The Colloquium was organised following a series of violent evictions over many years of the indigenous Sengwer from their homes in the Embobut Forest in the Cherangany Hills.
Days before the Colloquium started, guards from the Kenya Forest Service torched 30 houses belonging to the Sengwer. Hardly a promising setting for the Colloquium.
On its website, the World Bank describes the Colloquium as “historic”. The Bank reports that,
The opening day was marked by frank and promising exchanges between nearly 300 leaders of the Sengwer, Ogiek, Yiaku, Aweer, Kaya, Masai, Samburu, Illchamus and Endorois communities and representatives of the national and county governments.
The Bank quotes Professor Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources:
“We need to promote harmony between people and forests, which requires the global community and national forest managers to learn from local resource users.”
And the Bank quotes Moses Leleu Laima, speaking “on behalf of the forest-dependent communities”:
“This process is very important because it is the first time that we are having an open and sincere dialogue. We expect a fruitful outcome with the communities appreciating the need to conserve forests and the government addressing their needs.”
But in the information on Bank’s website about the Colloquium, there is no mention of the evictions that took place just days before the Colloquium started.
That’s strange, because the World Bank supported a task force that visited the Embobut forest on 2 March 2015. The task force produced an official report, which can be downloaded here, and is posted in full below.
Official report of the community task-force to Embobut, 2 March 2015
This task force was proposed by communities and supported by the World Bank, with the intention of establishing the facts in relation to allegations of burnings by KFS officers in the week prior to the Colloquium.
When the Sengwer community raised a complaint that their homes had been burned down by the KFS in Embobut forest, a team of five people from different communities were sent to the ground to fact-find issues. The Sengwer had complained that these burnings were carried out between 25, 26 and 27 February 2015 in Kamolokon Village.
The team left the hotel on the 2 March 2015 at 5:00am in a Land Rover and drove to Kapyeko, Tangul Forest Station, where we expected to have one KFS officer accompanying us to the forest. None of the two officers we met then accepted to go with us, saying they had not been instructed by their seniors in an way. They even denied knowing that there was any Sengwer in the forest. They told us that cattle graze during the day and are brought back in the evening.
One of the officers accepted that the burning of houses had been done by KFS and would continue as long as the Sengwer would still be building houses inside the forest.
We went inside the forest alone since the KFS officers refused to join us. Then on our way we met several Sengwer men with their sheep and milk. They told us that they were going to the market in Kapyeko to sell the sheep and the milk, and that they were from Embobut (their home). We also met some women who were also going to the market.
When we arrived in the glades inside Embobut forest we saw the following: sheep, cattle, goats, donkeys and people. We also saw: burned houses, fences destroyed, all kinds of utensils/household goods that had been burned and some cut, by a sharp instrument possibly by pangas, to make them useless. There were also burned water buckets, a child’s shoe (half burned), a piece of cloth and cutcups, plates, cooking pots and broken milks gourds.
We met both men and women with little children. The women were preparing food, one was cooking Ugali while another one was preparing some tea which she even gave me and my team to drink. We saw four newly erected houses – uncompleted, made of bamboo with no roofs yet. It was evident that the new houses were being built on old foundations, where a first house had been burned. There was a lot of ashes.
All of the people we met said the same thing – that they will not leave their home/s in Embobut because that is the only land they know/have. And they all said that they were born there, and so too their parents and great-grandparents. They all said that they have resolved to stop doing any form of farming on their land, and instead will only keep animals for their livelihoods, with a view to conserving the forests and to make sure that their community enjoys a better life in a clean environment.
The team left the place at around 3:00pm and reported to the same KFS station at Tangul, before arriving back at the hotel late in the evening.
The Sengwer community people interviewed were a man (25 years old), man (28), man (73), woman (29), woman (23) and another man (age unknown).
The team visiting the ground comprised of the following members:
Mr. Joseph Towett Ogiek (Mau)
Mr. Fred Matei Ogiek (Mt. Elgon)
Mr. Manasse Matunge, Yayaiku
Mr. Mohamed Aweer
Mrs. Hadijah Husein Aweer
Mr. Dickens (Camera Man)
We also had two Sengwer men who took us. They were:
Mr. Elias Sengwer
Mr. Kiptuka Sengwer
This report was written by Fred Matei
Background: Sengwer report of forceful evictions, burnings & harassment in Embobut to date
4 March 2015
The events of burnings and forceful evictions is a long history of injustices committed by KFS forest guards since early 1978, though the history of dispossession stretches back to colonial times. Burnings and forceful evictions have taken place under different Government regimes to date, including most recently on 25 February 2015 (only last week).
These evictions cause huge suffering for the Sengwer, leave elderly, children and women homeless, cold, scared, and hungry, and are really major problems facing the community to date. Despite our pleading to Government to stop, we see no results to this moment. The following is dates of events of this and dates reported from the community leaders to the authorities.
- Although history of burnings and evictions stretches back for decades, in recent years (during the period of the World Bank Natural Resources Management (NRM) Project), homes, food and other possessions including school books and uniforms were burned and destroyed by KFS in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
- In March 2013, the Sengwer of Embobut were awarded an injunction by the High Court sitting in Eldoret, prohibiting any eviction or disruption of the Sengwer living in Embobut.
- In complete disregard of this injunction, houses were burned in 2013. In January 2014 this culminated in the biggest eviction the Sengwer have ever experienced, with over a thousand homes burned and thousands of households made homeless by KFS with police support.
- Despite these events, the Sengwer to date are still living in Embobut with their livestock, and in fact are the only community to have stayed in the forest and glades. The empty places in Embobut belonged to some non-Sengwer populations who came to the area following landslides. They were compensated by government, and returned to their homes, for they originally belonged to different community. But Sengwer have nowhere else to go. The Cherangany is our ancestral home land. KFS is completely wrong in trying to say that Sengwer are no longer living in Embobut. We are still there.
- Ever since January 2014, KFS has continued to burn make-shift shelters, including blankets and other possessions, and threaten community members with arrest if they do not give money, and arrest community members. An arrest of a community member happened as recently as yesterday, the 3 March 2015.
- Houses rebuilt in Embobut since January 2015 continue to be burned by KFS guards, including as recently as 25 February 2015. (see photos below)
On the following page we show photographs of our experiences. Evidence of letters sent to Government and World Bank complaining repeatedly about several forceful evictions are available.
Here are photos of our experiences:
Photos of houses burned to the ground by KFS between 25-27February 2015, with cooking pots left and half-burned belongings. Around thirty houses burned to the ground between 25 and 27 February 2015, with cooking pots left, and sometimes slashed by machetes to stop communities using them again. The following photos were taken during the community task force fact-finding delegation to Embobut on 2 March 2015 supported by the World Bank.
We ask that all this forceful evictions and arresting of Sengwer community from their land is stopped immediately so that we strengthen dialogue instead.