Latest Community Protest Against NRT Upended by Violent Crackdown
---FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---
May 18, 2023; 12:00AM PST
On May 8, 2023, Kenyan police violently cracked down on community members protesting against the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), an organization that operates conservancies on over 10 percent of Kenya’s land.
One protester who was arrested and given an exorbitant bail now faces serious charges –deliberately meant to silence future dissent against NRT.
While NRT claims that its conservancies are community-led, growing protests and legal challenges show that it operates without genuine consent of the local people.
Oakland, CA — On May 8, 2023, a peaceful community protest in Korbesa village, Merti sub-county, Kenya, began against the Northern Rangelands Trust’s (NRT) plans to construct conservancy headquarters, without the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of the community. In response, the Kenyan police fired live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd. Two demonstrators and one police officer were injured in the ensuing chaos. The following day, Amina Hussein Kulo, a mother of four, was arrested in connection to the protest and faces a litany of overblown charges, including inciting violence. On May 12, Ms. Kulo was released on a Sh2 million [~US$14,500] bond. According to the local legal counsel, the unusually high bail and charges represent a deliberate tactic to dissuade future protests against NRT.
In 2021, the Oakland Institute revealed in a report — Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — that although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used by NRT, its operations have dispossessed pastoralist communities of their ancestral lands. Instead, corruption, cooptation, and sometimes intimidation and violence have allegedly been used to create wildlife conservancies. The community protest in Korbesa is the latest in a series of public demonstrations in areas where NRT is active. In February 2023, community members in Sericho protested against the establishment of a conservancy. Other large and peaceful protests took place in Merti sub-county in May 2021.
“NRT claims that local communities benefit from member conservancies. But protests like the one in Korbesa reveal the harsh truth behind NRT. Despite violent repression, courageous communities in Northern Kenya are resisting how NRT forcibly operates on their lands,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.
According to NRT’s May 2023 newsletter, “community members from Cherab Conservancy approved the construction of conservancy headquarters and outpost construction in Korbesa and Yamicha Borehole respectively.” “Locals appear to disagree with NRT’s statement, which should not come as a surprise given falsehoods published by NRT in the past and debunked by the Oakland Institute,” added Mittal.
In addition to protests, communities have filed numerous court cases against NRT for the return of lands. These include the Environment and Land Court (ELC) Petition 006 of 2021, filed by 165 community members on their own behalf and on behalf of residents of Merti sub-county, Chari ward, and Cherab ward in Isiolo county. The petition accuses NRT and its umbrella bodies of establishing and running conservancies on unregistered community land “without participation or involvement of the Community.” On May 15, 2023, the court granted an interim injunction against the NRT, prohibiting them from erecting any structures on the unregistered community land.
Community members from Endugh, Kasei, Sekerr, Masol, Lomut, and Weiwei wards, faced with similar challenges, have filed a case, Kitale ELC Petition Number 7 of 2020 John Ngimor and 554 others versus NRT and others.
NRT has set up 43 conservancies covering 63,000 km2 — over 10 percent of Kenya’s entire land area and maintains that the incorporation of conservancies is done with support from community members. This claim ignores evidence provided in Stealth Game, court documents, and other reports, which expose the tactics used to subvert the will of communities in order to secure conservancy agreements.
Despite the growing community resistance against NRT, its high-profile Western donors have failed to take action. 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.
“Communities are rising against NRT through legal actions and protests to protect their lands and livelihoods. The so-called development agencies financing the trust must start listening to the local people who are challenging the true impact of these conservancies. The façade of community support has been shattered and action from international donors is long overdue,” Mittal concluded.