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Court bars Ogiek community from Mt. Elgon forest

The Environment and Lands Court in Bungoma has dismissed a suit by the indigenous Ogiek community seeking to have them reside in Mt Elgon forest.

The Ogiek community living in the Chepkitale area in Mt Elgon Forest had sued the government for evicting them from their ancestral land and gazetting it as a national game reserve.

The community through its lawyer Mr. Lepaa Sianga claimed that they had resided there since 1932 after the colonialists drove them out of their farms in Trans-Nzoia. Lepaa said that they will be consulting on the possibility of filing an appeal.

While making the ruling, the three-bench judge led by Lands and Environmental Judge Mr. Boaz Olao said that the community should vacate the forest without any compensation since they had already been resettled at Chepyuk settlement scheme.

He said that their activities in the forest had hugely contributed to the deforestation and endangerment of the Mt Elgon water catchment tower. He also said that the wild animals that used to attract tourists in the forest had become extinct while others had shifted to the Ugandan side.

The judge noted that the community had wanted the state to compensate them for loss of property that they incurred during the eviction in 2018 but provided inadequate evidence of the same.

“They had not reported any loss of property or life to relevant authorities and the court presumed that the evictions were done in accordance with the United Nations standards on eviction,” he said.

Addressing the press after the ruling, Prof Nixon Sifuna, who was representing Kenya Wildlife Services, said the verdict was a big win for Mt Elgon forest conservation that was on the verge of destruction.

He said that the Ogieks can still practice bee-keeping and other agricultural activities outside the forest. “The Ogieks have not lost in any way since they can always benefit from the forest without necessarily residing in the forest,” he said.

He added that the community can enjoy the forest benefits without having their families in the forest adding that the courts had declared that it’s illegal for one to occupy a state forest.

Professor Sifuna said that one can benefits from the forest by collecting firewood, herbal medicine, and fruits in the forest between 6am and 6 pm.

The population of the Ogieks of Mt Elgon is about 18,000 with 3,000 of them still living on their ancestral land in Chepkitale.

By Roseland Lumwamu

 

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