Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Kenya

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Kenya, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Kenya continued to be rocked in early 2008 by the violence triggered by the presidential election in December 2007. Politicians from both the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the incumbent Party of National Unity (PNU) allegedly organized violence in the Rift Valley and western Kenya in January and February 2008. According to the Waki Commission, at least 1,133 people were killed and a further 300,000 (some estimates claim up to half a million) people displaced. An estimated 10,000 people fled the country as refugees into neighbouring Uganda.

The Kikuyu, the dominant group in Kenya since the country's independence in 1963 and backbone of the PNU, bore the brunt of the violence. In the Northern Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Kalenjins forced Kikuyu to flee their homes and burned them down. Attacks were also reported in the Southern Rift, Western Kenya and in the minority Ogiek hunter-gatherer community close to Nakuru.

A power-sharing deal was struck on 28 February 2008 between Mwai Kibaki (PNU) and Raila Odinga (ODA) and this heralded the formation of the Grand Coalition between the two parties. The delicate brokering process, led by Kofi Annan, has brought peace back to Kenya, but it is fragile.

Large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) are living in camps and displacement has continued over the year due to ethnic conflicts over water resources and a government operation against the Sabaot Land Defence Force in the Mount Elgon region of Western Kenya. In May 2008 the government launched an IDP return programme, Operation Rudi Nyumbani (return home) and, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, pressured people to leave by cutting off essential services.

The violence and instability has particularly affected minority and indigenous peoples, who have received the least assistance from the government and have not been involved in the political negotiations and deals. The coalition government has pledged to tackle the 'scourge of ethnicity' in Kenya; it is unclear whether this means a more hostile approach to minority rights or an attempt to depoliticize ethnicity, which would be welcome.

Ogiek community members who were caught up in the post-election violence have so far received no assistance from the government; they see this as evidence of state discrimination rooted in the government's refusal to recognize their existence as a distinct group. The state officially recognizes 42 ethnic groups in Kenya but there are over 70 distinct communities. According to a 2008 MRG report, several minorities believe they are in danger of being wiped out, either through the destruction of their traditional livelihoods or through assimilation.

The new government has created a Ministry for Northern Kenya and Arid Lands, which seems to offer assistance to marginalized communities in northern and western Kenya. The pastoralist communities of northern Kenya have long had poor access to resources and a very limited voice in government. The promise of the new ministry has been offset by complaints that it is under-resourced and was created for political reasons, rather than to improve the lot of the poorest communities in the country.

The smaller indigenous communities still lack representation in parliament. Recently there have been attempts by groups such as the Ilchamus, a pastoralist community located around Lake Baringo, to challenge the lack of representation in the Kenyan Constitutional Court.

The constitutional review process currently under way offers opportunities for minorities to fight for recognition. The review covers the issue of regional autonomy, which is popular among minority groups in Kenya. However, the tight timetable limits the time for wide-ranging consultation with minorities. The newly formed Minority Reform Consortium, a body representing around 50 minority and indigenous groups, advocated that at least one of the members of the Committee of Experts should be from a minority community. The process of establishing a National Ethnic and Race Relations Commission to investigate complaints of ethnic discrimination divided MPs and it seems unlikely that the commission will ever be established.

Land distribution was historically skewed in favour of some of the major ethnic communities, for example the Kikuyus, and this was a factor in the post-election violence. Indigenous groups have particularly suffered in terms of violations of their land rights. According to an MRG report, many pastoralists have had land seized and resources stolen in recent years. A particular source of concern is the Endorois community, who were evicted from their lands around Lake Bogoria in the Rift Valley to make way for tourist game reserves. The community have not been compensated and now live on a strip of semi-arid land, with no way of sustaining their former work of cattle-rearing and bee-keeping. They live in severe poverty and struggle to access basic services. Many can't afford to send their children to school; the few children who do have to walk up to 40 km to get there. The community await the result of a case, outlining the rights violations, that it took to the African Commission on Human People's Rights in 2003. The result is expected in 2009.

The draft national Land Policy (led by the Lands Ministry) includes special sections to protect minorities and, significantly, recognizes pastoralism as a legitimate land use. But the policy has met fierce resistance from the Kenya Landowners Association.

Education in Kenya was affected by the postelection violence in early 2008. UNICEF reported on the thousands of children not returning to school in January, and provided 'tent schools' to those who had been displaced. Children from pastoralist communities commonly face exclusion from the school system, through a range of factors, although some NGOs are addressing this. Oxfam supports the Coalition of Pastoralist Children's Education (CPCE) to lobby for the establishment of a National Commission for Pastoralist Education. Oxfam also supports alternative forms of education, better suited to pastoralist communities, such as mobile and boarding schools.

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