in Kenya

World Bank project failed to protect Sengwer indigenous rights. Bank now promises to help “find a lasting, peaceful resolution to this long unfinished business of land rights in Kenya”

Last week, the World Bank’s board met to make a decision on an Inspection Panel report about a Bank project in Kenya. The Inspection Panel’s report accused the Bank of failing to protect the rights of the Sengwer forest indigenous community.

The Bank’s Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP) ran from 2007 to 2013. During this time thousands of indigenous Sengwer were evicted from their land in the Cherangany Hills and their homes were burned down.

The Bank’s project included funding for the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Armed guards from the KFS carried out the evictions.

Sengwer: Conservation vs Communities

Dean Puckett, a UK-based documentary film-maker, was filming in the Cherangany Hills earlier this year. He is working on a film that will look at the role of the World Bank in the evictions and will explore the REDD activities taking place in the area.

Puckett is currently crowdfunding a trip back to the Cherangany Hills – you can support him here. Here’s a trailer of his work so far:

World Bank failed to apply its safeguard policies

The Inspection Panel found that the “evictions were not supported as part of the NRMP”, but importantly noted that the project did not apply the Bank’s safeguard policies:

more attention should have been given from the outset to better identify and mitigate the risk that evictions might occur and that the correct application of the safeguard policies may have prevented or mitigated these harms. The Panel also found an inadequate institutional analysis of KFS.

In a press release about the board discussion, the Bank acknowledged the “long history of tension on land and resource rights” which “made for a very challenging project environment from the outset”.

The Board recognized that land issues have a deep, historical legacy in Kenya, and further noted that given this, the Bank’s role must be calibrated carefully so that the Bank is viewed as a partner helping to foster dialogue.

Eimi Watanabe, the Inspection Panel chairperson, said,

“the NRMP did not take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate indigenous people in the management of forest resources, which would have contributed towards the Project’s goals while also strengthening IP’s historic land and customary rights.”

Jim Kim: “More to be done”

“There is more to be done,” said Bank president Jim Yong Kim. He promised to contact President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Government of Kenya to “offer our full support in order to bring together the Cherangany-Sengwer people and all the key parties”.

The Bank will organise a major consultation (a “colloquium”), that “will provide an important opportunity for the voices of Cherangany-Sengwer peoples to be heard in a constructive setting.”

The Sengwer welcomed the Bank’s decision and responded with the following letter to President Kenyatta:

Your Excellency,
Hon. Uhuru M. Kenyatta
President of the Republic of Kenya and
Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces
State House, State House Road,
P.O. Box 40530-00100,

Dear Sir,


Your Excellency, We the undersigned below, humbly bring to your attention our delight and welcome the outcome of the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors meeting of the 30th September, 2014. Thereafter, the Bank’s press release on the 2nd October, 2014 in which the Bank President Jim Yong Kim showed willingness to work with the government of Kenya in finding a resolution to the Sengwer land question and indeed the Forest Indigenous Communities of Kenya who have had to endure evictions and bad relationships with the conservation agencies. The conflict between conservation and the rights of the forest indigenous communities need not be there. These communities should be made the custodians of the same forests under the supervision of our conservation agencies resulting in a win-win outcome. This calls for review of conservation and land policies, legislation and laws. Further, there’s need for change of mindset of the colonial ‘fortress’ conservation which failed to recognize these communities traditional lifestyles, economies and knowledge that was and is in harmony with nature for centuries. Surprisingly, this is what is working elsewhere in the globe leading to successful sustainable forest conservation.

Your Excellency, we request you to direct:-

    (i) Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Kenya Forest Service and the Kenya Wildlife Service to adopt new conservation paradigm in which Forest Indigenous Communities are made the custodians of their forests under the supervision of the said conservation agencies.

    (ii) The National Land Commission to actively, effectively and efficiently implement their constitutional mandate of resolving the issues faced by forest dwelling indigenous communities and more so addressing issues of Historical Land Injustices.

    (iii) Review of the Forest Act 2005 to be in line with Constitution of Kenya 2010 and National Land Policy with active, effective and efficient consultation and participation of Forest Indigenous Communities.

    (iv) Kenya Forest Service to respect the rule of law (Conservatory Injunctive Orders issued by Eldoret High Court in March 2013 with respect to the case filed by Sengwer of Embobut forest) and to STOP continued harassment and any other form of forceful eviction and displacement (destruction of property, burning of houses, arrests, intimidation, etc) of members of Sengwer indigenous community from their ancestral homes and lands in Embobut forests.

Your Excellency, it is important to know that the commitment of World Bank has come at the right time when as a country we are reviewing our land and conservation policies, legislation and laws namely amendments to the Forest Act 2005, Community Land Bill and tackling the issue of historical land injustices. We should adopt a solution in which communities regain rights to their ancestral lands and at the same time we don’t lose our forest. This is possible and we think it is the “digital” era of conservation.

Your Excellency, members of Sengwer forest indigenous community living in Embobut forest are NEITHER SQUATTERS NOR INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPs), we are the indigenous peoples – the aborigines – of Embobut forest their ancestral homes – our community land.

Your Excellency find:

  1. Letter from Sengwer Ethnic Minority Forest Indigenous Community
  2. Press Release World Bank Board of Executive Directors – Discussion India and Kenya Investigations 10.2.14
  3. Sengwer & Forest Dwelling Communities urgent action request of President Kenyatta
  4. Forest Dwellers Position Statement to the NLC Task Force Historical land Injustices

Your Excellency, we look forward for your support as you have shown your keen interest in wanting to do things in a new way and with an interest to resolve challenges facing the less fortunate members of our society, Sengwer community being one of such.

Yours Faithfully,

On Behalf of Sengwer Ethnic Minority Forest Indigenous Peoples by:

Paul K Kibet
Secretary Sengwer Council of Elders
Chair Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme

Elias K Kibiwot
Sengwer Indigenous Youth

Emily Chemtai Cheboi
Member Sengwer University Students

PHOTO Credit: Dean Puckett.

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