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January 19, 2019

Allow us back to Embobut, we guard forest - Sengwer

Sections of Embobut forest
Sections of Embobut forest

The indigenous Sengwer community wants to be allowed back into Embobut forest to continue conserving the 21,000-hectare forest.

Members of the community were evicted in January 2014, after squatters invaded the Elgeyo Marakwet forest.

Elders, led by Paul Kiptuka, have said the community has lived in the forest since the 18th century, and they have a cultural and religious attachment to the forest.

“We can’t destroy a forest that is our home. We live in glades and there is no way we can destroy our ancestral home,” Kiptuka said.

Their demands come hot on the heels of a damning report by Amnesty International that revealed how the minority community were allegedly brutalised by security agencies during forcible evictions. Kiptuka cited a report recently released by Amnesty International that detailed human rights violations against the indigenous during evictions carried out by Kenya Forest Service. “KFS is forcibly evicting the real forest guards,” he said. At least 341 houses belonging to the Sengwer community were torched in forceful evictions in Embout forest on Christmas Day last year, AI reported. In a detailed report titled “Families Torn Apart: Forced eviction of indigenous people in Embobut forest of Kenya”, the human rights body said evicting the Sengwer community exposed them to a culture shock outside the forest.

Amnesty collected views inside the forest between March 2015 and April 2018 and came up with a report that shows how the Sengwer faced forceful evictions since the 1980s. “Mount Kaptagaon in Embobut forest is sacred to the Sengwer. They carry out rituals on the hill,” the report reads in part.

UNFAIR COMPENSATION

The state, according to the report, conducted a compensation process that discriminated against members of the community in November 2013.

“The compensation process, marred by allegations of corruption, excluded significant numbers of legitimate forest residents,” it says. It continues: “Those living outside the forest, and who were not compensated, are living in appalling poverty. In one case, eight people were living in one room.”

The report describes how AI researchers who sought to expose the ordeals were denied access to the forest by security agencies in Marakwet East. David Kiptilkesi, a Sengwer who was allegedly attacked and his friend killed by armed KFS wardens, narrates: “KFS came as we were grazing our cattle in the glades. They shot at us from behind. I started to run and was shot and fell down. They accused me of having a gun. I told them I did not have one. I laxter learnt that my friend Robert Kirotich had been shot dead.” The Sengwer, according to the 2009 population census, are approximately 33,187, and they live inside the 65,000 hectare Cherangany forest complex that includes Embobut forest. According to the report, 2,531 houses were allegedly burnt in 76 separate incidents of forced eviction between 2014 and 2017.

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