By Sam Lunn-Rockliffe
“He was given a permit. This meant he was permitted to graze his cattle in the open area, not to live here. His family and children were living down [on the escarpment]” – Thomas Kosgei Chelanga, Interview 30, 05.03.2017
Admittedly 11:00 am is a little early for a lunch of kichwa kwa kondoo (sheep’s head), especially after a litre of sweet chai and two chapattis for breakfast. However, the opportunity to interview our host for the day Thomas, the son of a community elder who I had previously spoken to on numerous occasions, was too good to pass by. What struck me during our conversation was his passion for delegitimising his father’s claim to the area in forest that his family had lived on prior to the 2013 evictions. As indicated by the above quote, Thomas repeatedly stated that his father Musa had not been born in the forest, but rather on the Elgeyo Escarpment that plunges down to the Kerio valley a few kilometres to the east. He had acquired a permit purely to graze his cattle in the forest glades and, like the other elders, had decided to take up permanent residence inside the forest against the Government’s permission. Thomas’s narrative is particularly unique given that he himself was born in the conservation area and has a stated interest in claiming land rights to his birth place. Yet he remained adamant that this was not his family’s original home.