INDIGENOUS PEOPLE'S RIGHTS

Sengwer community returns to Embobut forest

They say no amount of force by the government will stop them from fighting for their ancestral land

In Summary

•Leaders say they are ready to partner with government to conserve the key water tower

•Last year EU suspended a Sh3.6 billion water conservation assistance to Kenya after the community was evicted

A member of the Sengwer community inside Embobut forest
FOREST PEOPLE: A member of the Sengwer community inside Embobut forest
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI

More than 5,000 members of the Sengwer community have vowed to go back to the Embobut forest in Elgeyo Marakwet from where they were evicted by the government in 2017.

Already some of them are streaming back into the forest. They gathered at Kaptirbai within the forest where they held special prayers and planted indigenous trees as part of activities to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

They want the government to recognize them as the original inhabitants of the forest that is classified as a key water tower.

“The forest is our home. We are not going back to destroy it but to conserve it. There is no way we can destroy our own home that is the forest”, said Paul Kiptuga, chairman of the Sengwer community in Embobut. 

He claimed those evicted were intruders but not genuine members of the Sengwer community. Kibor said the government went ahead to compensate the intruders while causing a lot of suffering to the Sengwer.

He vowed that no amount of force by the government will stop them from fighting for their ancestral communal land that is the forest where they have lived for ages.

During the special prayers inside the forest, the elders slaughtered animals to appease their ancestors who they said were buried in the forest but had continuously been disturbed by evictions.

"Evicting us from the forest will make us lose our culture and moving from the forest is betraying our forefathers”, Kibor said.

He said the government must respect the rights of the community which is a minority.

Last year, the European Union suspended a Sh3.6 billion water conservation assistance scheme to Kenya after forest guards evicted the community and killed one of its members who was involved in the EU project.

The program was helping Kenyans plant trees, restore degraded land and protect water catchment areas in highland forests. The EU asked Kenya to resolve the conflict with the Sengwer before the project could resume.

One of those injured during the 2017 evictions was Elias Kimaiyo who said the government could not achieve its development agenda by sidelining communities like the Sengwer.

 “The Big Four agenda will flop if communities like the Sengwer and others can’t be recognised. Talking about affordable housing when the same government burns houses belonging to the Sengwer?” he said.

Another member of the community Mary Komen said the Sengwer has been preserving its culture of conserving forests where they practice beekeeping that has never been a threat to the forest.

Kimaiyo said they were ready to partner with the government in conserving the forest.

"We have documented by-laws that if adopted by the government and applied they will be key to sustainable conservation of Embobut forest”, Kimaiyo said.