The controversy raging over the displacement of Indigenous Peoples in Embobut forest in Kenya continues, after new reports that the rehabilitation of the forest is going ahead.
The forest came to international attention after the local Indigenous Peoples, the Sengwer were removed from the area by the Kenya Forest Service. The latter claim that the Sengwer were not forcibly removed but were financially compensated to move outside of the forest, so it could be rehabilitated.
The United Nation Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, expressed his concern about the situation in the Embobut Forest in a press statement released earlier this year.
“Indigenous Peoples shall not be forcibly relocated from their lands or territories,” Anaya said, quoting the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous Peoples concerned and after agreement of fair and just compensation and, where possible, the option of return.”
The Sengwer indigenous people, also known as the Cherangany indigenous people, have traditionally lived, hunted and gathered in the Embobut Forest area in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Many Sengwer still live in or near the Embobut Forest and continue to engage in cultural and subsistence practices in the area.
Stephen Chessa, an inspector with the Kenya Forest Service denied reports that the Sengwer were forcibly removed from their homes in the forest.
“Government has planned this for a very long time. We love the forest and the people love the forest but we must conserve the forest.”
He said that there had been “no eviction” of peoples living in the forest by the Kenya Forest Service. Chessa said that families were re-settled outside of the forest and were financially compensated for the move.
“Nobody was pushed out. It was a well-planned programme.”
According to Survival International an estimated 13,500 Sengwer live in the Embobut forest.
Yator Kiptum, Sengwer spokesperson said that “some families are still hiding in the forest” and that the Kenya Forest service is not allowing people to settle back in the forest.
He said that their homes were burnt down during the eviction from the forest.
Last year, the Sengwer launched a complaint against a project funded by the World Bank which put the Sengwer at risk of eviction from their ancestral land by changing the boundaries of the forest reserves.
In response to the reports of evictions of the Sengwer people from Embobut forest, the World Bank issued a statement which read in part: “The World Bank is not linked to these evictions and nor has the World Bank ever supported evictions through its development financing of Kenya’s Natural Resources Management Project (NRMP) which closed on June 30, 2013.
“The World Bank stands ready to assist the Government of Kenya with its development advice drawing on its local and global project experiences, and to share best practices in resettlement in line with its safeguard policies. These seek to improve or restore the living standards of people affected by involuntary resettlement.”
“Prior to the project closing, community complaints about the NRMP have led to an investigation by the World Bank’s independent Inspection Panel. The Inspection Panel, which reports to the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors, is expected to complete its investigation in the first quarter of 2014.”
The results of the investigation have not been released as yet.