Two groups claiming to represent indigenous communities living in Embobut Forest have clashed over release of Sh360 million for conservation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The factions ? Sengwer indigenous people of Embobut and Cherangany Hills and another group purporting to represent Marakwet, Sengwer, Keiyo and Pokots? have written conflicting letters to the UNDP, each claiming to represent the interests of the communities.
The former wants UNDP and other donors to suspend funding for all conservation programmes, claiming the funds have been used to violate their human rights through eviction from their ancestral lands.
The latter group has, however, distanced itself from the claims, telling the UNDP, and other partners, to ignore the rival faction, terming its officials as "self-seekers without the mandate and blessings of the community, and who go around crying foul and using emotional theatrics to attract funding."
It wants the money, under REDD+ programme, released to enable the Government to implement its efforts to reduce emissions due to deforestation and forest degradation.
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The UN agency was to support the Government to access the funds to address the impact of climate change, encourage energy and water saving activities and increase public awareness on climate change.
Embobut Forest is part of the Cherangany water tower, which is a crucial water source to Western and Nyanza regions as well as Turkana and West Pokot counties.
It covers a total of 21,000 hectares but unfortunately 18,000 hectares has been destroyed. This prompted the Government to evict squatters, who included Sengwer, after compensation in 2013.
The first group had written a protest letter to donors to suspend funding, arguing that the Government, through Kenya Forest Service (KFS), has used the funds 'to aid impunity' through evictions in indigenous forests.
"We the undersigned, on behalf of the Sengwer indigenous people of the Embobut Forest, urgently call upon UNDP to stop funding the REDD+ programme in Kenya until the time when the Kenyan Government accepts, respects and protects the rights of the Sengwer to live in their ancestral lands in the glades of the said forest without being subjected to psychological torture, evictions, intimidation or harassment,” read the letter dated May 3, in part. It was addressed to the UN body that is headquartered at Gigiri in Nairobi.
According to the faction supporting the funding, the leaders of the rival group do not live in Embobut, but in Eldoret and Kitale towns.
Embobut Member of County Assembly Paul Kipyatich told The Standard yesterday that efforts to stop the funding are already causing tension between locals.
“Embobut Forest is a crucial water tower and serves the semi-arid Kerio Valley. The continued destruction poses a great danger to rivers and it may result to conflict, and we welcome the conservation of the forest,” said Mr Kipyatich.
"They are even alleging that the Government is using force. Their claims are far-fetched. Conservation efforts should be de-linked from activism,” said the MCA.
He asked the development partners to verify the information that comes from the Sengwer NGOs, reiterating that as leaders, they support conservation efforts.