On top of a hill on the edge of the Northern Rift Valley in Kenya, the sun is warm but the air is fresh and cool. Moments ago, music of resistance filled the air as Sengwer women practiced traditional dance, song and solidarity.
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.
These Briefs were prepared for rural community leaders in Kenya. The major and longer document (Brief 3), identifies legal support and constraints for community land security in Kenya. This is prefaced by overviews of the situation globally (Brief 1), and in Africa (Brief 2).
A powerful press conference was held this morning, 4 January 2018, in Nairobi, attended by over 20 press representatives and 26 Sengwer community members. Milka Chepkorir and Yator Kiptum spoke powerfully about the suffering their Sengwer community are experiencing at the hands of the Kenya Forest Service.
More than 22 times now, our community has been forcefully evicted from our ancestral land in Embobut forest, Cherangany Hills, by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), a government agency that is supposed to be responsible for the protection of forests in the country.
There is increasing concern from local, national and international civil society about the human rights implications of the EU’s €31 million Water Tower Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Project (WaTER) that is focused on an area of Kenya with deeply troubling human rights issues.
Since the 1960s, the Sengwer peoples of western Kenya have been experiencing forced evictions from their home in the name of conservation. Since 2014, these evictions have intensified.
In a letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Sengwer call [on the President] to "stop the continued arrests and evictions of our Sengwer forest indigenous peoples from our ancestral lands (our community land) in Kaptirpai, Koropkwen and Kapkok glades in Embobut forest. We want our rights to live in, govern, manage and own our ancestral lands in the glades of Embobut forest recognized, secured, respected and protected in law, working hand in hand with state agencies to ensure effective and efficient conservation and protection of forests, water, wildlife and other natural resources therein".
How the National Constitution treats minorities is a good test of a nation’s maturity. How government applies their rules is a good test of the state’s maturity.
The Sengwer community at Embobut has been dispersed, with most still living in their forests and glades high in the Cherangany Hills despite the evictions by the Government’s Kenya Forest Service (KFS). There they hide from the forest guards’ harassment, from having their now makeshift and temporary homes burnt and basic household property destroyed, as well as from being threatened with arrest despite the existence of a High Court injunction forbidding such harassment and evictions.
The lead article in the last FPP E-Newsletter focused on the superb progress the Ogiek of Chepkitale, Mount Elgon, Kenya, have made in their efforts to secure their forests and livelihoods by writing down their sustainability bylaws and embarking on the process of enforcing them. This process has resulted in their arresting charcoal burners, and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has now begun to restrict some of the charcoal burners’, as well as encroaching agriculturalist activities that were leading to the destruction of the indigenous forest.
The Kenyan government has sent Kenya Forest Service (KFS) guards, with police support, to Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills to forcibly and illegally evict thousands of Sengwer indigenous people from their ancestral forest lands and burn their homes and belongings to the ground.
We are deeply concerned by the forced evictions of the 6,000-7,000 Sengwer indigenous people and other communities in Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills (Elgeyo Marakwet County, Kenya).
For many years the Government has been trying to move the indigenous inhabitants of Embobut off their land by burning their homes. They have done this in the name of a fortress conservation approach which seeks to remove local people from their lands. As IUCN and all pre-eminent conservation organisations now acknowledge, such an approach only ever makes the environmental situation worse, and adds a human rights disaster to the environmental crisis. The new President has taken what at first appeared to be a new approach: he came in November and promised them a small amount of money to move, however now that it is clear people are refusing to move, this is being followed up with this threat of imminent eviction.