By Chris Lang
On 11 May 2020, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Fred Matiangi’i, issued a moratorium on forced evictions during the coronavirus pandemic. He made the announcement on national television. On 10 July 2020, Kenya Forest Service guards burned down 28 homes belonging to Sengwer Indigenous People in the Embobut Forest.
The evictions came while the EU and Kenya are in discussions about restarting a US$35 million conservation programme called the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme. The programme was suspended in January 2018, after a series of human rights violations. The day before the EU suspended the programme, Kenya Forest Service carried out a raid on the Sengwer’s land. During the raid a KFS guard shot and killed Robert Kirotich, a 41-year-old Sengwer man.
The EU has said it will cancel the funding if the government does not resolve the land rights dispute with the Sengwer. Stefano Dejak, the former EU Ambassador to Kenya, said, “By September 20th the duration will expire and the funds will be returned to the EU to cater for other programmes including helping member countries combat the covid 19 pandemic.”
The Star reports Sengwer community members as saying that they “don’t care if the funding is cancelled as long as they retain their ancestral rights”. Sengwer Elders Chairman Paul Kiptuga said, “We are opposed to the EU conservation programme in the forest because past efforts were used by the Kenya Forest Service to mete out human rights violations against our people.”
Eight human rights and conservation organisations have put out a press release expressing their concern about the ongoing forced evictions and calling on the government to stop the evictions:
13 July 2020
BURNING OF 28 SENGWER HOMES IN EMBOBUT FOREST, ELGEYO MARAKWET, 10 JULY 2020
The following eight human rights and conservation organizations express grave concern over reports of ongoing forced evictions in Embobut Forest by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). We are reliably informed that 28 homes with beddings and possessions were burnt in Kapkok glade on 10 July 2020 leaving families in the cold with no shelter. We once again call on the Kenyan government to end forced evictions in Embobut Forest and ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
The Constitution of Kenya and the Land Act 2012 (as amended in 2016) prohibit forced evictions carried out contrary to the law. On May 11, 2020, the President through the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government declared a moratorium on evictions for the period of COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the right to adequate housing is critical to protecting Kenyans from the spread of the Corona virus and ensuring their recovery. The forced evictions and homelessness have increased the vulnerability of those affected to COVID-19 and its negative socio-economic impacts.
The forced evictions come at a time when the European Union (EU) and the Government of Kenya are considering the resumption of Kes 3.6 billion funding to the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme. The program was stopped after numerous human rights violations including forced evictions of Sengwer Indigenous people, the killing of Robert Kirotich and the serious injury of David Kipkosgei Kiptilkesi in 2018.
The Kenyan government must use this time to dialogue on its approach to conservation and how to consistently ensure the community land rights of the Sengwer indigenous people and other traditional forest peoples can also be recognized as community owner-conservators.
Consequently, we call on the Government of Kenya to immediately:
- Make a Ministerial Statement to halt the KFS operation and forced evictions in Embobut Forest;
- Adhere to the Constitution, the Land Act and the Presidential declaration of a moratorium on evictions for the period of COVID-19 pandemic;
- Ensure that all those affected can live peacefully in the forest glades, no further retaliation happens to Sengwer community members and that those responsible are brought to justice;
- Provide shelter and basic needs for the affected families.
Sengwer Council of Elders
Amnesty International Kenya
Kenya Human Rights Commission
American Jewish World Service
Forest Peoples Programme
PHOTO Credit: Remains of a house burnt down in Embobut Forest, Amnesty International Kenya.