Nelly Bassily | February 15, 2010
Richard Arap Yegon uses a wooden walking stick to gesture at the terrain around him. He points to the lake that spreads into the distance. Lake Bogoria is a body of water dotted with pink flamingos. “That is where the sun rises,” Mr. Yegon says. “We belong to the eastern part,” he adds.
Mr. Yegon is speaking about his people, the Endorois. They are a semi-nomadic people who make their living as pastoralists. Mr. Yegon’s people called the land around Lake Bogoria home until the 1970s. Then, the Kenyan government decided to turn the area into a tourist attraction. The Endorois were evicted from their land.
For decades, the story of the Endorois went unheard. Only in recent years has their tale of expulsion been documented. In fact, video documentation became key evidence in a hearing by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Earlier this month, the commission made its ruling. In a landmark decision, it found the eviction of the Endorois to be a violation of their human rights. It ordered the Kenyan government to restore the Endorois to their land and compensate them for their loss.
Now, Endorois people like Mr. Yegon and Kipchumba Kibon look forward to returning to their traditional homeland. Mr. Kibon is a younger man. He only knows what older members of his community have told him about their land. There was plenty of grass for grazing and natural salt to promote animal health.
In the decades that the Endorois were forced to live elsewhere, they had no dry-season pasture for their cattle. Near Lake Bogoria, they managed their livestock by moving to more fertile areas during the dry season. Forced to live in more harsh terrain, the livestock starved.
An Endorois woman laments that the cattle were so weak they cannot stand on their own. Every morning, they had to be helped to stand. The poor health of the cattle translated into poor health for the community. With much less meat and milk, the Endorois lacked both food and income. At times, they have relied on food aid. Water was also more difficult to come by. Women walked up to 20 kilometres each day to collect water.
The court ruling will not only restore the Endorois people to their traditional lands and livelihoods. They will also receive a substantial portion of tourism revenue earned at Lake Bogoria.
Korir Singo’ei is Director of the Centre for Minority Rights Development. His organization documented the Endorois story, with the support of the NGO, WITNESS. He says the ruling is important for all African indigenous peoples. In particular, it challenges Kenya’s Trust Lands Act. This act puts the government in charge of lands used communally by pastoralists and other indigenous people. This means the government, and not the people, decide how land may be used.
Following the commission’s ruling, Mr. Singo’ei expects many indigenous groups to come forward and claim their land rights. He says his organization would like to work with the government to reform the law and move forward.