Kenya

Country Overview© Elizabeth Rappaport

In Kenya, Indigenous Peoples are fighting for their human rights, including collective control of their ancestral lands. Much of these lands have been seized for game parks, forest preserves, tourism, agribusiness, and military bases. In the Samburu district, for example, 80 percent of land is "protected" by the state, leaving the Samburu people only 20 percent, which they manage using sustainable methods. Use of any "protected" area in Samburu district during difficult drought conditions must be negotiated with state authorities. Illegal arrests by wildlife park and forest officials are common and those arrested usually do not speak English (the language of the courts) well enough to defend themselves.

Control over land is also a contentious issue within Indigenous communities. Indigenous women in Pastoralist communities traditionally have no rights to property and, as a result, are more vulnerable to poverty and gender-based violence.

In Kenya overall, only five percent of land is owned by women and 80 percent of women-headed families live in poverty. Women's subordinate status is also reflected in health statistics. Among young people age 15-19, women are infected with HIV at a rate three times higher than men, yet only 14 percent of young women report using condoms.

Both Kenyan women and men are facing a public health crisis due to a lack of prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Cutbacks in health budgets and privatization mandated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have weakened the Kenyan government's capacity to cope with the health crisis. Fifteen percent of adults in Kenya aged 15-49 are living with HIV/AIDS, but government spending on health care is only about half of what the government spends servicing the foreign debt.

Less than ten thousand of the 2.7 million Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS have access to life-sustaining medications. During the 1990s, life expectancy in Kenya declined from 60 years to 46.4 years mainly due to the lack of prevention and treatment programs for HIV/AIDS.

Indigenous Peoples in Africa

There is no single accepted definition of who is Indigenous. In fact, Indigenous Peoples often protest against the imposition of definitions. Many outside actors, including States, have a motivation to narrowly define Indigenous Peoples in order to avoid struggles over land and self-determination. The question of who is Indigenous can be especially contentious in Africa and Asia, where much of the population traces its ancestry back many generations. In Kenya, as in the rest of Africa, Indigenous Peoples generally distinguish themselves based on their present-day position as Peoples who share and maintain their traditional pastoral and nomadic cultures and, as a result, are culturally, socially and economically marginalized from the dominant culture. Indigenous Peoples, including the Maasai, Samburu, Turkana and Somali, make up a significant part of Kenya's diverse population of 31.1 million people.

Since September 11, 2001, Kenya, like many other countries, has been under increasing pressure to subordinate human rights concerns to the objectives of the US "War on Terror." Bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, and located relatively close to the Middle East, Kenya is of strategic importance to the US, especially as a potential site for additional military bases.