, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Sengwer, an indigenous community living within Cherangany Hills, Embobut and Kabolet forests have protested ongoing evictions of locals from their ancestral land, to pave way for a European funded programme dubbed the Water Tower Project.
Through their representatives, the community is calling on Parliament to launch an inquiry into the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources for allegedly trampling on their rights to live peacefully.
Yator Kiptum, a local, says if the government wants to conserve the forest, indigenous communities should be involved since vacating their land will leave it vulnerable from destruction by outsiders.
“The government should respect the constitution. The need to come, we agree on how we shall continue to live in our ancestral land while protecting it,” he appealed during a briefing to journalists on Thursday.
“We do not understand why the Kenya Forest Service has continued to evict our people while burning their houses and yet that is a communal land. They better kill us but we shall not vacate our land.”
Locals have narrated their ordeal under the hands of Kenya Forests Service officers, where some have sustained gunshot wounds during forceful evictions and torching of their property, but even with that, they have vowed to fight for their rights.
“The KFS officers the other day came to my house, asked me to leave even without collecting my personal stuff. They then proceeded to burn the houses, I lost everything,” a local said.
Among the appeals the community is making is an immediate halt of the Water Tower Project, which has been financed to the tune of Sh3.1 billion and to also suspend all funding to agencies charged with implementing the programme, including the Kenya Forest Service, whom they say have been deployed to evict them from their forest homes.
“We have repeatedly experienced forced evictions at the hands of KFS. Its wardens have regularly burned our homes, along with stores of food, blankets, school uniforms, and books. Over the years, they have made thousands of our people homeless in what at night can be a cold highland to have no home,” Milka Chepkorir, a local professional fighting for the community rights said.
They, however, agree the forests need to be protected, “both because they are fundamental to our way of life and because they regulate the flow of water to downstream communities.”
“We call upon the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to implement 2014 World Bank inspection panel recommendation on a dialogue process that will promote conservation while protecting our rights to live in our ancestral lands sustainably on conservation conditions,” Chepkorir stated.
In May last year, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ruled that the government violated the rights of the indigenous Ogiek people living in Mau forest, draws inspiration from, saying it set a precedent on why evicting such people not only violates their human rights but leaves their forests vulnerable to destruction.
The Sengwer are one of the last remaining forest-dwelling people in the country.