At least 4,500 people were forced to seek shelter in caves after the government allegedly forced them out of their houses on Saturday night, October 17.
Reports further claimed that the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers went as far as torching the houses to ensure that the communities living within Mt Elgon in Bungoma county don’t go back to occupy the said land.
The government argued that the evictions were necessary in order to conserve the Embobut and Mau Forest which serve as important watersheds.
Families from the Ogiek community were forced to brave the cold within overnight, with most turning to makeshift bonfires to keep warm.
Images of mothers cooking inside the caves were shared on various media platforms, leading some to question the move by government to evict the indigenous community.
“What would happen if our forefathers were to rise up? Is this what they will be confronted with?” a disgruntled Kenyan questioned.
The government has repeatedly claimed that preserving this ecosystem took priority over land claims of the Ogiek, Sengwer and others.
Over the last two months, the area District Commissioner has constantly reminded the community to vacate the forest before they’re forcibly evicted.
For the last 40 years the Ogiek have not had a permanent place of settlement. The place which they thought of as home, Chepkitale, was clandestinely gazetted as a national game reserve in the year 2000.
The Ogiek believe a huge area, stretching from the Ugandan border through a national park created in 1968, and down into farmland below the forest, is their ancestral land.
The Ogiek community have written bylaws to ensure protection of the forest, which have been shared with government agencies, as part of their fight to convince the authorities that they had coexisted with the forest and its wildlife for centuries.
They were also working with the KFS and Kenya Wildlife Service to hand over poachers and illegal charcoal burners.
However, a great deal of destruction is evident in the forest reserve that borders Mount Elgon national park. Entire hillsides have been stripped of trees to make way for maize farming.