Archive for the 'Marginalized Voices' Category

Support for the Bushmen of Kalahari

WHERE? Chatham House, 10 St James square, LONDON, SW1Y
WHEN? Wednesday 12th March, 10.30-11.15


You will recall that The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) won in court the landmark right to return to their homes in 2006; a Pyrrhic victory because the Botswana government is refusing to allow the Bushmen to operate their own water borehole within the CKGR: without water the Bushmen cannot, of course, return home. In the meantime, a diamond mine is planned on the Bushmen’s land. It will be allowed to use as much water as it needs.

Please join our vigil to demand that the Botswana government allows the Bushmen to operate a borehole within the CKGR.

Please join us and help make our protest a powerful statement. For directions, please see the following link: Map


Nourishing hope in Kibera

Maureen - Inspirational Chairperson of Uzima Foundation
Maureen, Inspirational Chairperson of the Uzima Foundation.

When I met her, nothing in the lovely smile that never seems to leave her face betrayed the things that she has experienced. Yet something, maybe her dry wit, gives her the ability to let go of wounds and wake up each day with fresh enthusiasm.

I stumbled into Uzima Foundation in Kibera by coincidence and listened with mounting curiosity as the charismatic team took me through the ways they encourage youthful minds to build their self esteem and hone their skills and talent. I was very keen on meeting a product of this labor of love.

Enter Maureen, a girl born and brought up in a Kibera “village” called Kisumu Ndogo twenty-six years ago.

Maureen’s brief stint in Kisumu in a school called Pand Pieri (Hide Your Behind—a warning against hungry hyenas on the prowl) was followed by high school in Nairobi. Maureen was involved in drama, dancing, and sports and during Sunday mass was one of the graceful dancer-singers. Her free-time visits to the sick and the old drew her to join Uzima Foundation while still in school.

Maureen is the chairperson of Kibera Uzima Youth Group, plays football for the Kibera Uzima girls’ team (as striker, doubling up as goalie), weaves hats and baskets to make money, still dances, acts and sings to send out positive messages. She is a peer educator, a friend, a daughter, a lady, she is just . . . Maureen.

Maureen In Kibera, gang wars, landlord-tenant standoffs, and more everyday madness periodically break the peace, but the post-electoral violence that rocked the nation at the end of 2007 ushered in the 3rd World War. Maureen was at a friend’s place watching TV. As the election result was announced, Kibera cried out. People left their houses crying and wailing like they had lost a relative.

Kibera began to burn that night.

Maureen watched as smoke and screams rose in the diminishing light of dusk. Her phone rang: her worried father wondering if she were safe. The killing had started, and no one sane left any kind of a safe haven that night. Maureen stayed up mulling over the violence outside and wondering whether her friends and family were going to live through it.

Before long, Kibera had no food. With the violence escalating, the settlement was cut off from the rest of the world, save for a few courageous humanitarian organizations. Bitter fights broke out as nerves grew raw with pain, frustration, and hunger. Long queues for rations wrapped the fields surrounding the District Officer’s headquarters. Maureen could not stop thinking about those who had neither youth nor energy to fight.

Uzima Foundation called up their youth leaders to assist, and Maureen made a case for the bedridden and weak. She walked door to door for two days through Soweto West and East, Raila, Mashimoni, and most of the twelve villages of Kibera. She identified households in distress, and Uzima put in place a voucher system to enable relatives or friends to collect food supplies for 120 homes.

Many were bedridden due to HIV and had missed doses of life-saving antiretroviral medication. On visits with Uzima field officers, Maureen tried to leave each household with a handful of hope—for a solution, a miracle, or even just the realization that they were not alone. The task was physically and emotionally draining, yet Maureen’s steps did not falter.

One sick lady hadn’t eaten for days, and her five children watched their mother disintegrate as she tried to wash a pile of raggedy teddy bears outside their house. One of the children told her mother that the rice a neighbor had donated was cooked. The child was too young or perhaps too scared to turn off the stove, and the mother was too weak to get up. A kind neighbor quietly came to help, a role Maureen suspected she may have been playing for some time.

Maureen’s lowest point came when she met a young man walking ever so slowly, obviously in a lot of pain. Initially, as the bullets rained and everyone took cover, he didn’t even realize he had been shot. Then he saw the blood, a lot of it, and mercifully lost consciousness. Good Samaritans rushed him to hospital and paid for his emergency treatment—he still did not know who. His leg now seemed infected and had lost most of its functionality. As he balanced on one leg, tears filled his eyes. He had just returned from the hospital, he told her, but could not afford the medication prescribed. He was just glad to be alive, if barely.

Maureen was key to a forum Uzima set up to provide counseling and enable people to express their fears, hopes, pains, and sorrows without fear of retribution or rejection. One man felt that he had seen enough policemen for a lifetime. He broke down as he shared how his son had been shot dead, and how he had now lost his son’s soul by burying him in Langata Public Cemetery instead of in his ancestral home—impossible to reach due to the volatile situation.

A younger man impishly suggested that mass-action marches in Kenya ought to be staged with children at the front, followed by naked women with babies on their backs and men at the back. This way, there would be no bullets, no violence—or so he hoped.

One lady did her best to exorcize the past for all who had suffered in Kibera and around Kenya, sinking to her knees and crying out,

“For those who stole votes,
Kneel and repent!
For those who killed and chased their neighbours,
Kneel and repent!
For those who burnt people, homes and shambas,
For those who did shopping [looting], vandalized and broke the law,
All tribes of Kenya get down on your knees and pray. . . .
Shame the Devil. . . .
Ishindwe [He will not win]!”

As people began to pick up their lives, their painful burdens lightened once they shared them. They returned to Kibera with a new resolve to find peace amongst each other. After all, we have to start somewhere.

And so Maureen, one of Uzima Foundation’s buzzy bees, helped set an inspiring precedent, endlessly trying, endlessly vying for sustained peace in Kenya. Forgetting her own fears and her own tears, she stayed steadfast and true to the words of our Kenyan anthem: “Natukae na udugu,/Amani na uhuru./Raha tupate na ustawi—May we dwell in unity,/Peace and liberty./Plenty be found within our borders . . . ”.

Maureen, a true shujaa [heroine], is a brilliant flicker of hope for this wonderful nation.

Sikiliza is a Nakuru-based Writer and Photographer who has a passion for Africa and writes in her blog

Article originally from Generation Kenya

What is happening to the Ogiek?

One of the first communities to be affected by Kenya’s post-election violence were the Ogiek. They have valiantly put up a struggle against enforced evictions from their ancestral lands by the government but this latest debacle saw them being chased from their homes by government forces. They have reported police killing and raping their people and death threats against their leaders and all because they supported Raila Odinga, the opposition leader.

Timsales, a Kenyan timber company in which the Kenyatta family have a substantial stake, immediately tried to take advantage of the situation.
Mau loggersMau Loggers

…two lorries with timber-trailers, which rumbled through the area, carried not only the chainsaw wielding lumber-crew, but also 20 policemen with automatic weapons, who were hired to protect the alleged timber thieves.

Though Timsales, in which the Kenyatta Family and their most famous heir Uhuru Kenyatta have substantial stakes, had earlier – together with two other companies – been exempted by the former government from the general ban on hardwood felling, the Kenya Forest Service, a newly established parastatal entity, which has succeeded the corrupt governmental forest department, stated today, that since its takeover no licenses for hardwood harvesting had been issued. A representative of Timsales Ltd. could not be reached for comment.

Timsales, it is believed by the local people, just tried to utilize the present political turmoil and the general confusion to illegally cut hardwood trees from the forest.

But the swift response of the Ogiek guards stopped the operation and together with local elders and leaders the lorries and their team as well as the police-escort could be peacefully convinced to leave the area, whose people also are grievance-stricken due to most recent killings and atrocities committed by security personnel and invaders from neighboring communities.

Odinga has promised to make sure these people are not forced out of their land and was made an honorary leader by them recently. The Ogiek had wanted assurances that they would not be barred from living in the forests.

The Ogiek are hunter-gatherers who live in the Mau forests, their primary activity is keeping bees. Ogiek literally means “the caretaker of all plants and wild animals.” They are one of Kenya’s most marginalized people. The Ogiek lifestyle is intimately tied to the eco-system in which they live as they have done for centuries by gathering fruits, herbs and honey that they collect in the forests. These forests are being cut down by loggers for timber and forest is giving way to coffee growers and subsistence farmers who also destroy forest for charcoal. Much of the land is owned by government officials. Destruction of this eco-system will result in their way of life being destroyed too. The government claims that the Ogiek are responsible for environmental degradation of the forests which is not true. Their way of life makes them the most environmentally aware community in Kenya.

Conifers which are a poor substitute for Kenya’s diminishing forests are being planted but these are dead woodlands in which not much can exist, unlike Kenya’s original bio-diverse forests which are sadly disappearing at an alarming rate. The Mau forests play a central part in the ecology of the Rift Valley and are regarded by environmentalists as a major water tower. The deforestation of these forests is linked to the droughts Kenya has been experiencing. Some 2 million people live in this region and are dependent on the hills for water.

“Globally, something like 62 percent of precipitation occurs over land as a result of evapo-transpiration from lakes and wetlands and dense vegetation, in particular forests pumping water held in the soils, into the air. In comparison only around 38 percent of precipitation is generated over oceans and seas.”

The honey and fruit which afforded the Ogiek a life in which they enjoyed freedom and happiness is becoming scarcer. Kenya’s post-election violence has seen the Saboat Liberation Defence Force (SLDF) attack and chase this community of some 20,000 people away. Death threats have been sent to it’s leaders. The SLDF are a sub-group of the Kalenjin. They are a militia armed with automatic rifles and seek greater control of the land through force. They have attacked not only the Ogiek but other ethnic groups in the region. Militias have been formed to counter the SLDF these include ‘Janjaweed Militia’, the ‘Moorland Defence Forces’ and the ‘Progressive Defence Force’ which are apparently linked to rival politicians.

Some reports allege that the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a shadowy militia group active in and around the Mt Elgon region of western Kenya, has joined with their Kalenjin cousins. It has been engaged in its own campaign against so-called non-indigenous tribes. Many Luhyas, Kikuyus and members of other tribes have been attacked, over 600 have died and 60,000 have reportedly been displaced in this two-year old conflict. The SLDF is now the most powerful and best-armed militia group operating in the west. Its hit-and-run attacks from the Mt Elgon forest are a major challenge for the authorities, who appear incapable of quelling the rebellion. The group is officially headed by a man called Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui Komon, but there is speculation the real leader is a newly elected ODM parliamentarian from the region, though he has denied any links.

The SLDF seeks to evict non-indigenous people because it considers the region belongs to them and the KAMATUSA (an abbreviation of the Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu tribes) – a coalition of largely pastoralist tribes of the Rift Valley that share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. The group is allegedly now arming and training the Kalenjin warriors and receives their support in an attempt to take control of the Luhya-dominated district of Trans Nzoia, which produces the bulk of Kenya’s maize. Sabaot militants believe a future Rift Valley state within federal Kenya is incomplete without Trans Nzoia. The SLDF’s main ambition is to carve the agriculturally important Trans Nzoia away from Western Province and annex it to the Rift Valley. Their violent campaign seeks to cause mass displacement of non-Sabaots and non-Kalenjins, in the hope that a friendly central government will eventually legitimise facts on the ground. Crisis Group interview, Kitale residents, January 2008 – pdf


This pattern of displacement from the soil through violence is repeated across Africa and the so-called third world. Something like 80% of the worlds urban population now exist in urban slums. It would be a great tragedy if the Ogiek who have lived in the Mau Forests for over 20,000 years and have maintained this lifestyle as radical ecologists were forced to give up the immense knowledge of Kenya’s forests for life in Kenya’s slums.

What use are they as factory operatives, should they be so lucky to find such work, when their knowledge and wisdom is something that no other has?

An enlightened leadership would pick the brains of the Ogiek on what can be done to save Kenya’s forests. In fact any ecological measures taken to save the Mau forests must work with local people. Instead Kenya’s leadership turn a blind eye to their plight as the Ogiek flee the only life they have ever known. Kenyan elites see such disruptions to the social fabric of communities with roots to the land as merely a land buying opportunity.

We need to recognise the value of people like the Ogiek, they are Kenya’s medicine men with an intimate knowledge of the medicinal properties of the plants and trees of the Mau Forest, a knowledge that should not be lost for the sake of future generations and we need to treasure them. They can teach us so much in a world where environmental damage in pursuit of profit is carried out with no head to those it affects. Why are we we just bowing to a tiny elite throwing away finite resources forever?

Truly how many middle-class families can we create from a lifestyle based on the damage of the environment, community and families? Such limited aspirations have led to 80% of the world’s urban poor living in slums – is this really a price worth paying?

Support the Ogiek

If you would like to express your support for the Ogiek, here is a prepared letter you can use to do so. Send it to — in turn, it will be sent off to a number of Kenyan and International officials. If you’d rather send it to the officials yourself, here is a list of addresses.


Your Excellency:

I am writing to express my concern about the continued harassment of the Ogiek, an indigenous plant- and honey-gathering and hunting people that have lived in Kenya’s Mau Forest for hundreds of years.

For decades, the Ogiek have fought with first the British colonial and then the Kenyan government over their rights to inhabit their traditional homelands (e.g. in East and South West Mau Forest, Mount Elgon Forest etc.). They have all along sought the recognition of this area as their ancestral land.

After years of dispute, authorities have continuously refused to recognize this heritage as Ogiek land and instead ordered the Ogiek to leave the forest, saying that they had been allocated separate land years ago but had abandoned it. The Ogiek know that they have a right to live in their ancestral homeland and that the former government wanted to give the land to private individuals rather than to conserve it for the benefit of the Ogiek and the entire nation. On February 16, 2001, the former government announced through the official Kenya gazette that some 147,000 acres of Mau Forest would be excised to settle the landless. This move effectively would remove approximately 70 percent of Mau Forest from the legal control of the Forest Act and leaves the Ogiek land vulnerable to invasion by land speculators and grabbers.

I am particularly concerned about the latest, brutal evictions in Feb./March 2005, which were only stopped by a court injunction on 02 March 2005 and the atrocities and eviction committed against the Ogiek by your armed forces in June 2005 despite two High Court injuctions. We ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that the parliamentary order is refined, spare the Ogiek and that similar intrusions into their traditional lives as conservators of the forests never can take place any more under your governance. The Ogiek are also concerned about the ongoing illegal logging by outsiders in the Mau Forest which is destroying their cultural and hunting grounds.

The Ogiek community does not pose an environmental threat to the forest or the wildlife. The real environmental threat to the Mau Forest came from the former Kenyan government, which was allowing logging companies to cut down trees in the Mau Forest. Still many of Kenya’s protected forests have been illegally sold or given to developers. The former government imposed a partial logging ban which exempts three big logging companies: Pan African Paper Mills, Raiply Timber, and Timsales Ltd. The three firms were exempted because Raiply and Timsales claim to employ over 30,000 Kenyans, while Pan African Paper Mills (a 50% Worldbank owned entity) was exempted because “the government has shares in it and it was said to be important to the economy.”

Thus, while the government allows powerful logging companies to cut down trees in the forest, it is persecuting an indigenous people who pose no environmental threat and lack political power. However, we are pleased that your government said on July 6, 2001 that it had banned logging in the forest, and we ask that you ensure that illegal logging in the Mau Forest stops.

Please do everything in Your Excellency’s power to guarantee that your government will respect the rights of this minority people by allowing them to retain their natural habitats and halting the de-gazettement and allocation of land in Mau Forest to outsiders in perpetuum. Also a suit the community has filed in the High Court still has not rendered a final decision, which under wise judges only can come out pro Ogiek.

In addition, I respectfully ask that you do all that is necessary to stop the wanton destruction of Mau and Mount Elgon Forests. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response. Please keep me informed.

[your name, affiliation, and country]

More on the Ogiek Land Question

Survival is currently helping the Ogiek fight for their land.

Kenya’s Displaced Children bear the brunt of the violence

Thousands of Kenyan children have been separated from their parents as they fled their homes following the recent elections according to Save the Childen. Some have seen their parents killed. Many others have been raped and beaten and are traumatised. Some in the very camps that are supposed to provide them with shelter and security.

This is a problem that really needs to be addressed quickly. How? Perhaps the army can maintain law and order in the camps. This is not the ideal way to deal with a situation as complex as this but what are the options? The people and children in the camps are Kenya’s most vulnerable and they need protection.
Maria Nahuka - Jamhuri park

Maria Nahuka and sibling – Jamhuri park; two of Kenya’s displaced and parentless children

“We have spoken to many children who have been victims of violence and abuse and spoken to many more who have witnessed it,” said Save the Children emergency coordinator Matthew Wingate.

“Some have been raped, many beaten up. All are struggling with the trauma of what they have experienced.”

Save the Children says that conditions in the displaced camps are worsening despite a lull in violence.

Maria came to Jamhuri Park camp in Nairobi to escape the violence in her home town, but life in the camp also varies from day to day. “I look after my brother all the time because I am his sister and I have to. Sometimes we go and make a line to get the food but when we get to the front of the line the food has run out so then we have to stay here without eating anything. Even now we have not eaten all day. Some people like fighting – like when someone comes with milk, they fight and break it so then no one gets any milk. That was why we did not eat yesterday. But sometimes in the camps the situation is good – we eat food together, some of the mothers cook it in the kitchen. We learn in the tents here and have a kind of school.”

“I left my home in Burnt Forest three days ago – we have travelled here (Nakuru showground) by getting lifts along the road. There is still violence in Burnt Forest and many people I know are still there,” said Jane Njeri, 28, as she comforted her crying 8 month old daughter. Jane has two other children with her in the camp; another 10 year old daughter, and a 4 year old son.

Jane said “I do not want to return home. I would rather stay here – we have to start again – all I want is a house and some money so I can start to make a living again. I don’t know who burnt my house but I am worried for the people who remain in Burnt Forest.” Her young daughter starts to cry again and Jane turns to comfort her once more.

Hat tip to Afromusing.

The problem is that tragically there are children who are not able to say where they are from or who their parents are. A Red Cross Missing Persons helpline has been set up for people to contact should they have been separated from their relatives and children or know of anyone who is affected.

Nairobi 0720 550581
Kisumu 0720 998321
Nakuru 0724 137097
Mombasa 0723 512350
Eldoret 0722 497876
Bungoma 0720 751815

Please consider dontating now to Save the Children and you could also give to Ladies in Action (how I love their moniker!) who are working on the ground to help feed and protect families and children who have lost everything they knew.

The frustration of the internet for me is that while I sit here in London, relatively comfortable, I am unable to do more than blog about the situation. We are living in a connected world but only if you are economically affluent. The internet is a luxury especially if you are sitting in an IDP camp. Imagine that! Knowledge has boundaries. I take my hat off to all those who are working at ground level and have not taken their eye off what needs to be done. I welcome ideas on action that can be carried out from here from those who are actively engaged in helping people affected by the breakdown of Kenyan society.