in Kenya

Honey at the Top: A film about the Sengwer forest people in the Cherangani Hills, Kenya

Honey at the Top is a film by Dean Puckett, a UK-based documentary film maker. At the end of 2014, Puckett travelled to the Cherangani Hills in Western Kenya. He filmed and documented the lives of the Sengwer people.

Parts of Puckett’s film are beautiful. The Sengwer live in a landscape of mists, forests, fields and mountains. They farm cows, sheep and goats, and collect honey.

Other parts of the film are disturbing. In recent years, the Kenya Forest Service has carried out a series of violent evictions. Armed guards from the Kenya Forest Service have burned the Sengwer’s homes. They destroyed their property, and punched and beat the Sengwer. They even destroyed a school.

Honey at the Top includes film of the KFS guards destroying and burning Sengwer homes. Here is the film (click on the “CC” button to add subtitles):

“We didn’t invade this forest”

Elias Kimaiyo is one of the Sengwer living in the Embobut forest, in the Cherangani Hills. Early in the film he sums up the Sengwer’s feeling of injustice:

“In every society in this world, you don’t apply to be born where you are supposed to be born. It’s just circumstance, the way God planned it, where you be born is your place. In fact, we didn’t invade this forest, we inherited it from our grandparents. Here is where was born, I was brought up, and till this age I am just here. But since I was young I have experienced, evictions … several. Until I was wondering, what have we done?”

Puckett interviews a Sengwer man living in a cave, who explains he has nowhere else to go since the evictions. When Puckett asks him about conserving the forests, he replies,

“We want to conserve our land. We don’t want anyone from outside to come and do it. The people of the land will conserve it. Someone from outside cannot claim a portion of this land. Forbidden.”

Violent evictions

A Sengwer woman describes how the KFS guards evicted her:

“At around 5am, I heard some commotion from the cows, over there. Who are these people coming in the night? They came through there. They held me like this by the door. So I pulled my hand away and he slapped me twice over here, and punched me here, twice again. He pushed me hard on the ground and grabbed me on the mouth like this. I couldn’t speak. He said, ‘shut up!’ I said, ‘how can I shut up when it hurts?’

“I asked him to give me my shoes because I had sat down. They refused. They took my boots and put them into the fire. They took the child’s school bag full of books, and put it into the fire. They removed my clothes, that heavy scarf worth 600 shillings, and put that in the fire. Two blankets, no three, into the fire.”

She had lived for 45 years in the forest. “I’ve been in this forest all the time,” she says.

“During all the evictions I have remained here. They have continued to harass people the whole time, until we accepted that this is how life is. This is life and we have nowhere else to go. If they come and burn us, we remain here. If they come again and burn us, we will still remain. Even if the KFS arrest me and take me away. They can take me 10 times. I’m not going anywhere. Never.”

World Bank and EU support for conservation in Kenya

From 2007 to 2013, the World Bank funded a conservation project in Kenya. The project paid US$64 million to the Kenya Forest Service. In 2015, the Bank’s Inspection Panel found that the project did not uphold the rights of the Sengwer people. But the Panel decided that the Bank had not directly funded the evictions.

The World Bank and the Kenya Forest Service declined to give Puckett an interview for the film.

In June 2016, the European Union and the Kenyan Government announced a new programme. Funded by the EU, the “Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme” will run for six years.

The Sengwer have requested that the European Union suspend the programme. At least until the programme incorporates a rights-based approach.

Grasp the Nettle Films, Puckett’s film company, has set up a petition demanding that the EU doesn’t fund evictions of the Sengwer.


Posted on Conservation Watch, 27 January 2017.

Leave a Reply

  1. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to have a judgment or an objective opinion on this matter, as long as we did not consult the opinion of the other party (forest service’s). It reminds me of a 1960s French movie that tells the story and the problems experienced by a couple. The film has two parts of 90 minutes each: the first part tells the story as reported by the woman and the second is reported by the husband. At the end of the projection of the first part we got out with a furious and hateful feeling toward the husband and with a lot of sympathy for the woman. At the end of the projection of the second part we go out with the same feeling of fury and revulsion for the woman. In the end we are really confused and poignant.

    Morality of the story: who to believe? You be the judge

  2. Thank you for this post.
    It is worth highlighting that these violent evictions are also linked to REDD as the Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme and the No REDD in Africa Network have denounced to the United Nations.

    Forced Relocation of Sengwer People proves urgency of canceling REDD.

    The Guardian has characterized the evictions against the Sengwer People as “scorched earth tactics.”
    World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs – NGOs
    Plight of Kenya’s indigenous Sengwer shows carbon offsets are empowering corporate recolonisation of the South

    Friends of the Earth International rejects REDD because it is a “land-grabbing false solution to climate change that could potentially cause genocide,” and cited the example of the evictions against the Sengwer Peoples at the Paris climate summit.
    UN promoting potentially genocidal policy at world climate summit

    The REDD Connection
    Kenya preparing for REDD in the Embobut Forest and forcing the Sengwer People into extinction
    “…the World Bank funded the Government of Kenya’s REDD+ Program exclusively through its $68.5 million dollar Natural Resources Management Program, in the Cherangany Hills. According its Inspection Panel report No. 77959-KE, the World Bank was “financing REDD+ readiness activities” as part of this program. As of last May, activities started include: “Identification of Grazing Systems as a REDD+ Strategy Option [and] Development of a Methodology for Monitoring Community Engagement in Forest Management and REDD+.”

    Here is the World Bank’s dribble:
    World Bank Statement on Embobut Forest and Cherangany Hills …
    Feb 6, 2014 … The World Bank stands ready to assist the Government of Kenya with its development advice drawing on its local and global project .