Another chapter in the World Bank’s fraught relationship with indigenous peoples who live on or near land targeted for development.
By Jacob Kushner, Anthony Langat, Michael Hudson and Sasha Chavkin
It was a morning routine: Elias Kimaiyo woke up, went outside his family’s mud-and-thatch home and climbed a hill. His goal: see where Kenya Forest Service officers were heading that day as they trudged into the forest from a nearby ranger station. Like thousands of his fellow tribespeople, he spent many of his days worrying about whether his family would be the next to be evicted by gun-toting rangers.
One morning in late 2011, Kimaiyo saw that KFS officers were heading in another direction. He went home and worked with his wife, Janet, harvesting their small corn crop in a clearing in the forest. In the afternoon, he decided to check again.
This time, when he climbed the hill, he could see a group of rangers heading toward his house. Kimaiyo ran home. He and his wife began grabbing their things—blankets, utensils, a mattress—and hiding them in the brush. They could see their neighbors’ homes burning. Kimaiyo’s one-year-old son sat in the dirt, crying, as his mom and dad carried armfuls of their belongings deeper into the forest.
Kimaiyo and his wife fled with their son to the other side of a river. They hoped the KFS officers would somehow miss their house in the dense forest.
Kimaiyo watched, he says, as flames consumed his house and what was left inside—tables, chairs, the bed frame, even the mattress, which the rangers had discovered poorly hidden in the brush and tossed onto the fire.
It was the fourth time, Kimaiyo claims, that Kenya’s government had destroyed his home since the 2007 launch of a forest conservation project that the World Bank said would “improve the livelihoods of communities participating in the co-management of water and forests.”
This is the latest installment of “Evicted and Abandoned,” an examination of the hidden toll of development financed by the World Bank. The project is a collaboration between the ICIJ and The Huffington Post, with contributions from journalists around the globe.
Seven years ago, the World Bank set out to help preserve Kenya’s Embobut Forest for future generations. As part of the Natural Resource Management Project, it spent millions to mitigate erosion, prevent landslides and improve the administration of water resources.
The bank acknowledged that some of the area’s residents would have to be relocated, only to declare a few years later that relocation would be too complicated and unnecessary. By then, Kenya’s government was already using the project as a justification to rid the forest of its indigenous population, the Sengwer. Thousands have found themselves dispossessed, their houses set ablaze by Kenyan forest officers. The bank’s intentions may have been noble, but as a result of the project, the Sengwer have been forced out of their ancestral lands.
By Jacob Kushner, Anthony Langat, Sasha Chavkin and Michael Hudson
Gladys Chepkemoi was weeding potatoes in her garden the day the men came to burn down her house.
After her mother-in-law told her that rangers from the Kenya Forest Service were on their way, Chepkemoi strapped her 1-year-old son on her back and hurried to her thatched-roofed home. She grabbed two tins of corn, blankets, plates and cooking pans, and hid in a thicket.
She watched, she said, as the green-uniformed rangers set her house ablaze.
After they were gone, she came out of the thicket to see what was left.
“What used to be my home was now ashes,” she said.
The young mother is one of thousands of Kenyans who have been forced out of their homes since the launch of a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. Human rights advocates claim government authorities have used the project as a vehicle for pushing indigenous peoples out of their ancestral forests.
They are not alone.
In developing countries around the globe, forest dwellers, poor villagers and other vulnerable populations claim the World Bank — the planet’s oldest and most powerful development lender — has left a trail of misery.
Read the full story of the World Bank’s role in the displacement of the Sengwer at the Huffington Post or at GroundTruth. Jacob Kushner and Anthony Langat reported this story for GroundTruth. It is part of a larger project by the ICIJ that found the World Bank has displaced an estimated 3.5 million people across the globe in the name of “development.”
UPDATE: This investigation won the 2015 Online News Association Award for Investigative Journalism.