Kevin Litsalia & Shinyalu community
Violation: community violently assaulted and some killed for exercising rights to the forest.
In the first six months of 2020, the community of Shinyalu sub-county, and the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) have been in an acrimonious fight over community access to the Kakamega forest, the last remaining rainforest in Kenya. The latest conflict was triggered by an announcement in early March 2020 that the forest would be enclosed by fence.
At least one person has been killed and a dozen others left with serious injuries after being assaulted by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) which accuse members of the community of illegal grazing and charcoal burning. Local residents complain that the KWS officers use local ‘spies’ to earmark houses to be raided. And when this happens, people are often brutalised and forced to pay large fines even though there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
On the morning of April 27th, Kevin Litsalia from Shamiloli, Muranda location in Shinyalu constituency was killed by KWS officers. According to his father, “we were woken up by gunshots on the fateful day… We thought police were chasing after criminals in the area… my son rushed to the scene and fifteen minutes later we received information that he had died after a stray bullet that was fired by one of the KWS officers hit him.” Justice is not forthcoming as the family is extremely poor and unable to buy legal representation. In addition, KWS officials have issued threats to the family not to take the matter further.
The forest is located in the Kakamega District which is one of the most densely populated rural areas in Kenya. Kakamega forest is an important resource to the community, and one they have drawn upon for decades, well ahead of the Forest’s enclosure, first in 1933, and its expansion in 1986. Local communities depend on the forest for firewood, traditional medicines, food and building materials. Cattle grazing also occurs in some of the glades.