EU suspends funding to conservation and climate project in Kenya, one day after a Kenya Forest Service guard shot and killed an indigenous Sengwer man

The European Union has suspended funding to its Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme. The announcement came one day after the EU-funded Kenya Forest Service carried out a raid on the indigenous Sengwer’s land in the Embobut forest. During the raid, a Kenya Forest Service guard shot and killed Robert Kirotich, a 41-year-old indigenous Sengwer man. Another man was wounded.

Forest Peoples Programme reports that a group of 40 Kenya Forest Service guards attacked Kirotich while he was herding cattle in the Embobut forest.

In a statement on the website of the EU delegation to Kenya, the EU’s Ambassador, Stefano A. Dejak, says,

“Yesterday’s shooting took place after we had formally alerted Kenya’s Government that the use of force by Kenya Forest Service guards in the Embobut Forest or elsewhere against innocent locals would lead the EU to suspend its financial support for conservation work on the country’s water towers. Accordingly, we are now suspending the support to the Water Towers Programme with the Government of Kenya.”

The EU’s €31 million Water Towers Protection and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Programme started in June 2016. It is aimed at protecting water supplies from Mount Elgon and the Cherangany Hills in Kenya. According to the EU, these areas, “store rainwater, enable regular river flows, recharge ground-water storage, improve soil fertility, reduce erosion and sediment in river water, and host a diverse species of plants and animals”.

These areas are also home to indigenous peoples.

On its website, the EU delegation to Kenya writes that,

The EU insists on full respect for the rights of indigenous people, and the conservation work on the water towers was never expected to involve any evictions or use of violence. EU staff have been following up on reports which began more than a year ago concerning abuses of indigenous people’s rights in the conservation areas, as there were claims that these were linked to the EU’s support.

But while the EU was “following up on reports” of abuses against indigenous people in Embobut forest the evictions and violence continued.

What research did the EU carry out before deciding to fund this project?

The EU states that it did not expect its conservation and climate project in the Cherangany Hills to involve evictions or violence. But surely someone, somewhere in the EU must have done some research into the recent history of the Sengwer before allocating €31 million for a conservation and climate project on the Sengwer’s land, particularly when the project includes funding for the Kenya Forest Service. The Forest Peoples Programme and other human rights NGOs have been documenting the evictions and the violence carried out be the Kenya Forest Service against the Sengwer for several years.

Surely someone, somewhere in the EU must have read these two articles:

The articles are part of a detailed investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Huffington Post, and the GroundTruth Project into the impact of World Bank projects on indigenous peoples and local communities. These two articles look at the Bank’s Natural Resource Management Project, that ran from 2007 to 2013 in the Cherangany Hills. The project included funding from the World Bank for the Kenya Forest Service. During the project, armed guards from the Kenya Forest Service violently evicted thousands of Sengwer and burned down their homes.

The World Bank’s inspection panel found that the World Bank was in breach of its own policies by failing to do anything to protect the rights of the Sengwer.

The Sengwer asked the EU to suspend the project in November 2016

Four months after the EU started its project, the Sengwer wrote to the EU requesting that the project be suspended until a rights based approach is incorporated. In their November 2016 letter to the EU, the Sengwer wrote,

The water towers project is being implemented without free, prior and informed consent of the community.
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.

Tragically, the EU ignored this letter. Over one year later, after several more violent evictions and now the death of Robert Kirotich, the EU has suspended the project.

Elias Kimaiyo, a Sengwer indigenous man, responds to the news of the EUs suspension of funding on Forest Peoples Programme’s website:

“This is the beginning of a first step in our land rights struggles. If they had listened to us (and we have been crying for a long time), then this would not have happened, and the funds could have been used in a constructive way to help conservation and not used in a violent way for human rights violations. It seems to have taken Robert Kirotich being sacrificed for these people to listen.
“That they suspend this money is good news, but the major thing is they come to the table and listen to us, and work together as we live peacefully on our lands, to make sure our human rights are respected and to let us conserve our lands in the ways we know well, with support from the Government, the Europeans themselves, and any other conservation agencies, provided that our land rights ownership are recognised.”


Posted on REDD-Monitor, 17 January 2018.

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