By Chris Lang
Three weeks ago, about 150 Sengwer Indigenous People travelled to Nairobi to deliver a petition to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The petition was signed by 270,000 people and requests recognition of the Sengwer’s land rights in the Embobut forest. The President refused to meet with the Sengwer.
In London, ten days ago, indigenous activists and Extinction Rebellion Scotland held an action in solidarity with the Sengwer, blocking the doors to the Kenyan High Commission.
One of the protesters explains why:
The reason I’m here and the reason we are here is that any climate change solution should take into consideration and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world, including the Sengwer people.
They have faced forced evictions. They have faced harrasment. They have faced killings. So we’re outside the Kenyan High Commission today to call on the High Commission to respond to the Sengwer people’s demands. They have articulated these demands in a petition for the president of Kenya to hear those demands and to fulfil those demands.
Entrance to the Kenyan High Commission in London blocked by indigenous activists and Extinction Rebellion Scotland to highlight the plight of the Sengwer Indigenous People of Kenya.
The Sengwer Indigenous People have suffered severe human rights violations at the hands of the Kenyan Government. In consultation with indigenous organisations, XR Scotland took this action – alongside Defenders Coalition, Amnesty International Kenya, and fourteen other human rights organizations – to demand that the President of the Republic of Kenya recognize the right of the Sengwer to their ancestral land. As part of this action, the group presented a petition signed by 270,000 people.
Outside the High Commission this morning, XR read out the Sengwers’ petition and asked that Kenya’s High Commissioner, Manoah Esipisu, the official representative of the Kenyan Government in the UK, accept their petition by hand.
The Kenyan Government and the Kenyan Government Forest Service (KFS) have, since the 1980s, engaged in intimidation, harassment, forced evictions, illegal arrests, violence and murder, burning thousands of homes and ripping communities apart, claiming it is necessary to ‘conserve’ the Embobut Forest to mitigate climate change.
In reality, the Sengwer are the ones who have been protecting their ancestral forests, and KFS are renowned for exploiting and destroying the indigenous forests they take control of.
Ogiek Indigenous leader Peter Kitelo Chongeywo, said “For us [the Ogiek forest people of Mt Elgon] climate change has been the excuse for dispossession.
“The community has not in any way contributed to the destruction of the forests or to climate change, but our communities are being sacrificed for proposed solutions that are not solutions,” he said.
“Climate change is being used as an excuse for the dispossession of forest communities who have protected their lands since time immemorial.”
Conservation experts working with Amnesty International have confirmed that the Sengwer people are best placed to conserve their ancestral home, and according to the 2018 IPCC Report, indigenous knowledge and rights recognition is key to tackling the climate and ecological emergency.
The group says the weaponization of climate change against indigenous communities cannot continue, as governments and international corporations continue to search for new fossil fuel reserves across the globe.
“Indigenous people are being wiped out across the globe in the name of globalisation development and it’s wrong. We’re here to get the Kenyan High Commissioner to agree that it’s wrong,” Caroline Glassberg-Powell, 29, Software Developer and XR Activist.
Extinction Rebellion Scotland acts in solidarity with the Sengwer Indigenous People’s ‘Week of Action’ which began on the 7th October 2019 and saw hundreds march 500km from their home in the Cherenganyi Hills to the Kenyan capital Nairobi to deliver the petition and demand a meeting with the President, who refused.
“It’s wrong that [the Government of Kenya] are using ecological and climate crisis to justify the displacement of people,” Joseph Burns, 23, Landscape Gardener and XR Activist. “I think Extinction Rebellion has a strong focus on unity and community, and that borders should not prevent global justice.”
The Secretary-General for the Sengwer Council of Elders, Yator Kiptum said, “We have remained a marginalized and forgotten community in our own country since colonial days. We have repeatedly been unrecognized, discriminated against and our rights violated.
“We are here to seek the audience of our president and demand recognition. We are a Kenyan ethnic community and we demand to live in our ancestral land in peace like any other community. We refuse to be branded criminals, encroachers or bandits for exercising our rights. We demand accountability for our kinsman who was killed, and numerous others injured in the repeated attacks by the Kenya Forest Services (KFS) in Embobut forest,” he said.
“We urge the president to take steps to ensure that we leave free from fear of constant state-led harassment, threats, intimidation and torching of our homes.”
Extinction Rebellion has focussed its attention on the Kenyan High Commission in London with an international light of solidarity, demanding that the Kenyan High Commissioner Manoah Esipisu publicly denounces the human rights violations committed by the Kenyan Government Forest Service and supports Sengwer Indigenous People’s rights to their ancestral land.
“Sengwer are an Indigenous and marginalized community who need to preserve their culture and identity,” said Irũngũ Houghton, Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director.
“Articles 7, 11, 44, 59 and 100 (D)(C) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, obligate the state to protect them, their language and intellectual property from assimilation,” said Houghton.
The Executive Director for Defenders Coalition Kenya, Mr. Kamau Ngugi, said “In 2017, The African Court of Justice in a landmark ruling upheld that the Ogiek Indigenous People have the right to Mau Forest as their ancestral land which was traditionally occupied by them as a hunter-gatherer community as enshrined in Article 63 (2) (d) (ii) of the Constitution of Kenya (COK) 2010, African Charter On Human And Peoples Rights, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
“This ruling applies to other Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and the state as the primary duty bearer has the primary obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the IPs including the Sengwer,” added Ngugi.
President of Kenya
Harambee House, PO Box 62345 – 00200 Nairobi
Harambee Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya
We the Sengwer Indigenous People are calling on you allow us to return back to our ancestral land to continue our culture of preservation of the Embobut forest.
In particular we ask that:
That the Sengwer people’s rights to their ancestral land in Embobut Forest are recognised and protected, in line with the Constitution of Kenya, the 2016 Community Land Act, and the 2016 Forest Conservation and Management Act;
A speedy conclusion of the inquest into the killing of Robert Kirotich Kibor in Embobut Forest in January 2018, and ensure that those officers responsible are brought to trial;
That the victims of forced evictions, arbitrary imprisonment, violence and other human rights violations in Embobut Forest receive justice and due remedy.
We also urge you to engage with us and obtain our consent for a new approach to conservation, which recognises our role as owners and custodians of the forest and your partnership in protecting the environment.
The Sengwer Indigenous People
PHOTO Credit: Ella Starling.