Despite promises from World Bank President Jim Kim over two years ago to personally assist in addressing tensions over indigenous land rights in Kenya, approximately 1200 families of the Sengwer indigenous community were told by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) on Dec. 1 they had just 7 days to leave their ancestral land in the Embobut forest. Embobut is situated within the Cherangany Hills of western Kenya, which has attracted the interest of the World Bank and other development actors eager to partner with the Kenyan government on forest and water conservation—often with devastating consequences for indigenous communities whose livelihoods depend on their ancestral land and forests.
From 2007 to 2013, the World Bank-funded Kenya Natural Resource Management Project sustained the conditions for forced evictions, burning of homes and destruction of property of the Sengwer by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), which eventually led to a formal complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel. The Panel’s 2014 report found that the Bank did not take the necessary steps to respect the customary land rights of indigenous peoples in the project area — a serious missed opportunity to advance the project’s objectives.  The report also found that the Bank’s institutional analysis of KFS insufficiently captured its controversial history with forest communities.
On February 14, 2014, World Bank President Kim denied the Bank’s involvement in the reported evictions, but committed to engage in dialogue with the Kenyan government to address the evictions as part of its joint work to improve the lives of all Kenyans, stating “I will personally reach out to President Kenyatta and the government of Kenya to offer our full support in order to bring together the Cherangany-Sengwer people and all the key parties. Everyone’s goal is surely to find a lasting, peaceful resolution to this long unfinished business of land rights in Kenya.”
We implore the World Bank to again take an active stance on the evictions of forest communities and send a clear message to the Kenyan government that effective conservation requires partnership with forest dwellers and respect for their customary tenure rights. The Bank will soon consider a Climate Smart Agriculture project in the area that will again encounter the long-standing land conflicts that have become emblematic of the development context in Kenya. As noted by President Kim himself- development institutions cannot be bystanders in the fight for recognition of indigenous and community tenure. They must instead withhold support for projects until meaningful partnerships in resource management can be achieved with indigenous and community stakeholders.
Credit for photos: Yator Kiptum, Executive Director/Secretary, Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme (SIPP)
For more information:
World Bank Inspection Panel Investigation Report, Kenya- Natural Resource Management Project (May 2014)
Enough is Enough – Stop the continued arrests and evictions of Sengwer forest indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands in Embobut Forest
Sengwer Women’s Experiences of Evictions and their involvement in the struggle for Sengwer land rights
World Bank-Backed Projects Threaten Indigenous Communities’ Ways of Life