Members of the minority Ogiek and Ndorobo communities living around Chepkitale Forest in Mt Elgon have demonstrated against a looming eviction from the area which forms part of the five water towers in the country.
The residents who marched from Chebyuk Centre to the Kopsiro Sub-County headquarters in Bungoma County carrying twigs and placards said they had been conserving the forest while using it for planting their crop, beekeeping and as a grazing field for their animals.
They took issue with area Member of Parliament Fred Kapondi spearheading the initiative accusing him of using the issue to gain political mileage ahead of the 2022 General elections.
Last Thursday, Mr Kapondi while making a contribution before the floor of the House said that Chepkitale is part of Mt Elgon forest reserve and so the need by the two marginalized communities to relocate from the area.
The lawmaker elected on a Jubilee party ticket recommended that the communities be relocated from Chepkitale to Chepyuk phases 2 and 3 that comprise 4607 hectares of land.
Led by their spokesperson Amos Kisa Sanutia the residents accused Mr Kapondi of misleading the National Assembly.
“We want to state clearly that Chepkitale is not and has not been part of the Mt Elgon forest reserve. Member of Parliament of Mt Elgon should not mislead the National Assembly because from time immemorial we have and remain to be inhabitants of Chepkitale not as from 1930 as stated by the MP,” said Mr Sanutia.
He indicated that Chepkitale National Reserve as per the 2010 Constitution Article 63 (2) (d) ii, is community land and should be registered as per the Community Land Act 2016.
“Our forefathers were born and buried in Chepkitale. It is also worth noting that Chepkitale has the best-conserved forest of indigenous trees in Kenya which is protected by traditional community by-laws which are informed by traditional knowledge of the Ogiek community,” said Mr David Mutorongo from the Ogiek community.
He went on, “We are shocked that Kapondi says we should move out of our ancestral land to Chepyuk. We will not exchange any land with another one.”
Last month, National Assembly approved the variation of the boundaries of Mt Elgon forest to exclude Chepyuk phases 2 and 3.
“The government should properly secure the remaining forest area within Mt Elgon forest reserve particularly Chepkitale considering the need to achieve the United Nations recommended 10 per cent forest cover in the country,” read the recommendations made by the joint National Assembly Committee on Land and Environment.
But on Tuesday, the protesters maintained that Chepyuk is a settlement scheme inhabited by several communities and remains to be a settlement scheme for all deserving Kenyans.
“We want Ndorobos to be given justice as Kenyans and people of Bungoma County. We have lost many people fighting for our rights and when we thought that the dust had settled, we can clearly see that our MP is busy trying to divide us after sensing defeat in 2022,” said Stephen Arames from Chepkitale
Since 1919 our forefathers were living in Chepkitale but until we are wondering why we are being evicted from there. We want to know our mistake. If there is any politics in Mt Elgon over two leaders who are creating the divisions among us we want to be told. We had MPs who recently went round this place and we are still waiting for their report.
69-year-old Mzee Chepkierieriet Ndiema said, “We are peaceful people and we want peace to prevail. We shall keep holding peaceful demonstrations because we don’t want to go back to where we were previously. We will not allow anybody to leave Chepkitale until we are given alternative land to relocate to.”
But in a quick rejoinder, Mr Kapondi said that he was only concerned by the welfare of the residents.
He further said that he will rally behind his colleagues in parliament to pass the joint National Assembly Committee on Land and Environment recommendations.
“All I am doing is agitating for the degazettement of Chepyuk phases 2 and 3 because I want them to get title deeds and settle there. I don’t want them to suffer once they leave the forest which is a reserve,” Mr Kapondi told the Nation on phone.