News 2008


State evicts squatters from forest


16 July 2008

By Robert Wanyonyi

A humanitarian crisis has hit Mount Elgon District following a decision by the Provincial Administration to evict members of the Ogiek community from a forest.

Armed forest guards have burnt houses at Chebong’weny area in Kopsiro Division, while a local civic leader was arrested for allegedly inciting the community against the evictions.

Chebyuk ward councillor Eliud Chelasha was picked by police and taken to Kapkoto military base in Cheptais, where he was grilled.

Mount Elgon DC Mohammed Birik said the operation was meant to protect the forests.

“This is purely a forest issue and has nothing to do with an operation against the Sabaot Land Defence Force,” said Birik.

The DC warned leaders against politicising the issue. He said the exercise is aimed at preserving water catchment areas in Mt Elgon forest, which is a gazzetted forest area.

Members of the Ogiek community numbering over 24,000, have been staying in the area since the land conflicts pitting the Sabaot Land Defence Force and the Government erupted.

Their population grew bigger after more fled Trans-Nzoia District in North-Rift during post-election violence early this year, prompting the Government to issue quit notices.

Hundreds of displaced people have camped at the Chebyuk Health Centre while others are at Chebongw’eny market.

And as the crisis deepened, humanitarian organisations asked to be allowed to access the area to offer food, shelter, medicine and clothing to evicted families.

Officials from the Kenya Red Cross Society, Medecins-Sans-Frontiers and Unicef have been barred from accessing the starving families.

A source said the organisations would remain barred from giving relief “because doing so would mean providing food to the community, thus, encouraging them to remain in the forest land, yet they have been evicted.”