The EU suspended their WaTER tower project in Kenya on 17th January 2018, following the killing of a Sengwer community member Robert Kirotich by Kenya Forest Service, and strong condemnation by three UN special rapporteurs. The violence the Sengwer have been experiencing at the hands of KFS has continued, but a series of subsequent events and reports have emphasised that a radical restructuring of the EU funded WaTER projects is required before it can be resumed.
After the meetings in January between the Sengwer, MEPs and senior EU DEVCO officials in Brussels, the Vice President of the European Parliament secured commitments from the EU [video link of EU Committee meeting: 3.07.12 - 3.13.09], four key processes and reports have taken place:
- 20th April: The EU completed a Mid Term Review of the WaTER project, now made available by the Kenya EU Delegation's website alongside their explanation for why the WaTER project remains suspended.
- 30th April: The Kenyan Government’s own Taskforce into Forest Resources Management and Logging Activities in Kenya judged KFS to have been exploiting and destroying the very forests it is supposed to protect. Its investigation led to the removal of the Director of KFS and many other senior KFS staff. Forest dwellers have spoken out strongly in the national press on the need for a complete change in Kenya’s approach to forest conservation: both Peter Kitelo for the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon, and Paul Kiptuka, the Chair of the Sengwer of Embobut Community leadership.
- 15th May: Amnesty International published a report Families Torn Apart: Forced Evictions of Indigenous People in Embobut Forest, Kenya - the results of a 3 year long study into KFS violence against the Sengwer - in Nairobi
- 15th June: the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the independent Kenyan Government commission, submitted a report on the Sengwer situation to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry. This followed their thorough investigation into the killing of Robert Kirotich and the wider violence by KFS against the Sengwer. Their hard hitting report highlights KFS violence against the Sengwer. It is available here on the EU Delegation's website.
The Ministry and KFS justify their continued burning of Sengwer homes by saying they are only getting rid of bandits, while on the other hand saying that if the Sengwer are in Embobut then they are there unlawfully, and therefore have to be treated as bandits.
Despite this, the Sengwer of Embobut and the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon, continue to highlight the fact that the Constitution recognises their community rights to their ancestral lands. They are very clear that if those in power are interested in forest conservation rather than exploitation, then persisting with a failed coercive conservation approach makes no sense. Instead of removing those with a long term commitment to caring for their lands, and replacing them with an institution that the Government’s own task force points out has been committed to exploiting and destroying those same forests, Government has the opportunity to work with forest dwelling communities, supporting them to live on their ancestral lands and to protect their forests and the flow of water to the rest of Kenya.