Miners and irreverent land-grabbers are now targeting sacred forests across the country, a new report confirms.
Elders in communities where parts of sacred shrines have been grabbed say they are unable to commune with their their gods anymore.
"Sacred natural sites and community governing systems bring to the fore the true meaning of sustainable relationship with earth. Wisdom shows that immoral behavior with the earth does not spare communities and culture," says Nnimmo Bassey, the co-ordinator of Oilwatch International, which monitors activities of oil companies across the world.
The report, Recognising Sacred Natural Sites and Territories in Kenya, shows that thousands of acres of sacred forests are being grabbed or misused due to weak laws and diminishing interest in traditions.
"As the younger generations lose respect and interest in their traditions due to western education, so the traditional knowledge about sacred natural sites is lost before it is transferred to the younger generation," says the report authored by Adan Hussein for conservation groups, Institute for Culture and Ecology (Kenya), Africa Biodiversity Network and the Gaia Foundation.
Prospectors and miners are now taking advantage of this disinterest to enter the sacred sites for logging and mining.
The report, released in Nairobi last week, now calls for enforcement of existing laws on communal land ownership and for MPs to draft new laws to enforce community governance of their sacred forests and sites.
"There is need to embolden the existing laws to recognise and support the rights and responsibilities of communities to govern and protect their Sacred Natural Sites and Territories on their own terms according to their customary governance systems," says Hussein.
Some of the areas affected are Karima Forest in Othaya, Mijikenda's Kaya Forest, Gitune Forest, the Akamba community's Mathembo and Kivaa Hill.
Forty sites of the Kaya forests have so far been gazetted for protection by the National Museums of Kenya.
"People destroying our forests and sacred natural sites are inspired by their stupidity and not their intelligence," says an elder from Kivaa, Munguti Kavivya.
In the former Eastern and Coastal provinces, mining and extractive industries also pose grave danger to the existence of these sites, the report says. The massive discovery of coal and rare earth minerals in these regions is most likely reason that will entice the local communities to give away their prized possession, it adds.
"Misinformation to the public by unscrupulous leaders at the behest of investors will most likely undermine community efforts to retain these sites," says the report.
However, sacred sites and territories are still viewed as the cog to upholding moral values, socio-cultural and governance practices in many indigenous communities.
"They are the hearts of the local communities," said Munguti.
"Earth jurisprudence is a living culture and puts life into otherwise dry concepts, "Ng'ang'a Thiong'o, an earth law advocate, Porini Association Kenya, says.
Indigenous and local communities revere and awe such sites and they remain a source of healthy indigenous food crops.
In contrast, modernisation has become a pseudonym for their distraction by those with less emotional attachment to them, the report says.
There also fears factories set up in these regions will require land for expansion, consistent supply of water and wood, and may turn to these sites.
The urgency for conservation of these sites is compounded by existing competition for socio-economic needs satisfaction.
The existing laws are intertwined in the constitution's provision on environmental conservation and management, and so inadvertently are overlooked.
Hussein says laws that need to be reviewed include the National Museums and Heritage Act 2006, Forests Act 2005, the Forest Rules 2009, the Environmental Management and Coordination Act 1999 and Environmental Management and Coordination Regulations 2006.
However, the conservationists say it is not all gloom. They are now empowering the local community customary governance of sacred sites and territories.
Both the national and county governments must work towards inclusion of the council of elders in management of the environment, the report says.
For example, society pillars like the Njuri Ncheke of the Ameru, Mijikenda's Kaya Elders, and the Akamba's Kiama Kia Mia amongst many others must be allowed to enforce conservation laws, arrest such reserves' plunderers, consistently be provided with training opportunities to enhance their skills and act as the "community library."
A case study of a working initiative is the reforestation of the Kivaa sacred natural sites that has seen improved food production in a previously drought prone region.
Policies that devolve management of Sacred Sites and Territories to the county governments must also be developed, and budget reserved for it.
The report says the National Land Policy needs to address the significant threat posed by continuous economic development of land near sacred natural sites.
Review of this policy must also subsequently address the advocacy and monitoring strategies for the conservation of these key ecosystems. Furthermore, the local communities must be updated on such improvements.
Hussein says the importance of natural sacred sites cannot be overlooked.
They remain the oasis in a country that has an arid and semi-arid land cover of close to 70 per cent and increasing. If the country seeks to reduce water borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid in rural areas then it follows that sacred water sources must be preserved, he says.
The hills and mountains where our forefathers sought blessings for our communities must remain kempt for our generations, he says.
"They must regale in tales of selfless efforts to ensure that we conserved what we have for their future good."