ISSUE 101, September 1-30, 2014
Unfiltered, uninhibited…just the gruesome truth
Kaya elders demand rights to indigenous Forests BY ROBERT NYAGAH Forests hosting shrines and other indigenous community resources should be identified and protected through elders within the various Coast counties to forestall their alienation under the new land laws, elders in the region say. Success in protection of such resources would only happen if an inventory of all such units is made. It would also require rules and regulations created to protect the same.
For that cause, the Coast Indigenous Resource Community stakeholders are now seeking the release of title deeds for all forests and shrines as a means to protect the areas from land-grabbers. The stakeholders comprising of Kaya elders from key Coast counties and minority groups from Lamu and Tana River counties are demanding for the identification and protection of indigenous resource zones first. They argue that better consultations on land management issues would help avoid confusion and litigation in future. Last year, a planned issuance of 60,000 land title deeds by President Uhuru Kenyatta to Coast squatters sparked protests across with stakeholders warning that the project was launched without consultations at the grassroots level. The group sought more recognition of minority land owners and protectors of community land hosting shrines and other resources used as indigenous wealth by various communities. Led by Abdalla Ali Mnyenze, chairman of the Coast Kaya elders, the group is demanding for immediate and unconditional cancellation of all title deeds on irregularly allocated Kaya and other indigenous forests in the Coast region which covers Taita Taveta, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu counties.
In a recent interview with the Reject, the elders resolved that: “there should be held more consultations between the Ministry of Lands and stakeholder before any title deeds for land at the Coast are issued”. They had attended a two-day workshop organised by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) to familiarise themselves with land laws and clauses in the Constitution on protection of forests as well as other regional and national indigenous resources The Kaya elders lamented that they had for too long demanded to be included during consultations on land issues at the Coast, but had been ignored. Mnyenze suggested that county and national governments allocate Kaya elders positions in committees which addressed issues to do with land to avoid mismanagement of Kaya forests and other shrines holding indigenous resources. “Since independence 50 years ago, Kaya forests have continued to be grabbed, especially by well-educated and senior people in the Government despite protests of the residents and leaders,” noted Mnyenze. He said they no longer had faith in land officers reiterating that most of them had been compromised.
Kaya elder Charo Mitsanze who is also a traditional healer blows a flute recently at the entry of the Kaya Fungo Shrine in Kilifi County before the elders from Malindi, Kilifi and Kaloleni entered the holy shrine for special ritual and prayers to seek God’s powers to protect the forest from defilement. Photo: Robert Nyagah. Below: A leading drummer from in Malindi leads the Kaya elders into entering the Kaya Fungo Shrine inside the Kaya Fungo Forests during special prayers. Photo: Robert Nyagah
He warned that continued destruction of Kaya and other forests for commercial purposes was dangerous and would eventually attract disasters such as lack of rainfall and drought as well as “curses linked to defilement of holy shrines”. Kilifi and Kwale Kaya spokesperson, Shaaban Ndegwa warned that the Jubilee government should be different from past governments which were “Governments of empty promises when it came to resolving Coast land scandals and settle the squatters once and for all”. “While we fully support the Government of Uhuru Kenyatta, we would like to see better and firm action on the land issues and would actually like to see all Kaya Forests identified,” said Ndegwa. He added: “We would also like to have all land title deeds involving these zones held in trust by Kaya elders and the National Museums of Kenya, which is legally recognised as the custodian of such public land.”
According to Ndegwa, Kaya elders should be allowed to hire their own guards to protect Kaya forests and those forest guards should be paid salaries and allowances by the County and Central governments. Ndegwa suggested that in future all laws regarding protection of Kaya forests and other national shrines at community level should incorporate elders to ensure that indigenous knowledge was not sacrificed and lost through new legislation. Meanwhile, Kiunga Kareko,
Lamu region coordinator of World Wide Fund For Nature, said they were keen to make Coast communities understand the law to enable them pursue their rights against a background of better understanding of the Constitution and the various clauses. World Wide Fund for Nature had launched campaigns to enable minority groups who occupy, own or protect natural resources such as forests in the Coast are able to gain skills that would enable them advocate for the protection of identified resources. The organisation facilitated for Nature facilitated the communities to enable them work at the regional level as well as at the County and national Government level in advocating for recovery of alienated zones and their protection. World Wide Fund for Nature has made successful strides in overseeing community based campaigns to recover irregularly allocated Kaya Forest and other indigenous shrines, and was keen to identify more of the areas in need of protection. Kareko said they plan to mobilise funds and get legal expertise to recover zones where illegal title deeds had been issued. “Eventually, we shall seek legal revocation of title deeds issued out to individuals on Kaya forests, hence we shall need lawyers and resources to go to court and demand that the laws be respected,” said Kareko.