The Sengwer are indigenous people who live in the Embobut forest in the Cherangani Hills in Kenya. They have lived there for time immemorial. But since British colonial rule, the Sengwer have been evicted from their homes. From 2007 to 2013, the World Bank funded the Kenya Forest Service but did nothing to support the rights of the Sengwer, in breach of World Bank safeguards.
These violent evictions are taking place in the name of conservation, to protect the forests, and to address climate change.
The European Union is funding a new six year project: the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme. The project is aimed at preserving ecosystem services in Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills. A year ago, the Sengwer appealed to the EU to respect their rights to live in the forest.
Earlier this week, the Forest Peoples Programme posted two videos on YouTube, featuring the Sengwer speaking about the evictions and their lives in the forest, and where they are now forced to live:
One of the Sengwer women says, “Even if they want to kill us, let them kill us here. We must continue to stay.”
A Sengwer man says, “My first experience with eviction was in 1988. Now it’s more than 27 years, I am still being evicted. This kind of life is so hard, and no where we can go.”
And Milka Chepkorir, a Sengwer community member, has written the following “call for help”, posted on Forest Peoples Programme’s website:
Sengwer Women of Embobut forest call for help
By Milka Chepkorir, Sengwer community member, Forest Peoples Programme, 29 November 2017
More than 22 times now, our community has been forcefully evicted from our ancestral land in Embobut forest, Cherangany Hills, by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), a government agency that is supposed to be responsible for the protection of forests in the country.
Despite the Scientific evidence that forests are better protected when in the hands of indigenous communities, the government of Kenya through its agency KFS still carry out evictions of the Sengwer community. These evictions are worsened by the funds acquired by the Kenyan Government from development and conservation partners like the World Bank and the EU.
In 2007-2013 the World Bank funded the Natural Resource and Management Project (NRMP) in Embobut forest, a project that exposed the community to evictions by their own government. The effects of these evictions to the women and children are so adverse since they are exposed to lots of cold and suffering, through the destruction of their homes, their clothing and their food.
The EU is in the process of funding the Kenyan Government (KFS) to carry out a Water Tower project (WaTER) in this same high area where the community have been evicted constantly since 2013 as well as in the Mt Elgon area. A group of Sengwer woman just like other members of the community are concerned that these funds will be empowering the KFS to evict them even more. There is a rapid loss of culture, peace and harmony, and instead severe poverty is brought about by these evictions.
The suffering experienced by the women includes the loss (through burning) of the traditional medicines they used to treat their children, the loss of household property, loss of children books and other reading materials, as well as loss of family ties as family members are scattered and scared, sexual abuse and harassment and psychological torture associated to the horrible acts of evictions.
Despite all these, the women have come out so strongly to speak against the evictions to government officials. The women have also used songs to tell others of their concerns, their sufferings and the attachment they have to their ancestral land.
The Sengwer women of Embobut will enjoy life just like any other woman in the world when:
- The funding community i.e. World Bank, EU and other conservations funding agencies will recognize the ancestral land rights of the Sengwer to live in, manage and conserve their land.
- These funding organizations hold their funds until the Government of Kenya listens to and address the concerns of the Sengwer indigenous community.
- The government of Kenya stops evictions to enable Sengwer children to go to school peacefully like other children in the county.
NB: Behind every person in uniform lies a human being / a human heart / a human soul, a common humanity that unifies us all. Stop evictions. Stop harassing women. Stop burning books and ruining the future of our children.
Posted on Conservation Watch, 1 December 2017.