Kenya: after squandering 1.2 billion shillings in compensation, evicted people are back in the forest
When the government paid 410,000 shillings to each of the approximately 3,000 squatters, including the Sengwer community, in Embobut Forest in Elgeyo Marakwet County, beneficiaries had to buy land elsewhere and create space for them. the rehabilitation of the water catchment basin.
But nearly a decade later, most of the Sengwer remain unhappy. The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) demarcated the forest and ordered community members to move out so the agency could secure it for planned reforestation programs.
Some of the beneficiaries bought land in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County, while others moved to Trans Nzoia.
A majority of them, however, have since sold the land they bought and returned to the forest, which they consider to be their ancestral land, with nothing to show for the 410,000 Sh they received.
They settled on the dangerous escarpment of the Kerio Valley, a few miles from Embobut Forest, demanding to return.
The Sengwer, hunter-gatherers, occupy Embobut and part of the Cherang’any forest in Trans Nzoia. They resisted several eviction attempts intended to pave the way for the water tower protection program.
“What we do know is that some of those beneficiaries have returned and are grazing their animals in the forest, leaving no chance for the trees to thrive,” said Chelimo Kemboi, acting deputy head of the sublet. of Kipchumwa.
Some of the people who perished in the Chesogon landslides in 2020, he said, had settled in the valley after being evicted from the forest.
“The forest of Embobut is our ancestral land, but the government has pushed us towards the dangerous Hanging Valleys, which we now consider to be our only home,” said William Kirop, from the village of Sewes, who has also been hit hard by mudslides.
A multi-agency implementation unit was deployed to secure the forest in 2014 after those affected were compensated, said Anthony Musyoka, KFS ‘acting North Rift curator. The team was supposed to make sure no one came back.
“It is unfortunate that the forest has recently been used as a hiding place for cattle thieves,” he said.
It is believed that after wasting the compensation money, the beneficiaries set up their camp on the outskirts of Embobut forest and frustrated government and donor efforts to rehabilitate the water towers.
The compensation saga took a new turn last year when the Sengwer community filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Eldoret, claiming the government failed to consult with them about the payment. But the court rejected their request.
The community challenged the implementation of the 3.1 billion shilling water tower protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation (WaTER) program by the European Union (EU) and the government, arguing that it interfered with their ancestral lands.
They called on the government to halt EU funding for water and to stop the planned evictions of Embobut.
“We call on the government to recognize our rights as forest dwellers and to channel funds to support conservation measures instead of resorting to evictions,” community member David Kiptum Yator.
The EU allocated money to the WaTER project until last year as a win-win for the environment and local communities, but the Sengwer rejected it as a ploy to evict them from their land ancestral.
Suspected bandits set fire to a KFS conservation station near the forest of Embobut, which is part of the Cherang’any water tower, in early 2019.
The EU withdrew from the project after several failed attempts to reconcile the Sengwer and the government.
EU Ambassador to Kenya Simon Mordue revealed program was canceled after forest dwellers and government disagreed on human rights and conservation issues before the deadline of September 24, 2020.
“All these efforts have so far not resulted in concrete and tangible agreements and commitments before the deadline of September 24, 2020,” he said.
“The procurement deadline had been extended three times, for a further 3 years in total, and the European Union was unable to further extend the procurement period.”
The EU delegation, he said, had worked with various stakeholders, including national and county governments, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, the Ogiek and Communities Working Group. communities in the project area to find a solution to human rights. and conservation issues.
“It is encouraging that the dialogue between the Government of Kenya and the Sengwer community has recently intensified and there has been a willingness to find a compromise solution,” said Mordue.
The EU water program was a partnership with the government for the conservation of two water towers in the Chereng’any and Mount Elgon regions.
Water towers are natural water catchments, an essential water source for Kenya. It was designed to support the environmental action plans of 11 counties in the water tower areas in western Kenya. The conservation activities of the Kenya Forest Service and policy-related research conducted by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute were also integrated.
But it faced challenges following the eviction of forest dwellers and allegations of human rights violations against indigenous communities in the project area.
And Land Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney vowed last month to look into the matter.
Ms. Karoney attended a tree planting event at the Kakimiti Mall in Embobut over the weekend.
The minister, along with other officials, has expressed her commitment to resolving the dispute even if it means only partial implementation of what the community and government agree to.
These conciliatory gestures could put an end to the long struggle the Sengwer have waged to return to their ancestral homeland.