show that the colonial administration planned to conduct a program of evictions commencing 23rd August 1937 and ending on 17th January 1939.  The plan was to hunt the Ogiek in Tinet (Mau West) and relocate them to Chepalangu in Kericho (Kipsigis tribal reserve area).  This programme was unsuccessful due to resistance by the Ogiek.  Another program of eviction and relocation was planned to take place from 1939 to 1941.  This last program was partially successful but most of the people relocated moved back to the West Mau forest after a few months.

In 1941 evictions were conducted in East Mau forest with the Ogiek being relocated to Olenguruani settlement scheme, which had been carved out of Narok district (Maasai tribal reserve area).




Encroachment of Ogiek lands by fellow Africans started in 1958 when identity cards were issued to Africans for the second time.  Some members of the Kalenjin tribe registered themselves as Ogiek in the hope that this would grant them a stake in the Ogiek claims to their ancestral lands.

In the first 15 years of independence the Kenya government did not interfere with the Ogiek.  Independent Kenya’s government first started harassment of the Ogiek in 1977.  In this year government forces, led by the Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner invaded Mau West forest.  They torched the houses occupied by the Ogiek, confiscated and arrested members of the community who were then arraigned before the court on charges of being illegal squatters in the forest.  This rendered many families destitute due to loss of animals and property; parents who had children in school were unable to pay school fees forcing the children to drop out. During this period most Ogiek lived in abject poverty and could not speak for themselves.


After a decade of President Moi in office, the Government banned the keeping of livestock and carrying out of farming activities in forests.  This ban was applied selectively and targeted only the Ogiek and other non-Kalenjin communities.  Following this ban, all schools in Eastern Mau were closed in 1989.  This affected 500 Ogiek school children that had no alternative schools to go to. This alone has raised illiteracy level from the previous estimates of 78% to a record 91%, which is believed to be highest in the Country. Today Ogiek are the worst hit by illiteracy level coupled with ignorance and poverty as result of very poor economic base that cannot support better living standards. More than 80% of the Ogiek live in abject poverty. Ironically, during the same period the government initiated a settlement scheme in Ndoinet, Mau West.  Members of the Kipsigis community were settled alongside the Ogiek.  The Ogiek refused to participate in this scheme. This explains why Kipsigis community benefited much on Land redistribution in South-Western Mau to the advantage of the minority Ogiek why by then are dominated in all spheres of influence.

Starting from 1993, the Kenya Government has systematically carved out huge parts of Mau forest for settlement of people from other communities who perceived to be politically correct from the larger Kalenjin community, with approval from the state.  This has caused constant conflict between the Ogiek who see the destruction of their forests and the alienation of their lands as a continued threat to their existence.

The Ogiek have not been passive to these negative developments.  Through their elders, the people have made strenuous efforts to defend their rights.  In 1996, the community engaged an advocate to assist them in pursuing their rights through legal channels.  As a first step, a memorandum was prepared and circulated to all Members of Parliament in Nov. 1996. Dissatisfied with how parliament handled the Ogiek land question, the Ogiek filed a constitutional land suit in June 1997.  This case is still pending in the High Court. The community continues to seek justice through other legal suits as well as by lobbying. During this period harassment of Ogiek leaders involved with the suit intensified with the number of arbitrary arrests rising to a record 64 in 1 weeks. This has been the hardest and the most terrifying periods in the History of the Ogiek struggles, which has been, coupled with massive arrests, demonstrations as a means of securing basic human rights. The period has also been characterized by historic constitutional, political and legal reforms in a poor and depressed Ogiek economy.

The theft of Ogiek land, coupled with the destruction of their property and forcible eviction has left the Ogiek seriously impoverished with an uncertain future.  Their very survival as a people is seriously threatened by their disenfranchisement, loss of their natural habitat, assimilation by bigger tribes and abject poverty.

However on 16th February, 2001, the government went ahead and issued a gazette notice with intention to alter boundaries of it’s forests in Kenya and also legalize the disputed areas, The Ogiek found themselves in a dilemma and had to raise an objection and also move to the court to seek an injunction and possibly quash the gazette notice.



The current problems facing the Ogiek and Mau forest in general is as a result of socio-economic, cultural, environmental and political changes that took place in both pre-colonial and post-colonial times.

The wide dispersal of the Ogiek has split them into small defenceless groups prone to attack by other stronger close-knit tribes. With the Ogiek spread throughout the forests in rift valley forests and some parts of Mt. Elgon in western Province, the Ogiek are easy target of assimilation as a result of long domination by the neighbouring communities who always take advantage of community ignorance and small number. Again the population matters a lot in Kenyan politics with which the power of Numbers is highly considered while the minority would not be heard, as it is even very difficult for them to have an elected leader of their own. In today Kenya, Ogiek have never had any elected leader beyond a ward councillor who merely represents some few villages. The same tend also can be seen in Public Service Commission a Government Department in charge of Recruiting Civil service which all along has been characterised by corruption and tribalism. This again saw the Ogiek being marginalized and not given an opportunity to serve the Government of the Republic of Kenya despite not being exempted from paying taxes. It is sad to conclude that the Highest Civil service position an Ogiek has ever held is that of a position of a Location Chief who also happens to be an administrator of several villages. Non-has ever served as recognised officer in the Government. New settlers who happen to settle in Ogiek territories take this as an advantage as they will always use their kin working in the Government in influencing and advancing their wishes against those of the fellow Ogiek who even in their own territory has got no future. This pose a serious threat to Ogiek existence who has always been seen as stumbling bloc to new development in Mau forest. This “developments” includes clearing of forests and settlement. This idea has caused constant conflict between these settlers and the Ogiek who see the destruction of the forests and the alienation of their lands as a continued threat to their existence.

Loss of land for either hunting or Beekeeping, destruction of tree species that either supports bee farming or trees that harbours bee hives by incoming communities has all combined to destroy already Ogiek impoverished economy. About 10% of the Ogiek still leads traditional way of life while the rest are peasant farmers and to some extent livestock keepers. This sudden shift is as a result of Socio-economic and Political changes of 19th Century.

Absence of strong and visionary leaders in all spheres of influence have further worsen the situation by making the Ogiek appear as a herd without herdsman and therefore becomes the victims of discrimination and marginalization. During the last 2 decades, Ogiek were and still are being regarded as 2nd class citizen by fellow Africans. 

Today significant threats to Mau forest and its inhabitants include:

1.       Massive influx of people seeking land for settlement.

2.       Uncontrolled occupation as a result of irregular and illegal excisions

3.       Massive Degradation and destruction of environment as a result of (2) above

4.       Drying up of major rivers as a result of (3) above.

5.       Disappearing of tree and animal species as a result of increased human activities.

6.       Domination of Ogiek by in-coming communities, which might result to Assimilation, and finally Extinction of Ogiek Community

7.       Erosion of Ogiek cultural values and indigenous knowledge resulting from (6) above.

All the above combined threats, coupled with current socio-economic and political complexities and above all, looming poverty have further worsen the Ogiek position and in the next 5 years to come, the Ogiek status as a community on its own is at risk.

3.                   ORANIZATION STRUCTURE


Failure by both the colonial and the independence government to recognize the rights of the Ogiek people leaves the very existence of the Ogiek as a people, seriously threatened. Over the years, physical evictions have led to the loss of life and property.  Destruction of their environment/habitat has led to deficits in the Ogiek people’s traditional sources of food and medicines.  Culturally, there have been systematic attempts to assimilate the people in order to obliterate their ethnic identity.  The Ogiek language is fast disappearing, while cultural practices and values are almost forgotten. Recognising these threats, the people of Mau East through their Council of Elders have over the years lobbied both the colonial and independent Kenya governments for the restoration of their rights as a people.  The earliest record of this being their representations to the Kenya Land Commission (Carter) in 1932.  Despite the Elders’ efforts, not much has been achieved.  Both the government and other communities continue to trample upon the rights of the Ogiek.

Following the failure to have Ogiek grievances addressed, the Ogiek Council of Elders, a traditional Institution mandated to lead and make decision on behalf of the Ogiek Community transformed itself to Ogiek Welfare Management Committee (OWMC), which was comprised of representatives of the various Ogiek clans in Mau East. However it had the following tasks: -

I.          To educate the Ogiek on their rights.

II.         To highlight the plight of the Ogiek people through the press.

III.        To continue to lobby with the provincial administration and other people in authority for the restoration of the Ogiek lands.

In 1997, the need was felt for the Committee to take on wider issues.  Consequently, a change of name was recommended, and the name Ogiek Welfare Council (OWC) came into being.

The OWC has been actively involved in the articulation of the plight of the Ogiek and their struggle for basic human rights. OWC ability to institute action against injustices to the community has been greatly enhanced by the support received from a number of partner organisations including Ford Foundation, ICCO, Rainforest Foundation, IUCN, IWGIA, FPP, Cottonwood Foundation and others. Already various committees of elders have been formed to address the different issues affecting the community.  Capacity building of the Council’s finance function is being conducted and already basic accounting records as well as bank accounts are in place with trained personnel.  The issue of long-term self-sustainability is being addressed and various ideas from the elders are being pursued.  Rehabilitation of the community’s habitat is being undertaken through the creation of indigenous tree nurseries.  This is expected to accelerate with the onset of the rainy season.

The development of this paper represents another milestone in the strengthening and positioning of the Council for improved performance.  It is also a means of communicating with our friends and supporters all over the world.


The OWC has a simple organization structure consisting of 29 elected clan elders representing clans of ogiek people in Mau forest complex.  The community then elects 14 elders from the 29 to form board of governors.  The board is responsible for strategic planning, visioning, formulating policies, fund raising and setting direction with the help of the national coordinator, coordinator and programmes officers.  They elect among themselves, a Chairman, a Vice Chairman, a Secretary and a Treasurer.  The elders have also created sub committees, which are responsibility for the different programmes within the council. This include

·        Constitutional and land rights.

·        Secretariat.

·        Biodiversity and culture.

·        Socio economic well-being.

These committees are elected according to the knowledge of the area, and they help in checks and balances and also the community feel that they own the council.

The board of governor meets regularly to review the projects guide and make key policy decisions. The council secretariat is responsible for the management roll and implementation of day today work.

 The structure and the policies of the council helps to improve and encourage good and open communication and interpersonal skills & relationships among the staff and beneficiaries, it also encourages participatory decision making and consensus building.

Constitution and Legal Systems

The Council is governed by a constitution, which has been developed with the assistance of lawyers.  Attempts by the Council to obtain registration in order to gain legal status are yet to succeed, as the Government appears reluctant to grant the Council recognition. OWC has operated without full registration for over 2 years now. OWC tendered its registration for application as Society in mid 2000, under Societies Act. OWC therefore is a society holder No. SOC/39744 pending approval and issuance of Certificate by the Registrar General of Societies. However, OWC has developed a working partnership under Umbrella of Registered Trust, Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) which has been very close to OWC since its formation. The Government stand is expected to ease with change of Power and also when the new constitution shall come into being. The New constitution is expected to be complete by June 2003.

The Secretariat

OWC has a number of staff manning different programs and daily activities of OWC. OWC national secretariat is headed by the National coordinator on behalf of the Board and assisted by the coordinator. Other staff includes 2 Program officers, Accounts Assistant and an Administrative Assistant. The team is further strengthened by 5 field officers who on daily basis get in constant touch with the community in different programs going on in 3 regions. The presence of Gender Representative proves that OWC recognises the role of women in a society. In addition to the above OWC has 8 Teachers who assist in teaching Ogiek languages in 8 selected schools within Mau Forest Complex.

Geographical and Sectoral Coverage

Whereas OWC is a body created by the Ogiek in Eastern Mau forest to address their specific problems, the elders have realized that these problems are common to all the Ogiek communities.  The elders also recognize that there is strength in unity.  Indeed, that is the Council’s motto – “Ketuiyechin potan kellog”.  In this connection, the OWC has made tremendous achievements in trying to bring together and unite Ogiek community countrywide so as to face a common front.  OWC now has representation in Board and also in staff distribution in almost all regions inhabited by the Ogiek countrywide.

OWC programs are directly related to the problems facing the Ogiek.  These are:

I.          Disenfranchisement and denial of constitutional and basic human rights.

II.         Economic and social deprivation.

III.        Wanton destruction of the community’s natural habitat, resources, culture and traditions.

OWC hopes that its programmes will be of benefit to all the 20,000 or so people in the Ogiek diaspora.

Head Office

National Secretariat,

Kwanza House, 1st Floor,

Kijabe row, off Kenyatta Avenue,

P. O. Box 12069, Tel. +254 (0) 37 212736,

00200 NAKURU

E-mail: ogieknet@multitechweb.com