Blow to Ogieks as court orders them out of Mt. Elgon forest
The Ogiek community living at 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 Lepad Sianga, claimed that the government erred by evicting them from the land on which they had resided since 1932 after the colonialists drove them out of their farms in Trans-Nzoia.
Mr Lepaa said that they will be consulting on the possibility of filing an appeal.
Delivering the ruling, a three judge-bench led by justice Boaz Olao in said the community should vacate the forest without any compensation since they had already been resettled at the Chepyuk settlement scheme.
He said that the Ogieks' activities in the forest had hugely contributed to deforestation and endangerment of the Mt Elgon water catchment tower.
Judge Olao also said that the wild animals that used to attract tourists had become extinct while others had shifted to the Ugandan side because of the Ogieks' activities in the forest.
He further noted that the community members who wanted the State to compensate them for losses of property incurred during the eviction in 2018 had not shown enough 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 to the United Nations standards on eviction," he said.
Speaking to journalists after the ruling, Prof Nixon Sifuna, who was representing KWS, said the verdict was a big win towards Mt Elgon forest conservation that was on the verge of destruction.
He pointed out 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 necessary residing in the forest," he said.
According to Prof Sifuna, the community cannot purport to claim that they own the land since most of the African communities originated from forests where their ancestral fathers lived.
He reiterates they can enjoy the forest benefits without having their families in the forest since the court had made it clear it is illegal for someone to occupy a State forest.
Prof Sifuna likewise stated that one can only enjoy forest benefits like the collection of firewood, herbal medicine, fruits and others by going to the forest between 6 am and 6 pm.
The population of the Ogieks of Mt Elgon is about 18,000 while 3,000 of them still live on their ancestral land in Chepkitale.
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