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Evictions of Sengwer indigenous people: World Bank violates safeguards in Kenya

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2014-01-23-kenya-590The World Bank’s inspection panel has found that the Bank violated its safeguards in a conservation project in the Cherangany Hills in Kenya. Thousands of Sengwer indigenous people have been evicted and their homes burned down.

In January 2013, the Sengwer made a complaint to the World Bank about the Bank-funded Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP). A copy of the Inspection Panel’s May 2014 report was leaked to the Guardian. The report accuses the Bank of failing to protect the rights of the Sengwer.

World Bank-funded evictions

Under the project, the border of the Cherangany forest reserves was moved. As a result, Sengwer families found themselves living inside the forest reserve and subject to eviction. They were not consulted about the border changes.

The Kenya Forest Service carried out evictions in the Cherangany forest in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. These evictions, involving burning homes and food stores, were effectively funded by the World Bank, as Forest Peoples Programme notes.

According to the Financing Agreement between the Bank and Kenya, the project was originally supposed to enhance,

“institutional capacity to manage water and forest resources, reduce the incidence and severity of water shocks such as drought, floods and water shortage in river catchments and improve the livelihoods of communities participating in the co-management of water and forest resources.”

Project failed to address land issues

The project was supposed to support the resolution of land issues, among other things through participatory boundary demarcation, and clarification of land claims.

Once the project started, Bank Management realised that resolving land issues was “far too ambitious” and could not be achieved within the time frame of the project.

In June 2011, the project was restructured. The Bank’s management acknowledged that the Project “would not be able to implement the land related commitments”, such as providing land titles for communities.

Forest Peoples Programme points out that, by failing to address the land claims of indigenous communities,

[T]he NRMP increased the marginalisation and insecurity of the traditional inhabitants of Embobut Forest, most obviously by further funding and entrenching an approach to conservation which seeks to exclude those who have traditionally cared for their forest and instead offer (poorly implemented) livelihood projects outside the forest as if this could compensate the Sengwer who stand to lose everything through this approach to conservation that is based on eviction from their ancestral forest lands.

Jim Kim “alarmed” at evictions

In January 2014, James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples condemned the evictions. “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly relocated from their lands or territories,” he said.

The following month, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim put out a statement saying he was “alarmed” at the latest round of evictions.

An Avaaz petition collected almost one million signatures demanding that the Kenya Forest Service stop the evictions and that the World Bank prevents such abuses in future.

Management ignores recommendations

The inspection panel’s report found several breaches of Bank safeguards. But Bank management decided to ignore most of the recommendations.

A spokesperson for Forest Peoples Programme told the Guardian:

“Unfortunately, the World Bank’s own leaked management response to the report denies many of the findings, evidently sees little importance in the fact that violation of safeguard policies has occurred, and presents an inadequate action plan to be considered by the bank’s board. It simply proposes more training for forest service staff, and a meeting to examine what can be learnt.”

Board decision today

The World Bank’s board is meeting in Washington today and will make a final decision on the Bank’s response to the inspection panel’s report. If the Bank endorses the action plan presented by management, the evictions of the indigenous peoples living in the Cherangany Hills will be completed.

More than half of the people evicted are thought to have returned to the homes since the last round of evictions.

As Connor Cavanagh, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, notes, the Cherangany Hills are one of five “water towers” in the country, where Kenya’s main rivers originate. The Bank’s decision in Washington could also affect thousands of people living in Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya, the Aberdares Range, and the Mau Forest complex.

Today’s decision by the World Bank’s board will tell us whether the Bank cares about violations of its safeguards, whether it supports indigenous peoples’ rights, or whether the Bank continues to promote an outmoded version of fortress conservation that tramples on human rights.


PHOTO Credit: Justin Kenrick, Forest Peoples Programme.
 

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  1. The indigenous people have rights,its their land,these companies land grabbing from native populations,are breaking the law,developed countries need to offer assistance to help the native population to protect their land and their people.

  2. Am Sengwer born in Embobut forest born 30 years ago and i have been a victim of goverment evictions since i knew my soroundings to date. It became more worse when canning #World bank #NRM funded project which i can compare with #Iroshima bomb its a total threat to instinct indegenous Sengwer community living, cared and depended entirely on their ancestral land in Embobut forest for centuries. What? and Who is World Bank to violate indegenous rights against there safegard policies. Can it not be sworn in ICC court for its policies violation? can somebody answer me we’re suffering as community very much and in critical conditions.

  3. If the World Bank board would not positively redress its own breaches of safeguards, how can we be sure that it (the Bank) would tackle complaints raised against companies taking funding from her? This is very wrong!

  4. Since from time immemorial we are the aborigins indigenous people of Embobut forest,Among other forests in Cherangany hills.But since 1895 our community have become victims of torture,discrimination,pushed to margins by colonial British govt and terrible burning by independent govt by help of funds from W.Bank,Finish govt and EU.
    We appeal to well wishers help this human right torture from our ancestral land W Bank and other funders where were your monies before Kenya become independent? Who conserved our ancestral land which pple?,Can someone explain indigenous pples are the custodians of indi forests since centuries

  5. Since time immemorial The Sengwer community lived in Embobut forest. The way they have been mistreated is inhuman. The operation in destroying their houses leaves a lot to be desired. The idea to conserve the forest is good however they should have been moved to open places (glades) in the forest and continued awareness programmes. The idea here is participatory. Giving a few 400000/- is discriminatory in nature and cultural destruction. I appeal for a balanced approach. Thanks

  6. so sad that the world bank and the government of Kenya is violating human rights in the name of conservation ,my cry’s goes to children ,women ,elderly and People Living With Disability

  7. Sengwer(Kimala) is no doubt the aborigines of Embobut forest. The colonial government confined them in the forest with the hope of quick settlement an event that procrastinated to date. Currently none is bothered to save them from cultural extinction. I appeal to all people of goodwill to support this minority group to retain their rich cultural heritage and to be settled permanently once and for all.