Category Archives: Kenya

“The Endorois decision” – Four years on, the Endorois still await action by the Government of Kenya

RebeccaRebecca Marlin is currently the Legal Fellow at Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in London. She earned her B.A. from Wellesley College and her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. During her time at MRG she will be working extensively with the Endorois to achieve implementation of the 2010 African Commission decision granting them rights to Lake Bogoria.

For the Endorois of Kenya’s Lake Bogoria, the process of reclaiming their land from the government of Kenya has been one step forwards and two steps back. In 2003, MRG and partner organisation Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), acting on behalf of the Endorois Welfare Council, went before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to demand that the Kenyan government recognise the rights of the Endorois to Lake Bogoria.

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Lake Bogoria is of great cultural significance to the Endorois. Copyright MRG

The Endorois had inhabited Lake Bogoria for over 300 years before being evicted by the government in the 1970s. In 2010, the Endorois won the landmark case Centre for Minority Rights Development and Minority Rights Group International (on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council) v Kenya. The land rights aspects of this groundbreaking decision have been discussed on this blog here and some of the regional implications here.

A pattern of empty promises emerges

Immediately following the Commission’s ruling in February 2010, the government of Kenya welcomed the decision, promising to begin implementation. A large celebration of the decision was held at Lake Bogoria; the Minister of Lands was in attendance and the momentous occasion was broadcast on television nationally. Kenya’s progressive National Land Policy had been enacted only a few months prior to the ruling and, with a forward-thinking new Constitution in the drafting stages, it seemed the decision might soon be translated into restitution of land, compensation, and benefit-sharing for the Endorois.

However, in May 2010, a report on implementation due to be submitted by the government of Kenya to the African Commission failed to arrive. Throughout 2010 and 2011, the government of Kenya failed to take any significant action on the recommendations. One MP openly challenged the Minister of Lands in Parliament about this delay in January 2011; the official response from the Minister was that he would not be able to take any action until he received an official sealed copy of the 2010 decision – despite the fact that the decision had been officially adopted and published one year earlier. A sealed copy was thereafter delivered to the Minister, but this did little to improve the situation.

When pressed on the matter, the government continues to affirm that it supports the decision and is taking steps to carry out the Commission’s recommendations. Yet, steps taken by the government indicate the exact opposite and new legislation on Lake Bogoria threatens to further separate the Endorois from their land.

For instance, the rushed-through Kenya Wildlife Bill was published in 2011 without consultation with the Endorois. This law requires payment of entrance fees for anyone entering Lake Bogoria and criminalises any activities that might endanger wildlife in the area, leaving no exception for the religious and cultural practices of the people indigenous to the land. In early 2014 the Endorois engaged in peaceful protests against the government’s parcelling out of some Endorois land to non-Endorois, and were met with beatings and arrests.

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This hotel, which was built on Endorois traditional land, accommodates the influx of tourists who travel to this region. Copyright MRG

The Endorois cause suffered another severe blow in 2011 when they learned that UNESCO had included Lake Bogoria on the World Heritage List, a designation which would greatly affect the Endorois’ rights to the land. The Endorois had not been consulted at all, and it was in fact the Kenyan Government’s Wildlife Service (KWS) that had urged UNESCO to include Lake Bogoria. Followingcomplaints by the Endorois, the African Commission expressed its concern in aresolution calling on the government of Kenya and the World Heritage Committee to revise its policies to include participation by indigenous peoples through their own representatives.

Nearly three years later, in May 2014, representatives from KWS, the Baringo County Council, the Kenyan Commission to UNESCO, and the Endorois Welfare Council convened to sign a memorandum of understanding that recognized Lake Bogoria as Endorois ancestral land and required Endorois inclusion in management of the land. As a result, the World Heritage Committee reviewed the status of Lake Bogoria and issued a State of Conservation report in July 2014, requiring the government of Kenya to report on conservation by 1 February 2015, and urging it to include the Endorois in management and benefit-sharing.

In an effort to push the government of Kenya to comply with the 2010 decision and implement its recommendations, the African Commission held an implementation hearing in April 2013, at which the Government was called on to redress its earlier failures to present the Commission with a roadmap to implementation. The hearing was followed by a meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) in Nairobi in September 2013. Forty-five delegates attended, including nineteen members of the Endorois community, nineteen members of Kenyan organisations, and seven international representatives, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Not a single delegate from the Kenyan government could be troubled to respond to the invitation or appear at the meeting, held only blocks from their offices in Nairobi.

Following the hearing and the WGIP meeting, the African Commission took note of the total absence of the Kenyan government from meetings devoted to the situation of the Endorois, as well as its failure to act in assessing compensation, sharing benefits or providing restitution of the land. In November 2013, the African Commission issued a resolution calling on the government of Kenya to take concrete steps towards implementation and to immediately file a comprehensive report on implementation with the Commission.

The Endorois community with MRG staff in Kenya

The Endorois community with MRG staff in Kenya. Copyright MRG

What’s next for the Endorois?

Though faced with considerable hurdles, the Endorois continue to push for implementation. The Endorois Welfare Council (EWC) has composed an action plan which involves lobbying the national government, maintaining a presence in Parliament through various sympathetic MPs, and working with the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. In May 2014, Kenya’s National Land Commission appointed a Taskforce on Historical Land Injustices which aims to identify, investigate, and remedy land grievances. The taskforce begins a national tour this month, and the EWC plans to meet with them.

In July 2014, the EWC reported that it had received an offer of 2 million Kenyan Shillings (approximately £13,760) from the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) as a result of a deal between KWS and industrial biotech company Novozymes. The payment will be distributed to targeted beneficiaries, particularly Endorois students. Novozymes has agreed to pay royalties to KWS in exchange for exploitation of the bioenzymes found in Lake Bogoria; it is good news that KWS has offered some share of the royalties to the Endorois, but an official and consistent royalty scheme remains to be devised and implemented.

These latest developments represent a tentative step towards implementation of the 2010 decision, but the fact remains that legislation and task forces are not enough: the government of Kenya must return Lake Bogoria to the Endorois and begin to compensate them for their losses.

The ICC at 10 Years: Crises of Cooperation, Capacity and Legitimacy

chelsea-Awaaz-webChelsea Purvis and Awaz Raoof, lawyers who are currently assisting MRG’s Legal Cases Team, report back from a panel discussion in London hosted by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

Members of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) held a panel discussion on 16 May 2013 at the School of Oriental and African Studies.  CICC Convenor William R. Pace, former ICTY and ICTR prosecutor Judge Richard Goldstone, ICC Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, and REDRESS’ Interim Director Dadimos Haile presented their thoughts on “Current Challenges Facing the International Criminal Court” on its tenth anniversary.

Three major themes emerged from the discussion.  The first related to the need for more cooperation between the ICC and State governments. Judge Goldstone stressed that the success of the ICC depends on the cooperation of States, which it relies on for the contribution of resources and the enforcement of its decisions.  The non-implementation of the ICC’s arrest warrants against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, Judge Goldstone argued, is an example of this dependence.  In addition to the Sudanese government refusing to recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC, various State Parties to the Rome Statute have also allowed President Al-Bashir on their territory without arresting him. However, other countries have warned that they will arrest Al Bashir if he visits their territories, in effect placing significant restrictions on his travel.

The panellists also emphasized the ICC’s need to develop capacity – particularly with regard to victim assistance.  Deputy Prosecutor Stewart, discussing Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s plans to improve the ICC, said that the ICC needs to use the most sophisticated investigative tools in order to meet threats to the integrity of its investigations.  Stewart said that the Office of the Prosecutor is committed to supporting victims.  Dadimos Haile elaborated on the challenges faced by victims in accessing the ICC and ways that the ICC can continue to simplify its application process and better support victims.

The most dominant theme of the evening – certainly during the Q&A – was the ICC’s perceived lack of legitimacy in Africa.  Several audience members sharply criticized the panelists for the ICC’s record of bringing cases solely against Africans, and charged the ICC with being a “political court” that did not serve the interests of justice.  Haile responded by asserting that we must be careful to explore the content of allegations by African leaders that the ICC has an “Africa bias.”  We all have a “desire to see the ICC reach its full potential” and explore crimes committed throughout the world, he said.  But, in a salient response to the criticisms from the audience, he reminded the audience that some leaders hide behind this allegation as a way to escape culpability for genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Goldstone also highlighted the fact that many cases are being referred to the ICC by African States themselves – a point which should not be eliminated from the debate. He further stressed the cornerstone principle of the ICC – that of complementarity – which states that the ICC is a court of last resort to be used only when the relevant domestic authorities are unwilling or unable to investigate the criminal allegations themselves.

Its critics doubtless have a mix of motivations, but the ICC must engage with the criticisms regarding its perceived illegitimacy in Africa if it wants to tackle this pressing challenge over the next decade.  Calls from the audience for a more concerted approach by the ICC to tackling this precise issue were left unaddressed by the panel. The ICC’s investigation of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto provides a clear example of why the ICC’s legitimacy is so important, and of the danger of allowing such criticisms to eclipse the underlying issues at stake.  Kenyatta and Ruto are under investigation for crimes against humanity committed during the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya.  The investigation has been controversial, partly because former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo referred the cases on his own authority, rather than by referral of the UN Security Council or an ICC statute member State.

During their campaign for the presidency, Kenyatta and Ruto portrayed the ICC investigation as neocolonial, running on a slogan that a vote for them was a “referendum against the ICC.”  Although Deputy Prosecutor Stewart highlighted that Kenya is continuing to cooperate with the investigation, Kenya has now asked the ICC to drop the case.  The African Union (AU) also recently spoke in favor of dropping the investigation, accusing the ICC of “race hunting.

kenya 2008 010The collapse of the ICC’s case against Kenyatta and Ruto could be a disaster for the victims of the post-election violence, which killed an estimated 1,500 people, and displaced approximately 600,000 more.  Indigenous peoples like the Ogiek of Kenya were among those attacked and displaced during the post-election violence.  Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) has found Kenyatta and Ruto among those accused of “planning and financing violence” during the post-election period, but they recommend that no action be taken against them because they are under investigation by the ICC.

Should the ICC abandon its investigation of Kenya, minority and indigenous communities have little confidence in a domestic investigation.  As the TJRC concluded, discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples in Kenya is “systemic,” and the state has throughout its history “demonstrated no genuine commitment to investigate and punish atrocities and violation committed by its agents against innocent citizens.” Emmanuel Lemis of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme argues, “Internally displaced peoples have hope for justice from the ICC but no confidence in local courts.”

Prosecutor Bensouda has been working with the AU to improve the ICC’s strained relationship with African States.  This is a welcome move, but the panel discussion highlighted that it is vital for the ICC to take further steps to engage directly with its critics and tackle its perceived lack of legitimacy in the region.  Only this way can it help bring justice to communities like the Ogiek in Kenya.  As Lemis explains, “Internally displaced people are still in camps five years down the line, waiting for justice to be done.”

Image of the Ogiek community by Ishbel Matheson

Part 1: How to Skin a Porcupine

Daniel Openshaw, MRG’s Publications Intern, reports back from the Expert Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Languages and Cultures. In the first of two blogs he discusses the importance of cultural rights and their inseparability from rights to self determination and land.

I have no idea how to skin a porcupine, but then I do not speak Innu-aimun, the language of Canada’s indigenous Innu. Innu-aimun has specific terms describing how to kill and prepare porcupine, for which there is no equivalent in other languages. Those who don’t speak Innu-aimun will be able to guess, they might hack away at the rodent, trying to avoid being pricked by one of its sharp spines until it resembles a steak, over time even cultivating methods resembling those that Innu have been using for centuries. However, there will be no efficient way of explaining these processes to others if Innu-aimun ceases to exist. This cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge will be lost…at best assigned to the history books with the useful words assimilated (‘borrowed’) into more dominant languages, at worst, forgotten.

This example highlights a recurring theme that emerged at the Expert Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Languages and Cultures, organised by Dr Alexandra Xanthaki from Brunel Law School in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which I attended in March. Majority cultures have a longstanding history of dismissing and assimilating indigenous cultures and languages that are often differ radically from the mainstream.

A panel of expert speakers and OCHCR representatives gather during the Expert Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ Languages and Cultures

Academics and indigenous representatives from around the globe attended in order to aid the development of a study by the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council under resolution 18/8 of September last year. The aim of the study is to investigate the role of languages and culture in the promotion of the rights and identity of indigenous peoples.

The seminar emphasized the importance of preserving and promoting cultural rights and also important issues standing in the way of this. Professor Elsa Stamatopoulou, former Chief of the UN Permanent Forum on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, summed up the conundrum: human rights are seen as the weak part of international law and within these rights cultural rights are seen as the weakest, as illustrated by the make-up of the ICESCR which covers Economic rights (E) and Social rights (S) from articles 1 through to 14 and then tags on Cultural rights (C) as a vague afterthought in article 15. Things are improving with the introduction of UNDRIP, which although legally non-binding has achieved almost universal recognition and indicates a step forward to recognizing what Professor Stamatopoulou referred to as ‘the essentiality of cultural rights’, not simply as a luxury secondary to a person’s right to food and water.

Maasai child in front of traditional hut. Credit: Kibuyu

‘If you don’t have a traditional culture or speak a traditional language then you are a slave’ – a Swahili proverb that emphasizes that the right to maintain one’s culture is fundamental to one’s right to self-determination. Lucy Mulenkei, head of the Indigenous Information Network, further illustrated this through the displacement of Maasai in Kenya.

When they are displaced, for whatever reason, it is almost certainly a non-indigenous person who has decided they must be displaced and they might be moved to areas where traditional materials are unavailable to build traditional huts in traditional ways. Perhaps without malice but definitely with indifference, decision-makers have not taken into account the cultural rights of indigenous peoples and in doing so have denied the Maasai part of their identity.

Cautious optimism did prevail at the seminar, especially because of recent developments in the recognition of cultural rights, often in conjunction with land claims. Dr Jeremie Gilbert of Middlesex University highlighted the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (IACHR) 2001 landmark ruling in favour of the Mayagna community of Awas Tingni, Nicaragua. Logging permits had been granted on indigenous land by the state without obtaining the free prior and informed consent of local communities. The IACHR recognized Awas Tingni land as property of the Mayagna peoples on the basis of traditional use and occupancy, equal to the social integrity of the community.

Traditional Maasai huts. Credit: J. Czliao

Dr Kristin Hauser of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law also highlighted how the Supreme Court of British Columbia had allowed traditional culture to be heard on a equal footing to anthropological and scientific evidence in the case of a land dispute involving the Tsilhqot’in first nations peoples of Canada. Given the evidence, the judge stated that 50% of disputed land should have been awarded to the indigenous community but as this was an ‘all or nothing’ claim, no land could actually be awarded. Nevertheless, the recognition has been heralded as a victory.

Furthermore, MRG has been involved in the case of the Endorois in Kenya, semi-nomadic pastoralists who were evicted from their ancestral land in the 1970s to make way for a national park. Here the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) took the rights to religion, culture and access to natural resources, together to be equal to the right to cultural integrity and used this to award the Endorois land rights and posthumous compensation; a positive step but one that two years on is yet to be implemented.

These cases illustrate the inseparable nature of cultural rights and land rights, further emphasizing the essentiality of cultural rights. This will be explored in MRG’s ‘State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples’ to be launched on June 28th, which this year focuses on natural resources and extractive industries.

However, what is striking is the lack of acknowledgment of linguistic rights in the ACHPR definition of cultural integrity. This is a cause for concern as Dr Mark Harris of Adelaide University pointed out; Aboriginal land claims in Australia are often imbedded in language, a discussion that will be continued in my next blog…

We are enemies of ourselves

MRG’s Head of Law, Lucy Claridge, is in Kenya to gather evidence for two crucial international land rights cases

Don’t tell my family, but I’m coming to think of Kenya as my second home.  This isn’t just because it’s already my second trip this year (as the immigration official helpfully points out whilst flicking through my passport “You come here a lot!  You’re wearing the same coat as last time!”), but because it’s very hard not to feel welcome and inspired by all the people I meet and work with during my visits.  And this is in spite of the challenging situation which many of them face on a daily basis.

As MRG’s Head of Law, I’m visiting Kenya to work on two international land rights cases before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the first for the Ogiek, an indigenous hunter-gather community who live in the Mau Forest and around Mount Elgon, and the second for the Endorois, a pastoralist community who last year successfully challenged their eviction from ancestral land around Lake Bogoria. My trip coincides with the first appearance of the “Ocampo Six” at the International Criminal Court in the Hague: six key Kenyan figures face an international criminal trial for their involvement in the ethnic violence following the December 2007 elections , which resulted in the death of over 1,000 Kenyans and thousands more displaced.  Unsurprisingly, it’s hot news; it features on the front page of every paper throughout my visit, and televisions blast out live reports in each restaurant that I enter.  It makes a stark contrast to my last visit to Nakuru, when the only thing showing was the World Cup!

I spend my first day with the Ogiek of Mount Elgon, who come from Western Kenya and, in common with many Ogiek of the Mau Forest, face eviction from their ancestral homes.  I’m gathering evidence and information for the upcoming session of the African Commission, during which their case will hopefully be considered.  We discuss the challenges they have faced over the past 60 years, and the progress of their case.  During our discussion, I ask them what they feel about the ICC process – and they respond positively, saying that they feel it will send a message to the Government that there must be accountability for its actions, and that human rights and the rule of law must be respected.  I admire their optimism.  And given the thousands of people that flock to Uhuru stadium in Nairobi to welcome back the Ocampo Six a few days later – which feels like impunity – I can only hope that they’re right.

My remaining days in Nakuru are spent at a workshop focusing on women’s rights.  Nearly 30 women from throughout the Mau and Mount Elgon attend the two day workshop, during which they learn the basics of minority and indigenous peoples’ rights, how the new Kenyan constitution protects women’s rights, the aim of the case before the African Commission, and what we hope it will achieve for them.  The lack of Ogiek land rights has had a particularly striking effect on women, which becomes ever clearer to me as the training progresses.

“There is no respect if we don’t have land…. once we have lost our land, we have lost our identity”, they explain.  One woman, Sarah (who speaks excellent English and very kindly translates from Swahili for me at points), has her arm in a sling following a violent attack several weeks before as a direct result of her activism around the Ogiek land rights issue.  Yet the majority of Ogiek women still have quite traditional roles, as one speaker identifies when he asks them to tell him what would happen if they didn’t work for a day.  “My family would go hungry”; “My family would be naked”; “My family would be dirty”; “My family would be lost”, the participants respond.

But by the end of the seminar, the women are inspired and motivated to try and step out of those roles, to seek education for their daughters, to participate more in politics, to empower themselves, and to seek their land rights. “We are enemies of ourselves!” one woman cries, as we discuss the way forward.

I leave Nakuru hoping that she is right, that these women will feel empowered to act on what they have learnt, that their husbands and families will allow them to do so, and also that they have learned as much as I have in the space of just 2 days.

Part 2 – Maasai women speak up of abuse and violence

Farah MihlarMRG’s media officer Farah Mihlar shares her stories from the sidelines of a media training for community activists in Nairobi, Kenya. Read part 1 here.

Part 2

Yes, they did make it on time, but Stella overslept. The poor thing was completely embarrassed as she came down to a few grumpy stares, though just 30 minutes late. Our trip was to Mara to visit Maasai communities. Joining us was Jedrzej, a journalist working for Polish political weekly magazine, Polityka. His visit is part of an MRG project to increase awareness of issues on minority and indigenous communities in the EU new member states.

Despite coming in earlier than the two party animals, I was knocked out and fell asleep through the early part of the journey, only to be woken to Jedrzej clicking his camera to some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. We were driving on a road nestled in between towering mountains. Narok town is a little less than 3 hours from Nairobi.

Our master guide Kedoki and the ever entertaining Eunice, both colleagues of Esmael and Stella, join us as we make our way to Mara. We are stocked with peanuts, water bottles and Esmael’s great idea of Kenyan ice cream. The drive to Mara is arduous and long, the road is in a terrible condition but the company is excellent. We talk about life, kids, romance. When we finally get to Mara, we are stopped at the gate to the wildlife reserve, and asked to buy tickets. While we are swamped by women selling beaded chains and wooden carvings, only Kedoki’s masterful negotiations and contacts within the community get us in. At the entrance to the village we visit, young Maasai men, in colourful robes, welcome us. They sing and dance to a traditional welcome song, whilst Esmael and Jedrzej have to join in.

We are later taken on a tour of the village. We meet women making beaded ornaments, and they show us their hunting tools and how to start a fire. Much of the tour is touristic and it is clear that the villages in Mara have had to adapt themselves to the increasing numbers of tourists visiting the game reserve. I try to avoid the tour guide, and speak to the elders and women about the difficulties they face. The elders explain that they have very limited access to health facilities and schools. They have to walk miles to get to the main road and hope a passing vehicle stops to take a sick person to hospital. ‘We get nothing from the government. You saw the road you came on, they can’t even build the road,’ they say. The Kenyan government earns millions of dollars from tourism, Maasai Mara being one of the most visited places.  It is getting dark and we have to leave to get out of the reserve before it is too late.

I crash into bed, in the guest house room, and watch the Kenyan version of X Factor. The talent was amazing, several Whitney Houston’s and Mariah Carey’s in the making. Just as I was beginning to warm up to the Simon Cowell equivalent on the judging panel  there was a power cut!

I am woken on Sunday morning by the call to prayer from the Narok mosque, and again a few hours later by an array of different church sessions. There are several evangelical groups that practice in Narok. All have their own choirs and sermons that are played out on loudspeakers.

On Sunday, we visit another village closer to Narok. Miriam has helped organise this. Pauline Kinyarkoo, who works with Miriam and is a local councilor, takes us around.  Pauline is a larger-than-life character; she is full of life and energy, kindness and love. We first stop to pick up Mary, a peer advisor to the village we are visiting. It is Sunday so she is at a service in the makeshift little church by her house. Little kids sing and dance the praises of Jesus.

Pauline Kinyarkoo

Pauline Kinyarkoo, a woman Maasai activist and councilor, addresses elders in the community

As we enter the village, Pauline first introduces us to the elders. In African tribal culture elders have a very important role to play, respecting them and seeking their approval is a must. After interviewing the elders, Pauline gathers the women in the village so I can speak to them about gender issues in the community. We go and sit under a tree outside the village fence, surrounded by the vast, beautiful terrain of dusty land stretching miles before reaching the mountains.

The women take time, but slowly start talking about the difficulties in their lives. Maasai women, like most pastoralist women, are discriminated against and ill treated on all fronts. They suffer discrimination by people from other communities, those who live in the towns, who look at them as backward, ignorant and dirty. They have no place in their own community, and are oppressed through various cultural practices, including child marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation. They open up, with their stories, their pain, both physical and emotional. I am touched by their willingness to share these intimate, painful experiences. I ask if I can write about them – they tell me to take their stories to the world.

Maasai women in Kenya

Maasai women in Kenya

On our return we stop at Mary’s home for a cup of tea. She has six lovely children, I ask if I can take her smallest.  The little fellow cringes behind her as she teases to send him with me. We have to leave as it is getting late and I need to return to Nairobi.

I leave Kenya with many wonderful memories, the beautiful landscape, the music and rhythm, the spicy food and the diversity and different stories from each community. But what I will never forget is the tremendous courage and strength of all of the women I met, in Nairobi, Narok, and Mara, who fight tirelessly everyday to give their young girls a better life.

Part 1 – Training, interviewing, community visits and clubbing – all in a week’s work.

Farah MihlarMRG’s media officer Farah Mihlar shares her stories from the sidelines of a media training for community activists in Nairobi, Kenya.

Part 1

I think in my previous life I must have been born to an indigenous community in Africa. I have been just twice, to Uganda and Kenya, but on both times I have had an instant connection.  Like in my last trip to Kampala, this time too, in Nairobi, I was there for a regional training for community activists on how to use the media. The training was, as always, intense and interesting, but I want to share here some of my experiences outside of the class room.

The first lesson on African culture came even before the training started. I reached Nairobi over the weekend and on the Sunday decided to go to a popular coffee place to check e-mails and prepare my presentations (I know it’s sad – I do on occasion work on weekends!!). While waiting for a hot chocolate that took forever and trying to reply to e-mails, I struck up a conversation with a Kenyan, Indian-Muslim girl seated beside me. Shortly, I was introduced to a male friend of hers and we got chatting about Islamic practices and cultures…the conversation led to being asked out for dinner…followed by two text messages and one call (in a matter of hours)….followed by me completely freaking out!

Perhaps it was being in a new country as a woman alone, or possibly just having got used to the London dating culture, where this sort of thing would happen only when the guy is properly drunk.  I was only calmed by a sweet brotherly lecture from my colleague Mohamed. I decided to solicit his advice and to keep him informed – just in case. I can still picture Muhammad scowling at me, gesturing wildly ‘This is normal in Africa, this is our culture, what is wrong with the men in London’ (I’d like the answer to that too!). Calm down Farah,’ he says, ‘remember we are hunters, we go behind people.’ Great consolation Mohamed, I have now turned into a prey animal. That works well for the feminist in me!

During the course of the week the training was far too demanding to be distracted by anything. My role was to help activists think like journalists – spot the good story, know how to tell it but also to be sensitive and get their point across effectively. We practiced through case studies which the different teams came up with, such as low level violent conflicts amongst pastoralists and tension in South Sudan ahead of the referendum.

Participants learn to operate a camera

Participants learn to operate a camera at the training

Days two and three were run by the illustrious Lee Kanyare, who together with his assistants Christine and Njoroge,  brought the world of filmmaking and audio/video editing alive. We watched movies till late in the evening about different communities in Africa, and participants made their own short films interviewing each other on the issues they worked on.  The last day was learning to create websites, which was conducted by Carson, who is himself from the indigenous Endorois community. Most of the participants were from Kenya, from several different communities, including Maasai, Ogiek, fisher communities and Endorois. There were two participants from Southern Sudan.

As media officer, I had a dual role to play.  One was to train and the second was to gather content for MRG’s new Minority Voices Newsroom.  This meant lunches and dinners were spent chatting to people learning about their lives, the issues they work on, and grabbing them during coffee breaks to do quick interviews.  I learnt fascinating stories from Anne, Miriam and Maryam, about Maasai cultural practices that affect women and girls. Cherono, the first university graduate from the hunter gatherer Ogiek community, talked of the many obstacles she had to go through to get her qualification. Kipkazi and Evans always kept our spirits up telling us how the Endorois were trying to reap the benefits of the success of a recent land rights case. Paul kept the focus on South Sudan without letting the Kenyans steal the limelight. Dalmas knew just about everything on minorities in Kenya.

Participants at media training in Kenya

Participants at the media training in Kenya

Despite the tight schedule, I did however manage to cram in two other interesting activities. The first was to visit the Nubians, a small minority community in Kibera, Nairobi’s slum area. The Nubians trace their history to pre-biblical times. They moved across Egypt to Sudan, where the small numbers who live in Kenya originated from. Despite having lived in Kenya for centuries, even before colonial rule, the Nubians lack proper recognition, have no legal ownership of their lands and struggle with poverty and unemployment.

The second activity was more exciting than interesting. I managed to squeeze in 30 minutes of proper African clubbing with my friends Stella and Esmael, who were also participants. Stella is originally Maasai, living in Narok and working on gender rights and Esmael is Somali Kenyan working on sexual rights and HIV prevention. Unfortunately I don’t have a bone of rhythm in me,  certainly not compared to Kenyans.  I would have loved to stay longer but I had to wake up at 6 am to leave for a community visit. Stella and Esmael were supposed to be our guides, they promised to leave in time to make it by six. If you want to know if that happened you will need to read part 2.

Oh, and if you are wondering if I ever went on the date…well I’ll leave that to your imagination!

A ray of hope for minorities in Kenya referendum vote

Mohamed Matovu, MRG’s Africa Regional Information Officer, examines the Kenyan vote for change and looks at how it will change the lives of the country’s marginalised communities.

By massively endorsing the proposed constitution with a 67% Yes vote in the recently concluded referendum, Kenyans emphatically put an end, at least on paper, to historical and ethnic injustices that have long divided their country.

“The result of the referendum”, says Kenyan constitutional law Professor Yash Ghai, “puts beyond doubt the wishes of Kenyans to bring about fundamental social and political changes – a new birth, no less.”

Despite the win, the proposed constitution raised some sticky issues reflected in the 33% of Kenyans that voted against it. Many of the ‘No’ camp came from Rift Valley Province, the location of most of the country’s land disputes and ethnic tensions. One source of controversy was the retention of Kadhi’s (Islamic family) courts, despite the fact that there have been provisions for them in the constitution since independence.

The referendum marks the beginning of a wider reform agenda agreed to by the Grand Coalition Partners – comprising major political parties that participated in the flawed 2007 presidential elections – meant to strengthen Kenya’s democracy, the rule of law and avert a repeat of the post-election violence that left scores dead, thousands displaced and property worth millions destroyed.

The far-reaching reform agenda, mediated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, focuses on four main areas:  stopping violence and restoring fundamental rights and freedoms; addressing the humanitarian crisis and promoting national healing and reconciliation; resolving the political crisis through power-sharing; and resolving long-standing issues as a means of bringing about national reconciliation.

What is in it for marginalised communities?

Several political commentators have endorsed the new Kenya constitution’s bill of rights as “the most progressive in Africa”, stating that it is even a notch better than South Africa’s. Others have called it “easily the most ambitious in Africa”, especially in relation to how it dramatically reduces the power of the president, expands parliamentary oversight over the executive, and provides for dual citizenship.

Endorois, Rift Valley, Kenya

Members of the Endorois indigenous community, Mochongoi, Rift Valley

However, the most important gain in the new constitution for minorities and indigenous peoples, who have endured all manner of exclusion, including widespread landlessness, is the recognition of their existence.

According to Nyang’ori Ohenjo, the chairman of the Minority Rights Consortium, a loose coalition of minority and indigenous groups in Kenya, the new constitution “is a huge building step which opens a lot of opportunities to have the rights of marginalised communities secured.”

For instance article 56 ensures affirmative action for minorities and marginalised groups, allowing for their participation and representation in governance and “special opportunities in educational and economic fields.” Article 63 recognises community land ownership, while article 100 directs parliament “to enact legislation to promote the representation in parliament of, among other groups, ethnic and other minorities and marginalised communities.”

“Such provisions,” argues human rights lawyer Korir Sing’oei, “are very progressive and explicit in recognising and addressing the specific concerns for minorities as far as recovering expropriated tribal or community land by big names, big money, and state functionaries is concerned.”

For Africa moreover, the new constitution is some form of continent-wide redemption because it represents an all-important victory:  a group of (civilian) reformists managing this kind of reform through a civil political process.