The Ogiek
An in-depth report by John Kamau, Rights Features Service

Chapter 3
The Closed Society


With the Ogiek land now under threat and other politically correct communities earmarked to be settled there was a new move now throw a veil of fear on the community. Journalists who visited the Ogiek land found a community living in fear. One of them was Ngugi wa Mbugua who filed the initial report titled "Scramble for the Dorobo Country" which set the mood on what was happening. This was one of the most correct assessments of what awaited the Ogiek.

This is how wa Mbugua introduced us to the Ogiek people:

"Among a tiny, closely-knit and ultra conservative community living in a desolate clearing inside a thick forest, the individual is scarcely expected to have a mind of his own. The chief and Administration Police are the ad hoc controllers of the flow of information in a such a set up...

32 Ngugi wa Mbugua, "The Scramble for the Dorobo Country", Sunday Nation, 26 November 1995.  

"They take it as their inviolable duty to vet and decide which stranger may or may not be allowed to mix freely with 'my people'. Woe unto the intruder if he is a wee bit inquisitive and has arrived in a car".32

That observation was done by wa Mbugua in 1995 clearly depicted the kind of administrative structures that have been put into place to thwart the free flow of information of what was happening to the outside world.

33 Ngugi wa Mbugua, "The Scramble for the Dorobo Country", Sunday Nation, 26 November 1995.  

"The assistant chief of Nessiut location declared us persona non grata. He ensured we left the forest location faster than we had got in".33

The journalist was told on the face:

"You cannot talk to anyone...they (Ogieks) are not authorised to talk to you either".

And that intimidation was enough, recalled wa Mbugua:

"That did and women, who only a few moments back were more than willing to talk to us withdrew into cast iron cocoons. A sort of code of silence set in..."

Rather than help their people, the chiefs and sub-chiefs appointed by the government became instruments of terror.

34 William Kalegu in an interview with Munuhe Gichuki, "Ogiek elders struggle to repossess ancestral land", 9 April 1999.   "As a member of Kiptierom clan of Ogiek, I am shocked by the goings on. The area chief (Samson Sakimu ole Kipiro) and the assistant chiefs are being used by the state to oppress the community by insisting that each Ogiek community is entitled to only five acre plots. I think the chief should come to our side and work with his people instead of bringing in foreigners who he claims have been sent by the President or the DC. This should not be so".34
35 "Dorobo Saga...Now Guns Drawn in the Forest for Press: Seven Arrested for Helping Journalists, East African Standard, 26 November 1995.   On November 25, journalists from the East African Standard had a nasty experience when they went to the forest to follow up the Ogiek story. They found the Nakuru DC, Aden Noor who on seeing the journalists ordered the Administration Police to get them out of the forest at gunpoint. As if that was not enough seven Ogieks who had volunteered to show the journalists the way out of the thick forest were immediately arrested.35
36 "Elders: 200 Dorobo Evicted by DC", Sunday Nation, 31 December 1995.   It then emerged that the DC had gone to the forest to order some 200 Ogieks out of the forest. This infuriated the Ogiek elders who thought they should report the matter to the Special Branch offices in Nakuru. Nothing happened and on December 23 and 24 they called a press conference in Nakuru and told of how 200 Ogieks were evicted by the DC36 from the forest.
37 "DC scraps plan to re-settle Dorobos", Daily Nation, 3 January 1996.  

Whether this angered the DC is not clear but two days after the information was published the DC scrapped the original plan of settling the Ogieks in the forest, which would have made them the bona fide owners of the land.37

Those who attempted to speak on behalf of the Ogiek, especially the then Member of Parliament, Njenga Mungai were accused of meddling in affairs they were not familiar. This is what Nakuru County Council vice-chairman William Lasoi said:

38 "Lasoi: MP Meddling in Ogiek Affairs", Kenya Times, 12 January 1996.  

"It is ironic and ridiculous for [Njenga Mungai] to pretend to be concerned about the plight of a small community when a small confusion arose in the resettlement of the Ogiek".38

With their MP under attack for speaking for and on their behalf the Ogiek found themselves without any representative.

By May the elders decided to write to President Moi expressing fear that unless they were legally recognised as the inhabitants of the forest then they would soon culturally become extinct. The letter signed by 13 Ogiek elders said:

39 David Okwembah, "Dorobo Elders Write to Moi" East African Standard, 30 May 1996.  

"Unless the community is settled, it will continue to squat in Nessuit and Marioshoni locations without any hope. Sir, ...we ask to be settled exclusively as a community with our own cultural entity and affiliation in a land reserve like any other community in Kenya."39

This never happened and frustrated, the Ogiek decided to pressurise their case by joining hands with the Endoroiss who had been displaced and denied income from the Lake Bogoria Game reserve in the Rift Valley.

On November 1996, the two minority communities decided to form the Ogiek-Endoroiss Alliance whose objective was to champion for the rights of the minority groups. But their leader, Daniel Kibet Chesot was arrested on November 7 and charged with being a member of an illegal organisation. Another Ogiek leader and official of the organisation, Kimaiyo Towett was also arrested when he went to the station to enquire the fate of his colleague.

40 William Kamket, "Police Officer roughs up DO", Daily Nation, 11 November 1996   When members of the local press went to the police station on November 10 accompanied by the Ogiek lawyer, Juma Kiplenge, the police threatened to use tear gas to disperse them. After one hour, Kiplenge was allowed to see his clients. The police were so rough that in the process they roughed up a District Officer.40

41 "Molo Court orders 35 Accused treated", Daily Nation, 22 November 1996.


The next day, November 12 some 35 Ogiek elders were arrested by police for ostensibly "aiding prisoners to escape". When their case came up, their lawyer Mirugi Kariuki told a Court in Molo town that the elders were "tortured" and had to ask the court to order the police to take them to hospital.41

This move was widely seen as part of the general intimidation of the Ogiek. It was one way of instilling fear on the general Ogiek community.

And that had continued for years and in the July 1996 memorandum to the members of parliament, the Ogieks told of their continued harassment at the hands of the administration. Fancy this:


42 "Help us live in Our Ancestral Land and Retain Both Our Human and Cultural Identities as Kenyans of Ogiek Origin", a memorandum submitted to all Members of parliament by the Representatives of Kenyans of Ogiek Community living in Nessuit and Marioshoni Parts of the Mau Forest, dated July 15, 1996.


"For those of us whose home is in Tinet Forest from which we have been expelled to make way for people from Kericho, we are in exile or in concentration camps...our movements have been restricted. We no longer can hunt and collect honey from the entire forest as we have done traditionally. The colonial and post-colonial governments left us alone. We have never threatened their interests. We are not of much use to government. We are just a nuisance..."42

At Nessuit our team came across Mzee Joseph Kusak who narrated a sad story:


43 Interview with Joseph Kusak of Nessuit, July 31, 2000.

"The chief and the councillor sold my daughter's land. The chief, Rotich and councillor Kuluma are both Ogiek but related to Kipsigis. They're forcibly felling our trees along with the forester and selling them to Njoro sawmillers. Last month (July) the Njoro District Officer and Administration Police came to my house and tried to assault me. I grabbed a panga and told them to do what they want. They shot in the air and left".43


The conclusion one gets from the above account is that of a community under siege from the provincial administration. The constant harassment of the Ogiek is a continuos process and should not be seen as isolated cases. Ogiek leaders have tried all the avenues but so far they have not succeeded in the fight to get a place they can call home. In the Chapter that follows we will look at the wanton deliberate destruction of Ogiek forests in a bid to force them out and give away their ancestral land. MORE>>



Ch. 1: Ogiek: History of a Forgotten Tribe
Ch. 2:
The Struggle Begins, The Struggle Continues
Ch. 3:
The Closed Society

Ch. 4:
Wanton Destruction
Ch. 5:
Promises and More Promises
Ch. 6:
Threats and Lies
Ch. 7
: The Court Battle
Ch. 8:
The Aftermath

Pt. 1:
The Ogiek Community Submission before the Njonjo Land Commission
Pt. 2: Epilogue
Pt. 3: Conclusions
Pt. 4: Recommendations

Annex 1: Declarations on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities
Annex 2
: The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
Annex 3:
Legal Instruments that Govern Land in Kenya

The Ogiek: The Ongoing Destruction of a Minority Tribe in Kenya Copyright © 2000 Rights News and Features Service. Citations on this document may be made freely but copyright is vested in Rights News and Features Service. Unless otherwise stated all the views expressed here are those of the authors and are endorsed by Rights News and Features Service, which is responsible for the content in this publication. First published in Nairobi by Rights News and Features Service, First Floor, College House, University Way, P.O. Box 63828, Nairobi, Kenya. Phone: +(254-2) 311724. E-mail: Copies of the report may be ordered from Rights News and Features Service.