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Report Clears Kenyan Conservancy of Community Abuse, but Advocates Cry Foul

June 10, 2022
  • In November 2021, the Oakland Institute released a report accusing the Kenya-based Northern Rangelands Trust of ties to intracommunal violence and extrajudicial killings.
  • On June 9 this year, an independent review commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, one of NRT’s funders, to investigate the allegations found “strikingly little evidence” that they were true.
  • The Oakland Institute called the review a “sham investigation” and said its author had failed to properly engage with tribal authorities or track down the families of alleged abuse victims.

A report accusing Kenya-based conservation group the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) of involvement in extrajudicial killings of pastoralists was rejected on June 9 in an independent review commissioned by the trust’s donors, which include The Nature Conservancy, USAID and the European Union. The review’s author, Kanyinke Sena, director of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, said he found “strikingly little evidence to corroborate the allegations against NRT.”

The review was commissioned after a report was released last November by U.S.-based advocacy group the Oakland Institute, which said NRT was fostering intracommunal violence and depriving pastoralist communities of access to rangelands. In its most serious allegations, the Oakland Institute accused rangers working for NRT of being implicated in a string of murders.

“The allegations appear to have emerged from a minimal investigative process and are deeply implicated in a complex political environment where attacks on NRT are widely understood as an electoral tactic and as a means to draw attention,” Sena wrote.

Sena and his team visited 19 towns in central Kenya, including 9 in Isiolo county, where the killings were alleged to have taken place. In many cases, he wrote, he was unable to verify details of the killings or even the existence of the victims in his meetings with local officials and community members. In others, he heard accounts that blamed the deaths on clashes with rival ethnic groups.

Despite sending a written request for information such as contact details for witnesses and relatives, he was also unable to arrange a meeting with a key source of the allegations — the Borana Council of Elders, which published its own report in 2019 accusing NRT of involvement in the killing of 70 people.

“The people we went to speak to who were mentioned as sources in the Oakland report, many of them didn’t cooperate with us,” Sena told Mongabay in a phone interview.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, called the review a “sham investigation” and said Sena didn’t properly examine the claims. In an interview with Mongabay, she said he “failed to follow due process” in his communications with the council, who could have connected him with relatives of the deceased.

“There are other reports that make the same allegations,” she added, pointing to a court case filed on behalf of 165 community members against NRT in Isiolo county that also contains accusations of violence.

Major Jillo, a Borana advocate who helped to facilitate the Oakland Institute’s report, said the council was wary of Sena’s intentions.

“Definitely, they would like to know who a person looking for them is, because there is a lot of mistrust in the area,” he told Mongabay in a phone interview.