Fate of 20,000 Migori villagers hangs in the balance as State gazettes ‘forestland’

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Forestry, Ms Soipan Tuya.

Photo credit: GIZ

 Residents of Macalder in Nyatike Sub-county are up in arms following a decision by the national government to excise and gazette over 6,000 acres of community land as a forest.

The move, announced via a June 13 gazette notice issued by Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya,  has left them facing possible eviction from what they insist is their ancestral land.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 31(2) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016), the Cabinet Secretary of Environment and Forestry declares that the area described in the Schedule hereto be a forest area,” the Legal Notice No. 85 read in part.

Ms Tuya described the land as “approximately 2494.95 hectares (6165.02 acres) situated ... 25km north-west of Migori Township, Migori County, the boundaries of which properly delineated, edged green on boundary plan no. 175/517 which is signed and sealed with a seal of Survey of Kenya, and deposited in the Survey Records Office, of the county forest conservator, Migori County, and Kenya Forest Service headquarters, Nairobi.”  The area, straddling parts of Mikei and Macalder locations, is home to over 20,000 people.

Despite the gazette notice having been issued in June, residents claim that they only got to hear of it last month.

Fate of 20,000 Migori villagers hangs in the balance as State gazettes ‘forestland’

A local, Mr David Sewe, claimed that this was a deliberate ploy by the government to allow the notice attain its 90-day legal expiry date without any objection to pave way for their eviction.

“I was born here and I am now 65 years of age. My father died in 2020 aged 96 and he was also born here,” he said.

Mr Sewe recounted that a Canadian Company had in the 1940s leased the land for 99 years to mine copper, but the government later discovered that they were mining gold and cancelled the lease.

Sitting on the contested land are 17 learning institutions, including Macalder Youth Polytechni and a Rongo University campus and three hospitals.

There are also offices belonging to national government administrators as well as an international non-governmental organisation.

Mr Jack Akeyo, 55, told Nation they were not consulted before the gazettement was done, breaching constitutional provisions on public participation.

“There was no public participation done to hear the views of the community. We are pleading with the government to reverse the decision,” Mr Akeyo said.