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Empowering Kenya’s indigenous Sengwer to advocate for better healthcare and education

18 July 2022

By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer and Geoffrey Kerosi, East Africa Health and Education Projects Coordinator at Minority Rights Group

Kenya’s indigenous Sengwer are proactively challenging authorities to improve service delivery to their communities.

Through the Sengwer Indigenous Community, a community-based organization, the Sengwer have recently organized budget forums to identify the most pressing needs in their households. From these engagements, the community drafted a petition which was then presented to the budget and appropriation committee of Elgeyo Marakwet County in September last year. These activities were undertaken with the technical support of Minority Rights Group (MRG) and the financial support of the European Union Delegation to Kenya.

The petition highlighted, among others, the sorry state of Tangul Dispensary which was built to serve the Sengwer, but had been out of operation for more than five years due to drugs stock-outs and lack of qualified personnel.

Also in the petition, was a call for the county government to improve Tangul Early Childhood Development Education Centre, by providing more books and building more classrooms.

‘The facilities adjacent to the forest in this case, a health facility at Tangul that was build five years ago by the County government of Elgeyo Marakwet is substandard built and not equipped,’ read the petition.

‘Tangul ECD with two classrooms is severely congested without new CBC books to aid transition of education. It lacks playing kits for the children to help nurture their physical development that helps them grow and develop their talents on several fields.’

The Sengwer also wanted a new cultural centre to celebrate and promote their culture.

The petition is bearing fruits already. Some essential medicines were delivered to the health facility, which also received the posting of an enrolled nurse. The community further received learning materials for the education centre. Additionally, there are discussions between the community and the county government to train teachers and medical personnel from the community to serve the Sengwer.

The Sengwer, an indigenous hunter-gatherer community, call Embobut forest in western Kenya, their ancestral home.

Today, the Sengwer are some of the most marginalized people in Kenya. The root cause of the Sengwer’s woes can be traced back to the 1950s, when the British colonial government in Kenya converted their ancestral lands in the forest to a conservation area. The community has since suffered evictions from their lands. Such evictions by the Kenya Forest Service are often carried out with extreme force, leading to destruction of properties and casualties.

Photo: An MRG monitoring visit to the Sengwer community in Elgeyo Marakwet County in Kenya involving community members, health volunteers and representatives from the Kenya Forest Service. Credit: Geoffrey Kerosi.

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