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Land Grab & Human Rights Abuses in the Name of Conservation

November 16, 2021
Camels kept by pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya for livelihoods.

Camels kept by pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya for livelihoods. Credit: Oakland Institute

How “Community Conservancies” Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya

---FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---

November 16, 2021 7:00 AM PT

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal, [email protected] +1 510-469-5228

  • The Indigenous people in Northern Kenya are being dispossessed of their ancestral lands as Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) — one of Kenya’s largest conservation agencies — establishes “community” conservancies.

  • Armed security units deployed by these conservancies face allegations of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings and disappearances. According to local sources, dozens have been killed in ethnic clashes involving NRT.

  • Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and other government agencies are also accused of killing, abducting, disappearing, and torturing people in the name of conservation.

  • Both NRT and the KWS receive substantial “conservation” dollars from USAID, the European Union, and other Western agencies as well as from some of the largest environmental NGOs, including the Nature Conservancy.

  • There is an urgent need for an independent investigation into land and human rights grievances around NRT’s so called community conservancies, allegations of involvement of NRT’s rapid response units in inter-ethnic conflict, and of abuses and extrajudicial killings.

Oakland, CA — As protests of local communities swell against the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), one of Kenya’s largest conservation agencies, a new report from the Oakland Institute — Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — reveals the devastating impact of privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism on Indigenous pastoralist communities.

Although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used, the report exposes how the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), have allegedly dispossessed pastoralist communities of their ancestral lands, through corruption, cooptation, and sometimes through intimidation and violence, to create wildlife conservancies for conservation dollars.

Since its founding in 2004, NRT has set up 39 conservancies on over 42,000 square kilometers of land in Northern and Coastal Kenya — nearly eight percent of the country’s total land area. While NRT claims that its goal is to “transform people’s lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources,” the Oakland Institute’s report elevates voices of communities — predominantly pastoralists — who allege NRT dispossesses them of their land and deploys armed security units involved in serious human rights abuses. NRT is also involved in security, management of pasture land, and livestock marketing, which according to the impacted communities, gives it a level of control that surpasses even that of the Kenyan government.

“NRT, in collaboration with big environmental organizations, epitomizes a Western-led, neo-colonial approach to conservation that creates a profitable business at the expense of local communities who have lived on these lands for centuries,” said Oakland Institute Executive Director and report author Anuradha Mittal. “Despite its claims to the contrary, NRT is yet another example of how “fortress” conservation, under the veneer of community conservancies, is dispossessing the very pastoralist communities it claims to be helping — destroying their traditional governance systems, undermining their movements, their autonomy, and their livelihoods,” Mittal added.

Based on extensive field research, Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya, is the first independent report to provide a comprehensive review of the evolution of Kenya’s land and wildlife conservation laws; the history, structure, and functioning of “community” conservancy model of NRT; as well as land and human rights issues surrounding the privatized model of conservation in Kenya.

Created by Ian Craig, whose family was part of an elite white minority during British colonialism, NRT’s origins date back to the 1980s when Craig’s family-owned, 62,000-acre cattle ranch was transformed into its first conservancy. Today, NRT receives millions in funding from donors such as USAID, the European Union, Danish and French development agencies and large environmental NGOs, including The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Space for Giants.

In recent years, impacted communities have held protests, signed petitions, and initiated legal action against the presence of NRT on their lands. Community members have repeatedly asked for justice after years of being ignored by the Kenyan government and by the police when reporting killings of family members and other human rights abuses. The findings of Stealth Game call for an urgent independent investigation into land and human rights related grievances around NRT’s community conservancies — including allegations of involvement of NRT’s rapid response units in inter-ethnic conflict, and of abuses and extrajudicial killings.

The report’s release comes as the international community is considering adopting the “30x30 initiative” under the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for 30 percent of the planet to be placed in protected areas or other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030. Stealth Game makes it clear that fortress conservation must be replaced by truly Indigenous-led conservation efforts to preserve the remaining biodiversity of the planet while respecting interests, rights, and dignity of the local communities.

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