Indigenous Sengwer leaders request suspension of EU-funded programme in Kenya

In June 2016, the European Union and the Kenyan Government announced a new EU-funded programme: the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme. The project aims to preserve ecosystem services in Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills.

The €31 million programme will run for six years. At the launch of the programme, the European Union Ambassador H.E. Stefano A. Dejak said,

“The EU supports projects that ensure the highest environmental protection. The Water Towers Programme will help preserve the environment for present as well as future Kenyan generations, while improving the lives of the communities through ecologically and economically sustainable land use systems and livelihood interventions. This provides a win-win solution for both the community and the environment. This programme is a key step to taking effective action in tackling Climate Change through sustainable ecosystem services.”

There have been a series of evictions of the indigenous Ogiek from Mount Elgon, and the Sengwer from the Cherangany Hills. Evictions have been violent, houses have been burned, and the people evicted have lost everything.

Four months after the EU-funded programme was launched, the Sengwer wrote to the Delegation of the European Union to Kenya requesting the programme be suspended until a rights-based approach is incorporated.

An open letter to the European Union
The water towers project is being implemented without free, prior and informed consent of the community, the leaders say. The forest community, whose rights have been repeatedly violated by the Kenya Government in brutal evictions, fear there will be more violations under the current project.
3rd November 2016
Delegation of the European Union to Kenya
Union House, Ragati Road
P.O. Box 45119-00100
We, the undersigned, on behalf of Sengwer, an ethnic minority and marginalized forest indigenous peoples drawn from West Pokot, Trans Nzoia and Elgeiyo Marakwet, kindly call upon the Head of European Union Delegation to Kenya to suspend the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme until you carry out free, prior and informed consent, incorporate a rights-based approach, accountability and transparency in the project.
We, are concerned about the manner officers from Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) are implementing the project without clear written information. We have requested them in a number of meetings to give us a copy of the project document in vain. In fact, some days before the launch the officers were insisting that the project document was still in draft form. We’ve heard, with no touchable evidence, that the Water Towers Programme will be carried out in Mount Elgon and Cherangany Hills and that it will be implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Forest Research Institute and the County Government.
For instance, during Natural Resources Management Project, a World Bank funded project (2007-2013), Sengwer peoples living in Kapolet and Embobut forests had their fundamental freedoms, human and indigenous rights violated. For example in Kapolet Forest some community members were arrested and taken to police custody and accused of trespass while they were within their ancestral lands, their community land. A woman was also shot by KFS guards in the same Kapolet Forest. In Embobut Forest, we’ve had arrests and evictions (burning of houses and destruction of property).
Today, Sengwer are forced to live in caves, thick inside the forest…as aliens in their own ancestral lands and territory as stipulated in Art. 63 (2) (d) ii of the Constitution of Kenya. This forced some members of the community to file a complaint with the World Bank Inspection Panel which went into full investigation.
We, hereby state that European Union support for Water Towers Programme in Cherangany Hills is in total violation of:-
(i) Its external instrument and policy on indigenous peoples
(ii) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(iii) African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
(iv) Sustainable Development Goals
(v) Constitution of Kenya
Therefore, we call upon the European Union to:-


    (i) Suspend the Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme with immediate effect in respect to Sengwer Forest indigenous peoples in Cherangany Hills
    (ii) Carry out adequate, effective and efficient free prior and informed consent (FPIC) with members of Sengwer and let the community make decision after proper understanding of the Water Towers programme
    (iii) Support National Land Commission ‘ROADMAP TO SECURING FOREST DWELLERS’ LAND AND RESOURCES RIGHTS IN FOREST CONSERVATION’ – securing the rights of forest indigenous peoples to live in and own their ancestral lands and territories in forests/protected area sustainably on conservation conditions
    (iv) Support review of the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016 to be in line with article 63 (2) (d) ii of the Constitution of Kenya
    (v) Convene a meeting between Sengwer and state implementing agencies (MENR, KFS, KWTA, County Governments of West Pokot, Trans Nzoia and Elgeiyo Marakwet) having National Land Commission, Kenya National Commission Human Rights, Ministry of Lands and Katiba Institute in attendance
    (vi) Share copies of the project document in the spirit of accountability and transparency

Finally, we fully support conservation programmes and projects that recognize, respect, protect and promote our rights as traditional forest indigenous peoples (hunters and gatherers) to live in and own our ancestral lands and territories our community land in forest/protected area sustainably on conservation conditions working closely with state agencies.
We look forward for your acknowledge and response.
Yours faithfully,











1) European Ombudsman

2) KFS Director

3) Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples

4) Human Rights Focal Point – EU Kenya

5) Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)


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