The Environment Principal Secretary (PS), Dr. Chris Kiptoo has given the Sengwer community two weeks to come up with a road map to unlock the stalemate over the suspension of funding worth 35 million dollars by the European Union (EU) for the conservation of Embobut forest.
The communities managed to block the funding after they wrote a petition to the EU protesting against human rights abuses meted against them allegedly by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in their efforts to conserve the forest.
The PS said it was regrettable that the funding, which was meant to rehabilitate 10,000 hectares of the forest have remained suspended for the last two and a half years, saying he is the 6th PS trying to unlock the stalemate.
“It is about time that we concluded this deadlock once and for all because if we lose this funding, the degradation of the forest will continue leading to more deaths as a result of landslides,” he said.
He appealed to the Sengwer community to soften their stand on the matter noting that a taskforce formed to address the welfare of the indigenous community had finalized its report adding that his ministry had prepared a cabinet memo to be presented to the president for action.
The PS was speaking in Maron area of Embobut forest in Marakwet East sub county when he led a delegation from the government, EU and the United Nations to pave way for the rehabilitation of 10,000 hectares which have been degraded by human activities leading to frequent landslides in the area.
The former EU Ambassador to Kenya, Stefano Dejak said the government had up to September 20th to resolve the deadlock after which the funds would revert back to the EU headquarters to fund other programmes.
“By September 20th the duration will expire and the funds will be returned to the EU to cater for other programmes including helping member countries combat the covid 19 pandemic”, he said.
Noting that the programme was to be a model worldwide, the Ambassador said the impasse had hampered the rollout of the programme to 10 other counties in the country.
Dejak said for the programme to continue the government should ensure that there are no human rights violations in the course of its implementation, rights of local communities are respected and the Arusha court ruling on rights of indigenous communities are implemented.
Other conditions are that the perpetrators of past killings and destruction of properties be brought to book, there is community participatory approach and balance of rights and responsibilities of communities in forest conservation.
“Since it was not possible to address all the issues outlined in the little time left then the government can put in place processes to address them,” he said.
Luka Kiraton an elder from the Sengwer community said KFS had continued to disregard their role in forest conservation yet both parties can agree to blend their traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge.
Their Chairman, Paul Kiptuga said they opposed the EU programme as past efforts to conserve the forest had been used to violate their rights and demanded that the community be allocated 3 forest glades which they claim as their ancestral land for the conservation programme to continue.
By Alice Wanjiru