In July 2009, Navin Rai travelled to the Cherangani Hills in Kenya as part of a delegation of World Bank and Kenyan officials who travelled to the Cherangani Hills in Kenya. At the time Rai was the World Bank’s top adviser on Indigenous Peoples.
The delegation was investigating a series of brutal evictions of the Sengwer indigenous peoples, carried out by armed guards of the Kenya Forest Service. The Kenya Forest Service was using World Bank funding for a US$68.5 million conservation project to pay for the evictions.
The evictions were clearly a breach of the World Bank’s policy on indigenous peoples.
The Sengwer spoke to Rai and asked him to make sure that the Bank complied with its own policies. Here’s how the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reports how that went:
Back in Washington, D.C., Rai says, he urged the bank’s management to press Kenya’s government to stop the evictions and work out a deal that would acknowledge the tribal group’s right to use the forest.
At first, Rai says, bank officials seemed open to his plan for resolving the issue.
Then things changed.
A high-level bank official, Rai claims, told him to stop working to help the Sengwer.
“I was told: ‘You are not to act on this anymore,’ ” Rai says.
Instead of following Rai’s proposals, the World Bank rewrote the plan for the forest conservation project, backing away from key language that committed Kenya’s government to help the Sengwer obtain formal titles to the land they had long occupied.
With the new strategy in place, Kenyan authorities continued evicting the Sengwer from the forest. Authorities have burned more than 1,000 Sengwer homes since the conservation program began in 2007, according to Sengwer leaders and human-rights groups.
Rai told ICIJ that the World Bank’s safeguards, such as its indigenous peoples policy, were “a facade”. In 2012, three years after seeing the violence and destruction that the Kenya Forestry Service was inflicting on the Sengwer, Rai left the Bank.
Enough is enough!
In March 2015, the World Bank and the Kenyan government hosted a meeting to discuss the evictions of the Sengwer and aimed at finding ways forward. Just days before the meeting started, the Kenya Forest Service torched 30 homes.
On 30 March 2016, the Sengwer wrote to President Uhuru Kenyatta, calling him to stop continued arrests and evictions of the Sengwer. Here is the letter in full (for the list of signatures, please download the pdf file from Forest Peoples Programme’s website):
Your Excellency, we the undersigned below on behalf of the entire Sengwer indigenous children, women, youth, elders, leaders and our ancestors, hereby call upon you as our president to stop continued arrests and evictions of our Sengwer forest indigenous peoples from our ancestral lands (our community land) in Kaptirpai, Koropkwen and Kapkok glades in Embobut forest. We want our rights to live in, govern, manage and own our ancestral lands in the glades of Embobut forest recognized, secured, respected and protected inn law working hand in hand with state agencies to ensure effective and efficient conservation and protection of forests, water, wildlife and other natural resources therein. Your Excellency Mr. President, we say enough is enough to continued injustices – KFS guards MUST STOP the arrests and evictions. We are neither internally displaced persons (IDPs) nor squatters, the aborigines, the indigenous peoples of Embobut of forest. Sengwer have suffered colonial and post colonial injustices, even after your apologised for all historical wrongs perpetuated throughout the country’s history on 26th March 2015 during the State of the Nation address, today, Sengwer families have been forced to live in caves, holes in and under trees, hide in thick forests, live in the cold, subjected to untold suffering and mental torture in their own ancestral lands in the 21st century when having a Kenyan constitution, regional and international law that protect our fundamental freedoms, human and indigenous rights. Despite all the arrests and evictions (burning of houses and destruction of property), we shall not leave our ancestral lands. The three glades unite us as a tribe, the glades and the forests are our identity, our stories, our culture, our future, our dignity. Here lies the spirits and remains of our ancestors – we cannot be delinked from them.
Your Excellency Mr. President, in April 2014 Kenya’s National Land Commission publicly pledged to its duty of care in respect of traditional forest dweller rights. Although the Commission promises to meet with us in the forest to discuss our grievances, it is yet to do so. Yet the Constitution of Kenya is clear. The Cherangany Forests, and the forests of our fellow traditional forest dwellers, are our ancestral lands. We have been evicted repeatedly since the 1930s and many times since an injunction was placed on such evictions on 26th March 2013.
Your Excellency Mr. President, when will the Kenya Forest Service and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources recognize these lands as our property and issue us community land title deeds? Can they not see that we have again and again returned immediately to our ancestral lands after evictions and will continue to do so for time immemorial?
Your Excellency Mr. President, we are not just traditional forest dwellers. We are modern law-abiding citizens interested in Kenya becoming a modern state and tackling massive forest degradation through modern means. We have made it repeatedly clear that we will abide fully by conservation conditions and work with KFS and KWS as our technical advisers. We have pledged so many times to be the guardians of these precious protected areas on behalf of the nation, to never allow a single natural tree to be cleared. We have our own governance structures and by-laws to protect the way coexist with conservation as we pursue our traditional economies and lifestyles sustainably.
Your Excellency Mr. President, we are being forced to take our grievances to the courts. These grievances range from unlawfully conducted evictions, endless attempts of intimidation and abuse, and all stemming from government denial that we are already the customary owners of these important forests and have never ever surrendered that claim. We are a small and poor group of citizens in Kenya. Together, we and our fellow traditional forest owner-dwellers have resisted and resisted dispossession and intimidation. Mr. President, when will you and your Government listen to us and adopt a modern approach to how Kenya’s threatened forests are owned and protected while respecting and protecting the rights of traditional forest indigenous peoples to live within ancestral land peacefully and sustainably?”
Your Excellency Mr. President, the arrests and evictions of Sengwer forest indigenous peoples of Embobut forests violate the spirit and letter of our constitution of Kenya (our rights to – property; culture and to take part in our cultural life; development; live in peace and security; health; our rights minority and marginalized communities; among other rights as enshrined in our constitution of Kenya have been violated) that you took oath of office as President of Kenya to protect and the apology you made on 26th March 2015 during your State of the Nation Address to Kenya’s parliament, where you apologised to Kenyans for all historical wrongs perpetuated throughout the country’s history. In your speech you said the following:-
“The time has come to bring closure to this painful past…. The time has come to allow ourselves the full benefit of a cohesive, unified and confident Kenya, as we claim our future.
“My Brothers and Sisters…
“To move forward as one nation … I stand before you today on my own behalf, that of my government and all past governments, to offer the sincere apology of the Government of the Republic of Kenya to all our compatriots for all past wrongs…
“I seek your forgiveness and may God give us the Grace to draw on the lessons of this history… to unite as a people and, together … embrace our future as one people and one nation…”
Your Excellency Mr. President, the arrests and evictions have not only violated provisions of our constitution of Kenya, but they have also contravened African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Arts 3, 10); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women; International Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and other international instruments.
Your Excellency Mr. President, 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 situation a win in securing rights of forest indigenous peoples (Sengwer of Embobut and Kapolet forests, Ogiek of Mau and Mount Elgon, Aweer of Boni Forest, Sanye of Lamu and Yaaku of Mugogondo Forest in Laikipia and a win in ensuring effective and effective conservation and protection of forests, water, wildlife and other natural resources. 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 Mr. President, we request you to direct:-
(i) Ministries of Environment, Water and Natural Resources; Kenya Forest Service; Kenya Water Towers Agency 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) Speedy enactment of Community Land bill, Historical Injustices bill that recognizes and protects the rights of forest indigenous peoples to live in, govern, manage and own their ancestral lands within the protected/conservation areas with close supervision of state agencies.
(v) 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 Mr. President, may you live to your apology of 26th March 2015 – which we quote in part “The time has come to bring closure to this painful past…. The time has come to allow ourselves the full benefit of a cohesive, unified and confident Kenya, as we claim our future”, by ensuring that members of Sengwer a tribe of Kenya in Embobut forest who are being treated as aliens, IDPs, squatters in our ancestral lands, our community land, are left to peacefully live in Kapkok, Kaptirpai and Koropkwen glades coexisting harmoniously and sustainably with forests, wildlife and natural resources. We are part of the Ecosystem. As you protect forest and wildlife, protect Sengwer peoples from extinction by securing their rights to live in, govern, manage and own their ancestral lands in the above glades of Embobut forest.
Finally, Your Excellency Mr. President, we request to know what you agreed on Sengwer land rights with World Bank President in 2014 when he visited you in state house Nairobi – after your meeting, the World Bank President in his speech indicated that there’s a positive way forward on the Sengwer land issue – but what followed to date is continued arrests and evictions of Sengwer peoples from their ancestral lands in Embobut forest.
Your Excellency Mr. President, if truly you:-
(i) Took an oath of office on 9th April 2013 as President of the Republic of Kenya to protect the spirit and letter of our Constitution of Kenya then stop arrests and evictions of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut forest, by allowing them to live sustainably in their ancestral lands their community land in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades
(ii) Apologized for past wrongs on 26th March 2015 then stop arrests and evictions of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut forest, by allowing them to live sustainably in their ancestral lands their community land in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades
(iii) Belief that Kenya is part of the mother earth then protect Sengwer an ethnic minority from cultural genocide and eventual extinction by stopping arrests and evictions of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut forest, by allowing them to live sustainably in their ancestral lands their community land in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades
(iv)Belief in justice and protection of the minority and marginalized communities in Kenya then stop arrests and evictions of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut forest, by allowing them to live sustainably in their ancestral lands their community land in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades
(v) Love Kenyan children, Kenyan women and the elderly then stop arrests and evictions of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut forest, by allowing them to live sustainably in their ancestral lands their community land in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades
Your Excellency Mr. President,
Your Excellency Mr. President, we look forward for actions that will promote conservation while recognizing and protecting our rights as Sengwer peoples to live sustainably in our ancestral lands in Kapkok, Koropkwen and Kaptirpai glades of Embobut forest with close supervision by state agencies.
On behalf of Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Embobut Forest
PHOTO Credit: Selly Rotich stands in what used to be her kitchen. Hours earlier Kenya Forestry Service officers had destroyed it. Tony Karumba / The GroundTruth Project.