Kenya’s Scorched Earth Removal of Forest’s Indigenous

Nairobi — Kenyan government security forces are forcefully evicting thousands of people, including the indigenous Sengwer tribe, from the Embobut forest in western Kenya by burning homes and possessions in an effort to promote forest conservation, safeguard urban water access and “remove squatters”.

“The Kenya Forest Guard is burning homes and belongings in the Embobut forest area. They are threatening [people] with AK-47 guns. Gunfire has caused chaos as families run to hide in the mountain forest,” Yator Kiptum, a member of the Sengwer community, told IPS.

The Sengwer people, a traditional hunter-gatherer society estimated to have a population of only 15,000, have inhabited the forest area for hundreds of years and regard the Embobut forest area as their ancestral home.

“It is through such actions that whole cultures, languages and histories die.” — Tom Lomax, Forest Peoples Programme

International human rights organisations are condemning the Kenyan government for undermining the tribe’s constitutional entitlement to free, prior and informed consent to the evictions and for illegally breaking international agreements on conservation and human rights.

“Crucially, the constitution states that ancestral land and the land occupied by traditionally hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sengwer is ‘community land’ owned by that community. None of these legal provisions are being respected by the government of Kenya in the recent evictions of the Sengwer from Embobut forest,” Tom Lomax, a legal expert with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO that promotes forest peoples’ rights, told IPS.

Despite the government declaring conservation as its reason for the community’s eviction, its actions break official commitments to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which require the state to protect and preserve traditional communities and their adaptive practices that have helped maintain the forest area.

Lomax maintains that the conservation of biodiversity or ecosystems in compliance with CBD commitments cannot justify evictions of indigenous communities by armed troops and the burning of houses.

“These evictions are unlawful under Kenya’s constitution and under its international legal commitments. The strong connection of the Sengwer to the Cherangany Hills forests [where the Embobut forest lies] means that their very physical and cultural survival as a people is at stake in these evictions,” Lomax said.[Read full article]