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Central Africa
East Africa
North Africa
Sahel Horn of Africa
Southern Africa
West Africa
Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania

Regional Representatives :

Regional Representative : Edward Porokwa, Maasai, Tanzania
Deputy Regional Representative : Simon Parkesui, Ogiek, Kenya
Women's Representative : Agnes Leina, Samburu, Kenya

Background and Ethnic Overview

The indigenous peoples of East Africa are hunter-gatherers as well as pastoralists who predate the migration of Bantu peoples into this region. The hunting-gathering and fishing peoples include the Ogiek, Sengwer, Dahalo - Aweer - Waata, Elmolo, Yaaku, and so called ‘Dorobo.’ The transhumant pastoralists peoples include the Maasai, Samburu, Rendille, Pokot, Pokomo and Borana. In Tanzania, groups include the Hadzabe, Dorobo, Aasax and Akie hunter-gatherers, the Sandawe farmers, and the Maasai and Datoga (including Barabaig) pastoralists.

Regional Review
Deforestation and climate change continue to be urgent issues for indigenous peoples in the East and Horn of Africa. The destruction of grazing lands, deforestation, drought, access to safe water, destruction of plants and animals, and the displacement of indigenous peoples are all ongoing problems. Another major concern is how to help protect and promote how indigenous peoples pass knowledge from one generation to another.

Yaaku activists in the Mukogodo Forest have been involved in language revival work and mobilisation of their community around indigenous rights and the protection of the Forest. Yaaku People’s Association is a member of the African Biodiversity Network. There are less than 4000 Yaaku and only seven still speak their ancient Cushitic language. Through the Yaaku, IPACC and ABN have created an alliance to strengthen indigenous civil society and promote sustainable economic development.

Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia all have similar situations where peoples who collect wild honey and other forest foods are not considered to be owners or even users of the land. Their livelihoods are not seen as productive by their governments, who believe that the only productive economic activities are those that involve intensive mono-crop agriculture, which is destructive to the environment. I

Ogiek community organisations remain active in trying to restore their tenure over the Mau forest. As with other equatorial forests in East Africa, government has permitted agricultural settlers and logging companies to cut down substantial amounts of forest. This destroys the livelihoods of indigenous hunter-gatherers, as well as causing extreme environmental damage. Lake Nakuru is disappearing due to the destruction of the water-catchments, loss of topsoil and in the increase in algae. The world famous Maasai Mara game reserve is also threatened.

Globalisation, regional integration and trade blocks that focus on free movements of goods and people and a rapidly increasing population are fuelling stiff competition for land and other resources in Indigenous Peoples’ territories. The rapidly expanding boundaries of Nairobi are cutting into the indigenous District of Kajiado. A new extension of the town has been approved for development by Jamii Bora Trust in Kaputei plains, 60 km SE of Nairobi. This will effectively change demographics for the local Maasai population and block the only remaining migration corridor for animals into the Nairobi National Park.

Multinational and national corporations are investing heavily in Indigenous Peoples’ territories. Tourist activities are rapidly increasing in Mara - Serengeti Basin both in and around other protected areas. Game parks increasingly threaten indigenous communities - see this Reuters article for more information. In Loita Plains in Narok District, a wheat processing plant is increasing wheat farming in the area. Oil, coal and other mineral exploration activities are also on the rise, with western and eastern investors, especially from China, increasingly determining the investment and intellectual property climate not only in Kenya and the region.

Cases of biopiracy and copyright piracy are increasing in the region, without free, prior and informed consent of the knowledge holders. Indigenous peoples are calling for legislated and negotiated benefit sharing settlements. For example, genes of the Maasai red sheep have been patented abroad and a local institution of higher learning is applying for the local patent. There is no consultation or benefit sharing arrangements with the Maasai community. Songs, stories, poems and artworks by indigenous communities are also being copyrighted indiscriminately. Indigenous peoples are also increasingly being used in advertisements to attract huge revenues for companies like a giant mobile phone company in Kenya. IPACC will work with indigenous communities and relevant authorities on ways to protect Intellectual Property Rights of Traditional Knowledge holders in Kenya and in the region.

In April 2007, IPACC organised the first training course on UN indigenous rights instruments. The event was hosted by MELCA, an Ethiopian NGO in AddisAbaba and brought members from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This included the first participation in IPACC of an Ik organisation from northern Uganda. The training focused on UN and African human rights instruments and role play work on how to speak to government and diplomats. The event, funded by The Christensen Fund, helped prepare activists for the difficult work of speaking to African diplomats in New York and at home prior to the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

IPACC provided technical support to the Ujamaa Community Resources Trust (UCRT) in the intense negotiations over Arab purchasing of the Yaeda Valley in northern Tanzania. The Hadzabe community opposed an initiative by some government officials to sell protected community managed lands to Arab hunters for privatisation and likely expulsion of aboriginal hunter-gatherers. IPACC worked through diplomatic channels and with the UN Special Rapporteur. The Arab interests voluntarily agreed to withdraw from the offer to purchase.

IPACC supported the Yiaku Peoples' Organisation, Shalin Ry, ERMIS Africa, and members of the Hunter Gatherer Forum on East Africa in conducting a second Participatory 3 Dimensional Modeling exercise in Kenya. The exercise was conducted by the Yiaku (also Yaaku) people in the Mukogodo Forest. The goal of the exercise was to help community members collectively express their indigenous knowledge of their cultural and natural landscape, as well as to develop a common approach to protecting their rights and managing their resources sustainably.

The Maasai Women for Education and Economic Development (MAWEED) hosted a workshop in Narok, Kenya, on indigenous peoples and policy issues in preparation for the December 2007 Kenyan Presidential elections. Kenyan citizens and especially indigenous peoples were still demanding a constitution review at this point. Though a full review was obviously not possible before the elections, there was general agreement that minimum reforms needed to be done urgently. Discussions and consultations are ongoing.

Through a World Bank loan agreement with the government of Kenya, the government has recognised that there are indigenous peoples in Kenya. In the agreement, the government has to implement an Indigenous Peoples Plan to rehabilitate displaced Ogiek and Sengwer forest communities. You can read the full report in this HUGAFO article.

Through a recently introduced Constituency Development Fund, development projects in Kenya are increasingly reaching indigenous peoples. Through the fund, which is about USD 285 000, more schools, hospitals, water projects and roads are being seen in their territories. But more importantly, the committees that govern the use of the funds at the constituency level comprise of locals.

Pastoralist communities’ economies are picking up with the re-opening of the Kenya Meat Commission. The commission slaughters 1000 livestock daily, giving pastoralists a ready market for their animals. However, the livestock industry suffered a major blow from December, 2007 to March 2007 with the outbreak of the Rift Valley fever. Over 150 people in Kenya died from the outbreak. The fever is found in livestock and spread to human by contact with contaminated meat and mosquitoes. It affected parts of Tanzania and Ethiopia also, leading to a ban in the transportation of animals and trade in animal products.

Pastoralist groups in Kenya joined hands and formed the Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya (PDNK) - see this newsletter for details. Hunter Gatherers groups formed the Hunter Gatherer Forum (HUGAFO). With a website, HUGAFO is reaching out to other hunter gatherer groups in East Africa and Southern Ethiopia.

In 2007 MAA speakers in Kajiado, Narok, Transmara, Isiolo/Marsabit Loitokitok, Baringo and Laikipia submitted a Memorandum on Human Rights Violations and Action Plan to the National Steering Committee for National Human Policy and National Action Plan (NAP).

Embassies of western nations gave the Kenyan government a clean bill of health, citing its “impressive human rights records.” While Kenyans now have more democratic space, Kenya is still struggling in many areas. The donor countries suggested that they channel all funding through the government. This proposal has been vehemently opposed by NGO's, especially advocacy NGO’s which ask how a third world government like Kenya can fund its own critics.

Siemenpuu Environmental Foundation supported the Hunter-Gatherer Forum of East Africa to attend the Nessuit mapping project, to visit Helsinki and meet with civil society organisations, and to prepare and participate in the World Social Forum which took place in Nairobi in January 2007.

East African delegates attended the FPP / IIN / IPACC preparatory workshop on the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas held in Cape Town in August. Indigenous delegates from East Africa met their southern African counterparts and fishing peoples. The delegates participated in the Anglophone African States Workshop on Protected Areas and made a statement on behalf of indigenous and local peoples.
In 2007, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) announced its new members, which include Ms Margaret Lokawua, a Karamoja activist from Uganda. Though IPACC welcomed Ms Lokawua it is not clear why the ECOSOC President disregarded IPACC's nomination of Mrs Lucy Mulenkei of Indigenous Information Network, one of the most experienced and best known indigenous human and environmental experts in Africa. There is concern about political interference in the nomination of civil society representatives to the UNPFII.

UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) has organised over 5 international environmental meetings in Nairobi to discuss and come up with solutions to environmental problems including climate change. UNEP is increasingly recognising the crucial role indigenous peoples play in environmental protection and on top of inviting indigenous peoples to almost all these meetings, it has developed a website for indigenous peoples ( It is in the process of developing an Indigenous Peoples policy.

In August 2006, IPACC supported an initiative by ERMIS Africa, CTA, and the Ogiek indigenous peoples of the Mau Forest in Kenya to conduct a Participatory 3 Dimensional Modeling exercise in the village of Nessuit. Indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples from East and Southern Africa participated in this community event. Elders taught young people about the cultural and natural landscape of the Mau Forest, which has been destroyed by over-logging and invasions of agricultural communities. The event was part of a global programme supported by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation at the University of Wageningen, Netherlands ( See ERMIS's description for more details.

Yaaku activist Jeniffer Koinante of Kenya attended the World Social Forum in Bamako, Mali in 2006 and then the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Conference in Brazil.

In Kenya and the region as a whole, there is a serious problem of deforestation fed by corruption and poorly considered forest and agricultural policies. A six year old ban on logging in Kenya has been lifted in 2006 exacerbating the major crisis revolving around the destruction of Mau Forest.

In 2006, violence erupted in parts of Rift Valley in Kenya and among pastoralist communities in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia. The causes of these conflicts in the north were grazing rights and restocking needs after a devastating drought left thousands of pastoralist families without livestock. Conflicts in northern Kenya resulted in the deaths of six pastoralist Members of Parliament in a plane crash in April 2006. The MPs were on a mission to reconcile warring Rendille, Borana and Gabra pastoralist communities. The government together with a number of NGOs are at advanced stages of coming up with a conflict policy. IPACC member organisations got involved in the peace process and participated in dialogue with government about sustainable land reform.

A major event for Kenya in 2005 was the referendum on the draft Constitution. The draft Constitution that was put in front of the Kenyan public bore little resemblance to the negotiated version that indigenous peoples had been struggling to influence for the previous two years. It centralised powers in the President, and did not recognise the situation of indigenous peoples. Prior to the referendum, the government attempted to win over woe communities to support the draft Constitution. The state down-graded the Amboseli wildlife sanctuary from a National Park managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service into a Game Sanctuary managed by a local authority - the Olkehuado County Council- on behalf of the local Maasai community of Kajiado district. It also issued Ogiek in Nakuru District with title deeds to certain parcels of land. The government created and gazetted the subdivision of some indigenous districts ostensibly “to bring development closer to the people.” Indigenous activists became active in the successful ‘No’ campaign, which showed the growing power of previously marginalised groups in Kenya. The outcome of the referendum sharply divided the country along ethnic lines and resulted in dramatic shifts in political alliances. In a bid to heal the nation, the President appointed almost half the Parliament into the Cabinet with a good number of the appointees coming from opposition parties and indigenous communities. Unfortunately, the indigenous Cabinet appointees lost popularity on the ground and cannot be said to be representing their communities effectively.

In mid 2005, over 4000 Ogiek from Narok South were evicted from their lands ostensibly to conserve the forest. Evictions, agricultural and logging activities are impacting negatively on the biodiversity of the Mau forest and resulting in the extinction of culture and traditional knowledge systems of the Ogiek community.
In 2005, the Kenyan government sold 275 assorted wildlife to the government of Thailand. IPACC plans to be involved in the processes leading to the formulation of new wildlife policies and laws in Kenya.

Violence in central Kenya over indigenous territory involved allegations of government troops killing herders.

The Forest Act 2005 was passed in Kenya, which allows for the creation of community forest associations to manage community forests.

With the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), hunter-gatherers and pastoralists co-ordinated the Pastoralist and Hunter-Gatherer Network of Kenya, PHGEN. IPACC sponsored a meeting of PHGEN, which is trying to strengthen alliances and strategy in lobbying. UN agencies have agreed to an indigenous advisory body, the United Nation Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee of Kenya (UNIPACK).

Long-term treaties between Britain and the Maasai came to an end in 2004, sparking conflicts over land in the northern parts of central Kenya. In 2004, 22 people were killed in conflicts between pastoralists and encroaching agricultural communities in the Rift Valley.

IPACC Deputy Chairperson, Mrs Mary Simat joined the Government’s advisory group on land reform, as the only pastoralist representative. Mrs Simat’s life as a gender activist in traditional Maasai culture was recently featured in a national newspaper. It emphasised the decisions that she and her mother took to ensure that Maasai girl children would get access to education.

Enrollment in primary education increased in Kenya after the government introduced free primary education when it came to power in January 2003. However, due to lack of infrastructure, too few teachers, constant evictions from their lands and nomadism, children from pastoralist and hunter-gatherer groups are finding it difficult to participate fully in this free primary education initiative.

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