The Munyoyaya lands and territories have for a long time been a source of conflict especially between corporations running multimillion projects and the locals who, according to the Munyoyaya customary laws are the legal custodians of these ancestral lands. The land in Tana River as Trust land is vested in county council and is therefore supposed to be used for the benefit of the local inhabitants. The Munyoyaya are governed by customary law for access and use of their land, so their rights to land supersedes any interest by the state and other public bodies. In 2009, Tana River Development Authority was issued a permit by the government to initiate projects on a land covering over 40,000 ha in the Tana Delta. TARDA and the government were determined to implement the projects despite the fact that no proper consultation with the communities had been done. This resulted into mass evictions, chaos and demolitions of villages within the Delta. Projects run by TARDA and other multimillion institutions which continue to be implemented without consultations and considerations given to the customary laws, rights and interests of the Munyoyaya people are a violation of Munyoyaya peoples social, economic and cultural rights. They also violate their right to FPIC as enshrined in the UNDRIP.

Despite the fact that the 2010 constitution calls for the recognition and protection of minorities and other marginalized groups, the Munyoyaya community is far from being recognized by the Kenyan State as an ethnic group and continues to experience marginalization and exclusion from governance processes.  The 2009 census report for instance lumps the Munyoyaya together with the Swahili people who also are the inhabitants of the coastal region.


Population and origins;

The Munyoyaya peoples, who number about 1,600, are part of the Oromo group of peoples, whose heritage goes back to the 1500's in the southern Ethiopian highlands. According to community elders, the tribe was born when their founding father married a woman from the Tharaka tribal group living in the Eastern part of Kenya. The couple later moved from this Eastern part towards the coast and finally settled along Tana River, which has an area of 180,901 with a population of about 240,075.

The Munyoyaya are mostly beekeepers and fishers and are spread out within the four locations of Madogo divison; Sala, Saka,Mororo and Madogo. They are traditionally organized with “five major clans which include; Meta, Kalala, Maidoyo, Nyurtu and Ilani. The leaders naturally come from two clans; the Maidoyo and Ilani and represent the community as spokesmen.


The Munyoyaya language code is ISO 639-3 orc. They speak Oromo language which is part of the six main branches of the Afro Asiatic language family among them Berber,Semitic, Egyptian, Chadic, Omotic, and Cushitic. Many of the Oromo speakers in Kenya including Gabra, Boraana, Sakunye, Garre, Ajuraan, Orma, Munyoyaya and Waata are found in both Eastern and North Eastern parts of Kenya as well as in the parts of Tana River County in the coastal region. The Oromo speakers are able to communicate with each other in spite of slight differences in the dialects.

Food Production System, Land and Spirituality;

The Munyoyaya depend on beehives and other products of the forests for subsistence as well as for the maintenance of their social, ethical and spiritual order. Bride price is counted in beehives, not cattle, and there are trees in the forests that "listen to their souls," mediate disputes and bring peace and prosperity. When riverine trees are cut down, the community’s economic and spiritual security is uprooted as the waters that supply it with fish and plants for weaving boats and baskets begin to recede. The Munyoyaya also use the forests to shelter when enemies attack. Non-violence is the fundamental ethic of these humble people and the tortoise is the tribal totem, for the animal best expresses the community ethic and lifestyle. For protection from evil spirits, drums are beaten at night and charms and amulets worn all over the body.

Munyoyaya Women;

The Munyoyaya peoples are essentially patriarchal and are organized in patrilineal related households, clans and sections. Authority and decision making within the community is vested in the elder men, who play a crucial role based on their extensive experience and knowledge. Women are regarded as social minors and viewed as subordinate to men. They enjoy fewer rights as compared to men who are the heads of their families and the sole custodians of property, both individual and communal. They do not participate in community gatherings and during prayer sessions, they sit at the back and only follow the activities passively. Men of elder status largely appropriate their reproductive roles.

The Munyoyaya women are involved in a number of activities. A research conducted by Judy Wangombe on the Phenomenon of Spirit Possession among the Munyoyaya women found out that these women have their “activities centered on house keeping, family requirements, management of affairs at home and looking after the children.” Girl child education is non-existent and when compared to boys, the Munyoyaya girls have many chores that are physically demanding. This results in very few girls making it to schools and even for those who manage, completion of primary level education remains a great challenge. In 2009, there were only two publicly funded mobile schools with a total of 80 girls and 120 boys.

With all its discriminatory practices against women, the Munyoyaya community still believes that the role of women is “to give birth to children, especially boys, for the propagation of the family name. As a result girls are married off at tender age of thirteen, or as soon as they begin menstruation.” New mothers are considered unclean and secluded for a period of forty days during which they are supposed to have no contact with any man. After the forty days, “the mother is taken to the river where she is washed by her fellow women. She undoes her hair and washes it clean as a symbol that she is now ritually clean to interact with the community.” This sets the tone for communal celebration. The new mother then joins her fellow women in a welcoming ceremony by sharing a cup of tea.

The Munyoyaya women often have many children and are solely responsible for obtaining food for all household members, especially in cases where men have abdicated their duties. “Men are polygamous and cannot meet the needs of their families, so most women are increasingly engaging in income generating activities to supplement on what their husbands bring home. They work hard to ensure that there is enough food for their husbands and children. They also try to keep their families intact by safeguarding their husbands from being snatched by other young and beautiful women. To meet these highly demanding tasks, they run small businesses like selling vegetables and fruits along the roads and walk to the neighboring Garissa town to wash clothes for the rich Arabs and Somalis.  Others engage in income generating activities such as irrigation farming along the Tana River where they harvest produce and sell it in the neighboring towns. In order to assert themselves financially, a small number of these women have initiated small merry go round groups (Ayuta) through which they save and share their contributions on a rotational basis.

The Munyoyaya women also play a very important role during cultural celebrations. For instance, whenever there is childbirth, wedding or circumcision ceremony, it’s the women who take up the important duties of preparing and serving meals. On events such as weddings, women take up a center stage by ensuring that the bride to be is well prepared. It’s even more involving in case the bride to be is a virgin; women are dressed in new dresses and veils. “The ceremony culminates in songs and dances, especially at night where women adorn themselves with perfumes and nice head veils, as they escort the new bride to her new house.”

Because of the traditional patriarchal system, the Munyoyaya women are at a disadvantage when it comes to land ownership and inheritance.  Because the land is not registered in women’s name men are free to dispose of family land and properties without consulting women. Women “are perceived to be incapable of taking care of property.” Male domination and suppression of women’s voice among the Munyoyaya is perpetuated and strongly supported by the community.

Just like other indigenous women whose rights are continuously violated, especially under male chauvinistic communities, the Munyoyaya women are often victims of domestic violence. The situation of girl children and women in the Munyoyaya community is marred by a number of human rights violations among them denial of education, information and early marriages, lack of legal rights and domestic violence. Their participation in politics both at the local and national level is non-existent. They are not supposed to speak in public because they are “mashetani” (demons) who easily cause men to be attracted to them when they listen to their voices.

Fertility is a core determinant on how women are treated in the Munyoyaya community. Those who are barren and unable to give birth especially to boys often end up in painful divorces and separations. “Giving birth to girls is more traumatizing for the mothers. She is under pressure from her husband and his family to produce male children.” Marriages are highly insecure and in almost every family, women are perceived as inferior and treated like sexual objects.

Socio-economic profile

There is no aggregated data regarding poverty among indigenous peoples in Kenya but poverty rates are higher in rural areas (49.1%) than in urban areas (33.7%). In the Tana Delta, small-scale farming and fishing no longer provide sufficient food or income to people and the absolute poverty rate (76.9) is significantly higher than the national average (46%). With a poverty level of 76.9 Tana River County remains one of the poorest counties in the country.

Ethnic minorities in this area continue to experience discrimination and exclusion both from the State and the neighboring dominant communities. The Munyoyaya community members for instance lack representation in all governance structures and are perceived as foreigners and intruders by the dominant groups.  Whenever they try to acquire land for cultivation they are told they do not belong there and should go back to where they came from. In 1999 and under recommendations from a senior government officer from the area, the Munyoyaya community members were stripped off their citizenship status and denied their right to self-determination when the government forcefully grouped them under the dominant Swahili group.

The county has a history of inter tribal clashes mostly between the larger Orma and Wardei pastoralist communities and the smaller Malokote, Munyoyaya, Wata, Bajuni, and Pokomo tribes practicing farming and fishing along the shores of the River. According to a 2007 study by Adam Hussein, the conflicts are mostly centered on access to water. “Rainfall is erratic, with rainy seasons in March-May and October-December.” “The recurrent conflicts between the Pastoralist communities and the Munyoyaya cause many human rights violations as mutual accusations of trespass often end in hostilities with casualties on both sides. A good number of these conflicts stem from land issues and human rights violations that date back to colonial times.” Frequent droughts, increasing levels of poverty, land dispossession, the breakdown of traditional governance systems, military interventions, ethnocentrism and unemployment are all causes of these inter ethnic armed conflicts which have resulted into a loss of human lives, widespread destruction of property, displacement of large segments of the population, increased hatred between communities and increased economic hardship.

The Munyoyaya people are among the poorest of the poor in Kenya. According to a report on the status of Kenya’s Indigenous Peoples by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, “the situation of indigenous peoples in Kenya seems to get worse each year, with increasing competition for resources in their areas.” They suffer from malnutrition, as food relief becomes the only option. As traditional methods of gathering food breaks down, seeking food aid is the only option for this forgotten people. In 2011, nearly one quarter of the population needed food relief.

Discrimination and lack of education makes it difficult for the Munyoyaya to find employment. Compared with the rest of the population, their health and education situation is far worse. With only 67.9% and 5.5% of the entire population possessing primary and secondary education respectively, the community is disproportionately affected by high illiteracy rates. According to the Commission on Revenue Allocation, those attending school and aged between 15-18 are only 46.9% while those with the ability to read and write make up 49.8% of the entire population. With low levels of education, chances of being hired are very minimal. The country’s main employer, the civil service, hardly employs any people from indigenous communities. This skewed recruitment cuts across all job groups, including those that do not require high educational qualifications.

The Munyoyaya cannot easily obtain legal services because of a number of constraints and the high costs involved. Years of political isolation and economic deprivation have left the Munyoyaya community without proper infrastructure. The community is greatly marginalized, looked down upon as primitive and backwards and disproportionately affected by the low level of provision of schools, health clinics and water supply. This violates the spirit of the 2010 constitution, which in its Article 56 demands that the “State puts in place affirmative action programs designed to ensure that minorities and marginalized groups participate and are represented in governance and other spheres of life and are provided special opportunities in education and economic fields, are provided special opportunities for access to employment, develop their cultural values, languages and practices and have reasonable access to water, health services and infrastructure.”  (CoK, Article 56, Chapter Four).

Natural Resources:

The Tana Delta wetland, which forms part of the Tana River County, has diverse ecosystems, habitats, and a variety of plant and animal species. It is also a home to some of Kenya’s indigenous peoples among them the Munyoyaya who have for centuries lived in the area and established a strong relationship between the dynamics of the delta’s ecosystem and their ways of life. The Munyoyaya production system and livelihood are directly dependent on Tana River, which supports their farming and fishing activities along the coastland.

The Delta is also “among the six deltas in the Eastern African Coast and Kenya’s largest most ecologically, biologically diverse, socially and economically important wetland.” Its one of Kenya’s last wildernesses covering an “estimated area of 130,000 ha with grasslands, mangrove swamps found at the mouth of River Tana, permanent Oxbow lakes and ponds, dunes, beaches and an ocean, Waterbucks, the endangered marine Turtles, Fish, Waterfowls and indigenous forests sheltering Baboons, Bushbuck, Buffaloes, Sykes and Vervet monkeys, Topi, rare and spectacular water birds, Zebras, Lions, Hyenas, Elephants and two endangered primates- Tana River Red Colobus and the Crested Mangabey Monkey who have all built an intricate relationship with human existence and are the focus of protection under the World Bank biodiversity protection project.”

With various institutions setting up projects with uncertain consequences, Tana Delta’s future appears unknown. “In June 2009, following a High Court ruling the government of Kenya through Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) was given tenure rights and ownership of 40,000ha of Delta land.” “The 24 billion Kenya Shillings Tana Delta Sugarcane project by TARDA occupying a total of up to 20,000 ha of the wetlands is one of the projects which have resulted into a change of livelihood systems, mass displacements, destruction of indigenous peoples culture and environmental degradation.” The project “had not sufficiently captured and addressed the main issues of the local community or the Delta’s unique environment” yet it was allowed to proceed. “The EIA that was carried out lacks project design documents, a requirement by Kenya’s environmental law. It was hurriedly produced and lacks vital information. Amidst claims by TARDA of a legal ownership of up to 29,000 ha of land in the Tana Delta, which was set aside by the government for agricultural purposes, available records show that the land has never been surveyed and neither has the company been issued with the title deed. Previous projects in the area have not only caused the reduction of water volume in the Tana River but resulted in the change of the river course thus interfering with the flood plains and the riverine forest habitats critical for the unique biodiversity in the area.”

Other projects in the Tana Delta with similar awful results include the Tana Delta Irrigation Project still under TARDA, a sugar company, Mat International which is in the process of acquiring over 30,000ha of land in Tana Delta despite the fact that it has not carried out any Environmental and Impact Assessment, Tiomin Kenya Ltd which has already submitted a proposal to extract Titanium from the sand dunes of the Delta, a Biofuels project proposed by Bedford, a multinational Canadian company that has already been issued with a license for a 10,000 ha for growing Jatropha and developing the bio-fuel industry and a UK based firm G4 Industries Limited which was awarded a license for 28,000 ha of land.

The construction of these projects along the Tana River has made it difficult for the local indigenous peoples and in particular the Munyoyaya peoples to subsist on their old fishing skills. Various attempts by the community members to block these projects, which are negatively impacting on the area’s biodiversity and also adversely affecting access to their livelihoods, have fallen on deaf ears.

The Munyoyaya people have for a long time been subjected to land dispossession in the name of agriculture, nature conservation and development. Because of their traditional lifestyle, the government while legitimizing its dispossession policy claims that their way of life is a threat to the environment. With such policies, the Munyoyaya ways of life is under severe threat and continue to be undermined and destroyed. They live with the fear of eviction every day because they lack title deeds and authority over the land either as individuals or as a community, another factor that contributes to their status as landless people. They cannot receive compensations in cases where they have been evicted. Various reports indicate that community members are often evicted without notice and that those who fail to leave usually end up being arrested and violently pushed out. For those whose lands are earmarked, it is usually the beginning of a long and torturous journey of a life without home and a source of livelihood. Heavy machinery are used throughout the villages to drive people out. People who for hundreds of years thought that they owned their lands are left squatters with a stroke of a pen.

The eviction of the Munyoyaya community members from their ancestral land to make way for multimillion mega projects is part of wider land grabbing project going on in Tana Delta that is not only driving locals away from their lands which they have depended on for generations but also destroying their resources. “The evicted locals usually end up in places with poor sanitation where they easily contract diseases such as typhoid and dysentery caused by the polluted river and water from foul smelling streams. Their farms, houses and animals are regularly washed away as a result of the release of water from the dams when heavy rains rapidly increase their water volume.

The Munyoyaya peoples have never been consulted on the benefits and consequences of these projects and neither have they received any compensation for their land losses nor have they drawn any benefit from the use of these lands and their natural resources, most of which are being used for large government infrastructure schemes. These and many other actions continue to endanger the Munyoyaya’s way of life and survival as a distinct group with unique needs and aspirations while at the same time destroying a habitat that is home to a number of species.

With an imminent displacement of this community and the interference with the rich ecosystem the endangered species are slowly being wiped out. “Elephants have already disappeared while Hippos and the few remaining birds are unlikely to survive a few more years.” The massive siltation of the Tana River, which has made it change its course and reduced its water level as a result of the dams constructed along the River, is a threat to the small Munyoyaya Community whose production system and livelihood are closely linked to the dynamics and functioning of the river-wetlands ecosystem.

Life Disruption:

Poor exploitation of natural resources together with land dispossession results in profound cultural changes. The Munyoyaya communal social fabric, which is mostly based on fishing and farming, has largely become fragmented. “A growing number of community members are relocating to urban centers in search for food and jobs. An important question therefore arises on whether indeed these projects and many others are carried out in a manner that is consistent with international norms and regulations and whether these practices falls within the framework of internationally established standards and procedures. International standards on Indigenous Peoples and even the World Bank’s Operational Directive 4.20 are living testimonies of efforts made to protect the traditional property and governance rights of indigenous communities. Specifically, the World Bank’s manual provides that projects that adversely affect and negatively impact or are seen to affect wellbeing of indigenous peoples in their ancestral lands should not be funded or supported.”

The Munyoyaya’s poor socio economic status is to a large extent the result of the failure of government policy to recognize and value their traditional production system which is based on their intimate understanding of their environment and their invaluable expertise in maintaining a critical balance between resources found on their land and the use made of them, while at the same time reaping important benefits.


“Under the Rio Declaration, all States have the obligation to reduce the disparities in living standards of all its citizens as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, which is essential, both as a means of enhancing environmental principles and ensuring that the right to development has meaningful long term benefits for the beneficiaries. Present needs should not compromise future needs. Life should be protected with special attention being given to the rare and endangered species. Natural resources should be utilized in a way that optimizes their use while minimizing damage from that use and controlling consumption. The principle of intergenerational equity emphasizes that the value of biological resources cannot be calculated simply in terms of present uses and expectations but possible invaluable use in the future should be considered. Current generations should not be disentitled their right to livelihood. There should be social justice in all development projects.

The principle of Prior Consent and Free and Informed Participation demands that everyone be brought on board. Affected individuals and all stakeholders should be given a forum for learning about the proposed project and presenting their positions and knowledge. Children, the unborn, all animals and other impacted species have legal rights to be represented. Decisions on EIA should only be taken upon a transparent record, at which all sides have had a chance to review, and where they request to pose questions. No project should be carried out before its impacts are assessed. Decision makers must utilize all available resources to obtain a clear understanding of the proposed projects and their possible effects prior to giving any binding permission for the project’s implementation.”

Our Purpose

With input from knowledgeable members of the communities to whom we serve, we define and implement indigenous peoples priorities for economic, social and cultural development and environmental protection, based on their traditional cultures, knowledge and practices, and the implementation of their inherent right to self-determination.