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Press Statement from Pastoralist Communities

November 17, 2021
November 17, 2021 press conference held by pastoralists in Nairobi.

Pastoralists holding a press conference on November 17, 2021 in Nairobi.

How "Community Conservancies" Devastate Lives of People & Land in Northern Kenya


November 17, 2021

Media Contact:
Jillo Abdi Dima, [email protected] 0726-083533

As elders and professionals from Borana, Samburu, Somali, Pokot and Turkana communities of Northern Kenya, we are gravely concerned by the killings and maiming of our people by rangers from the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT).

We are also disturbed by the fact that the NRT has been using corrupt and deceptive means to systematically dispossess members of our communities. That the NRT has been doing this at a time when the pangs of climate change continue to greatly affect pastoralism -which is our main economic activity-, demonstrates utter insensitivity and callousness.

Besides this, we are deeply angered that the NRT has continued to compromise most officials in the national and county governments. This has included the police who have not shown any interest in investigating the killings and other forms of human rights abuses caused on our people by specially-trained ranger units of the NRT.

It defies any explanation how the Kenya government has allowed an NGO to operate a near-parallel security mechanism while it is known, the world over, that the roles of security and maintenance of law and order are solely bestowed on governments.

Even after making many petitions, going to Court and holding protest marches, the government has largely ignored our plight at the hand of this NGO. The media too has ignored us as few reports on what has been happening are ever published by local or foreign newspapers or aired by radios and TV stations.

However, we cannot entirely blame the media as the NRT has rolled out an elaborate public relations campaign to counter any cry of anguish made by our people.

Indeed, we are sure that other Kenyans and the world at large, would not have known about the killings, maiming or the ongoing dispossession of our people from their lands were it not the fact that Oakland Institute has gone out of its way to painstakingly investigate these happenings and compile an impressive and accurate report.

Dubbed Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Communities in Northern Kenya, the investigative report gives a blow-by-blow account of how NRT operations have led to the death of scores of people through extra-judicial killings. It also says that NRT rangers have been participating in inter-community conflicts besides being involved in other forms of human rights abuses. These are issues we have always alerted relevant institutions which chose to ignore our plight.

For those unaware, Oakland Institute is a Globally Renowned United States-based independent Policy Think Tank that has done similar earthshaking investigative reports in many developing countries.

We hope that now that the cat is out of the bag the Kenya government, county governments and the police will promptly take legal and investigative actions against the NRT. We also hope that Kenyan officials will take seriously the following Oakland Institute’s findings:

  1. How devastating an impact privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism continues to have on Indigenous pastoralist communities in the North;

  2. That since its founding in 2004, NRT has set up 39 conservancies on over 42,000 square kilometers of land in Northern and Coastal Kenya. This is nearly eight percent of the country’s total land area. How on earth can the Kenya government allow an NGO to have a big say on how such a significant proportion of Kenya’s real estate are managed?

  3. 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.

  4. NRT’s involvement in security, management of pasture land, and livestock marketing gives it a level of control that surpasses even that of the Kenyan government;

  5. The 56-page Report says that the NRT was 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. It has continued to use an outdated ‘fortress’ conservation model that has displaced the age-old resource governance mechanisms put in place by pastoralists and which have been in operation for centuries;

  6. 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. We are not sure whether NRT donors know how NRT has been operating but we hope that now that they know, they will stop funding the gross violation of our rights and interests;

  7. NRT maintains corporate partnerships, including the now cancelled partnership with oil company, the British Tullow Oil seeking to exploit oil reserves in Turkana County. The Report details how British Tullow Oil gave NRT a whopping Ksh1.2 billion after the two bodies together with Canadian Africa Oil Corp entered a 5-year agreement to set up six conservancies in Turkana and West Pokot Counties. The question that naturally comes to our minds is whether the real intention of the founders of the NRT was to secure vast tracts of lands for oil and mineral exploitation by companies in the West?

  8. NRT has adamantly refused to vacate our lands even after all the protests and petitions we’ve written against its operations. For instance there have been a number of anti-NRT protest marches have been held in Isiolo County. In addition, elders from the Samburu community have written a petition against it while the community in West Pokot and residents of Charri Ward in Isiolo are in court to demand a halt of its operations. Following this, we now ask what indeed the NRT is all about as the organization seems to want to stay in the North by force.

There are many other findings which we invite the media to read and publicize.

Our Demands

  1. To the Interior Ministry of the National Government

    We demand to know why the Interior ministry has allowed NRT to set up a parallel security arrangement in many parts of Northern Kenya. We also demand full and independent investigation by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) on the killings of 76 people in Biliqo-Bulesa and the role NRT rangers play in escalating inter-community conflict and tensions.

  2. To the Ministry of Lands & Tourism and Wildlife Ministry

    We demand that the ongoing extension, and expansion of community conservancies and other uses be stopped forthwith until our lands are formally registered as per the provisions of the Community Land Act 2016. We do not want our lands to be subdivided but must be registered as blocks because of the fragility of the ecology. We also demand that the USAID, French Development Agency (AFD) and the NRT to stop interfering in the land registration process.

  3. To the County Leadership

    We demand that the leadership of our counties stop signing arbitrary MOUs with the rogue conservation body. We demand a transparent process that MUST involve all members of our communities as is required in the Constitution so that our land rights, interests and views are taken to account

  4. To the NRT & Its Officials

    We are aware that you deceive our people by giving them a handful of employment opportunities and small gifts of boreholes and classrooms so that you can continue to dispossess us. We are also aware that you raise billions of shillings from donor agencies on our behalves but are not accountable to us. Further, we are aware that you take advantage of the gullibility and marginalization of our communities to violate human rights and dispossess us. We therefore demand that you leave our lands forthwith and to let us manage our resources in the way we know best.  If you fail to do so, we will use all legal means available to us locally and internationally to ensure that you leave our lands.

  5. To the NRT Donors

    We are sure that Oakland Institute will be sharing the report findings with principal donors of the NRT. In this regard, NRT donors will know that they have been directly funding the killings and maiming of our people and other forms of human rights violation. Donors will also know that some of the funds they so generously give to the NRT are used to purchase of guns that cause death and injury to our people. Following this, we demand that all NRT donors to stop financing this rogue organization.