The Kenyan Government Is Evicting Indigenous People And There Will Be Proof

The Embobut Forest, a water-rich, 22,000-hectare protected public forest in Kenya’s Elgeyo Marakwet County, has been home to the Sengwer tribe since at least the 1920s. But as far back as the early 1980s, successive Kenyan governments have attempted to evict the Sengwer from Embobut, sometimes violently.

In 2014, forest guards and police disregarded a court injunction prohibiting eviction and reportedly burned up to 1,500 Sengwer homes in the forest. A report from Amnesty International places the number of houses burned since December 25, 2017 at an estimated 341, making about 600 people homeless.

More recently, armed guards from the Kenya Forest Service allegedly shot a Sengwer man dead and wounded another during a January 2018 forced eviction, leading to the indefinite suspension of a $38 million EU-funded water conservation project — part of the Kenyan government’s repeated efforts to extract value in the form of timber and water from the Embobut Forest. These evictions contravene the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but while the Sengwer people have tried to call attention to their desperate situation, a lack of overwhelming evidence has thwarted their attempts to stop the evictions.

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But there’s hope.

TIMBY (an acronym for ‘This Is My Backyard’), a Kenya-built platform launched in 2012, could help them collect the proof they need to retain their ancestral home. Designed and run by a team led by Canadian activist Anjali Nayar, TIMBY allows the capture and encryption of video footage and photos through a smartphone. Encrypted data can then be uploaded online or, where there’s no internet access, sent as an encrypted ZIP file to couriers who will upload the data. Customised for the mostly semi-literate Sengwer people, the app’s colour-coded navigation makes it easy to capture evidence and send it.

TIMBY recently emerged one of five winners of GHR Foundation’s 2018 BridgeBuilder Challenge and will share in a $1 million prize to continue its good work.

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