Baringo residents demand return of fossil to county

Thursday, August 12th, 2021 00:00 |
Prof Brigite Senut (left) and Dr Martin Pickford, French researchers who took part in the excavation of Orrorin fossils. Photo/PD/WYCLIFF KIPSANG

Wycliff  Kipsang 

Hopes were high when the second oldest man’s fossil in the world (Orrorin tugenensis) was discovered in Baringo county 20 years ago. 

However, residents have nothing to show for the discovery after the fossil was taken away from its original home in Kipsaraman Community Museum in Baringo North sub-county by officials from Community Museums of Kenya (CMK), allegedly for safe keeping. 

The residents are now demanding that the fossil, whose landmark discovery made headlines, be taken back to its original home.

Residents who spoke to People Daily lamented that the government was raking in millions of shillings from donors and researchers, yet they are wallowing in abject poverty. 

Led by Orrorin Community Organisation (OCO) secretary Micah Cherutoi, the residents said the remains of the six-million-year-old was carted off by CMK officials.

Pipe dream

“The community is not certain where the remains of Orrorin are kept. We only hear rumours that it is stored in a bank vault where the government is raking in millions of shillings from researchers at the expense of the community,” claimed Cherutoi.

They  lamented that following the discovery of the fossil at Rondinin area in Kipsaraman division, they were promised plenty of goodies.

“We were promised a university at Kabarsero through the Japanese Government and a community water dam at Yatyanin at a cost of Sh5 million, but all this has remained to be a pipe dream,” said Joseph Cheserem, who has volunteered to be the caretaker of the museum.

The aggrieved residents said following the discovery of the fossils, more than 4,000 people, including school-going children and other organised groups used to tour the museum annually, however, none tours the facility now.

They have since appealed to the government to intervene to have the fossil  returned, since it was a community resource meant to benefit them. 

Tenges Ward Rep, who also chairs the Tourism and Trade Committee at the Baringo County Assembly said CMK went against an agreement with the community that all fossils collected from the area were to be stored in Baringo.

“We are now demanding that the fossil be returned to its ancestral home failure to which we will seek legal redress,” threatened  Tochim.

“The new constitutional dispensation recognises that public resources should benefit the community, and the Orrorin tugenensis fossil is our resource,” he added.

Kipsaraman Community Museum collapsed in 2003 when CMK officials differed with donor agencies and other stakeholders over alleged misappropriation of funds.

Orrorin fossil was discovered by two paleontologists; Prof Brigit Senut and Dr Martin Pickford in the Tugen hills in the year 2000.

Research sites

It is alleged that Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, France promised to put up a laboratory at Kipsaraman at a cost of Sh60 million, and even the president of the museum laid a foundation stone to commence construction but the funds were misused forcing the donors to withdraw.

According to Dr Pickford, the laboratory was to have three floors where all fossils from the larger Baringo county research sites would be stored.

He also said the French Government withdrew Sh5 million that was set aside through its embassy in Nairobi to construct Yatyanin Dam after CMK failed to abide by the terms of agreement.

Dr Pickford said it was unfortunate that neither Kenyan university students nor the area residents could see the Orrorin fossil, as it was being kept in Nairobi where researchers from outside the country use it for their studies at the expense of local people.

Besides the discovery of Orrorin, the area is believed to be rich in other fossils with residents already identifying more than 400 other sites potential for scientific research.

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