Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tension Looms in Mt Elgon Forest as Kenyan Eviction Notice for the Chepkitale Ogiek Community Elapses

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Barely a week after governments convened in Cancun, Mexico to chart the way forward on how to reduce carbon emissions without impacting on the livelihoods of millions of indigenous people who inhabit in forests, a hundred million kilometres away, an indigenous community is facing imminent eviction to pave way for forest conservation and reafforestation.

By Shadrack Kavilu for Gáldu
Kenya’s Chepkitale Ogiek, a hunter and gatherer tribe that has since turned to pastoralist and which inhabits in the Mt Elgon forest is a worried tribe as eviction notice issued by the government comes into effect this month.

Early this year the government issued the community with an eviction notice to vacate the Mt Elgon forest by December ostensibly to pave way for forest conservation and reafforestation.

But as the deadline fast approaches, the indigenous community which are the ancestral inhabitants of the Mt Elgon forest are pondering their next course of action as government remains defiant in rescinding its decision.
The government has maintained that Chepkitale Ogieks residing in the Chepkitale area should vacate the forest upon the expiry date of the eviction notice issued by the National Enviromental Management Authority (NEMA).

According to the directive issued by NEMA the Kenya forest service director is expected to secure the forest upon the expiry date of the notice, meaning the Ogieks should have vacated the forest by start of this month.
Over the last two months, the area district commissioner has constantly reminded the community to vacate the forest before they’re forcibly evicted.

For the last 40 years the Ogiek have not had a permanent place of settlement. The place which they thought of as home- Chepkitale was clandestinely gazetted as a national game reserve in the year 2000.
“This entire process of transforming the Ogiek ancestral land to a game reserve at the expense of the minority community’s livelihood is a gross violation of human and land rights of the Chepkitale Ogieks,” said Fredrick Matei, the tribe’s spokesman.

If the government makes true it eviction plans, Matei says the Chepkitale Ogieks would be deprived off their identity and traditional culture. The forest provides the community with rich biodiversity and holy shrines where the tribe performs their rituals.

The eviction, Matei says would further compound the tribe’s problems which stem back the colonial period when they were evicted from their ancestral land and settled in native reserves which the colonial government considered unproductive.

Most of their land was converted to crown land (forest reserves) which was later gazetted by the government as national game reserves.
“It’s a pity that even in the wake of global call to protect indigenous people who live in forest, we are still being forcefully evicted from our ancestral land to pave way for what the government calls reafforestation and conservation of the Mt Elgon forest,” observed Matai.

The spokesman admits that they have exhausted all avenues of convincing the government to rescind its decision and they are now appealing to the international community to intervene.

Since the eviction notice the tribe has expressed fears that if proper mechanisms to safeguard their land rights are not put in place their livelihoods, traditions and culture would become extinct faster than it is previously projected. 

He observes that for a long time in Kenya minority and indigenous communities have been characterized by poor access to resources and opportunities, insecurity of tenure and alienation from the state administration.

The Chepkitale Ogieks, he says have been ignored, their plight overlooked, and their very existence endangered in many ways that include lack of social amenities such as hospitals and schools.

The community is now calling on the government to nullify the gazettment of chepkitale as a national game reserves and the area be reversed to its original owners the Ogiek.

“Our indigenous land rights for Mt. Elgon forest should be restored. We should be given full access to the forest for grazing since this pose no danger to mature trees. We should further be allowed to harvest bamboos as we used to before,” avers Matei.

During the just concluded climate change meeting in Mexico, several non governmental organisation expressed fears that in pursuit of reducing carbon emission through the REDD initiative indigenous people are most vulnerable to losing their ancestral land. 

The group urged the governments to come up with a strategy that would safeguard the land rights of indigenous communities and other forest dwellers.

According to a recent report by the Friends of the Earth International, 1.6 billion people in the world rely on forests, including 60 million Indigenous peoples whose livelihoods could be directly or indirectly impacted by plans to cut emissions through the REDD initiative. 

The community spokesman fears that if proper mechanisms to safeguard the land rights of these people are not put in place, their tradition, culture and livelihoods are endangered.

Globally the land rights of indigenous people and forest dwellers have been grossly violated as governments intensify efforts to conserve forest and cut down carbon emissions.

But the process has been widely condemned by human rights activist as it displaces these indigenous communities and infringes on their fundamental rights.

In Kenya and other parts of Sub Saharan Africa, several indigenous tribes have lost their ancestral land which have been either converted to national game reserves or protected areas. 

Report Courtesy of www.galdu.org  

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