The Oakland Institute’s Response to Sham “Due Diligence Report” Commissioned by The Nature Conservancy and Other Donors into Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya
---FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE---
June 8, 2022, 10:00 PM PT
Oakland, CA — We are shocked by the sham investigation of Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in Kenya conducted by Paul Kanyinke Sena at the behest of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) — which is to be released on June 9, 2022.
As detailed below, the “Due Diligence Report” is a shameful attempt to cover up the accusations of land grabbing and human rights abuses in the name of conservation, made by the Oakland Institute in its November 2021 report, Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya.
Why a Sham Investigation?
1. Failure to Consult the Main Author of the Oakland Institute’s Report
Whereas the so-called “due diligence investigation” started in February 2022, Mr. Sena wrote on March 15, 2022 to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute and the main author of the report, to say: “Anuradha, i have been tasked by the joint donors of NRT to fact find on the allegations in the stealth report and I am reaching out directly to the communities, activist, conservancies, NRT and both county and local governments. I had planned to reach out to you at a later stage and is still (sic) intent on that. Will you be available?”
On March 16, Mittal responded: “I have heard concerns from local communities who claim that they have not yet been contacted and neither are they aware of your investigation. Past investigations into NRT have been heavily criticized for only consulting a select group of individuals, and we hope that all voices will be heard this time with you leading the effort… I am available to speak to you about our findings and the research.”
Despite the offer to speak, Paul Kanyinke Sena never interviewed Mittal on the findings of the report or the research methodology.
On March 22, 2022, Mr. Sena wrote requesting contact details of the persons mentioned in our report. In response, we made clear: “Regarding your request for contact information for individuals who are mentioned in our report, as I said in a previous email, it is imperative that you reach out to the respective Council of Elders in the areas these individuals live. You mentioned that you visited Kula Mawe and were not able to find any of them. Community members are pastoral herders who are most often in the rangelands with their livestock. I recommend that you send a letter detailing the background of the investigators, the supporting donors, and an overview of the investigation to the Council of Elders, so they can assist you in your visit and meetings with the community members. I am assuming that they have heard about your visits to different areas and that they are waiting to hear from the investigating team.
I suggest this also because of the intimidation and harassment that has previously been unleashed on individuals sharing their lived experiences with NRT. From our experience, contacting individuals informally on social media or attempts to schedule meetings or phone calls with individuals without proper introduction, go unanswered.”
Mr. Sena did not respond to this message or set up an interview.
Whereas the investigation claims it was unable to corroborate any of the Oakland Institute’s findings, it is puzzling that no effort was made to interview the Oakland Institute researchers.
2. Failure to Follow Due Process
Mr. Sena did not consult the impacted communities, whose firsthand testimonies informed the Stealth Game report. From the first stages of the investigation, several red flags were immediately apparent.
Mr. Sena initially visited certain areas without first informing the local leadership in the communities, such as the Council of Elders, of the purpose of his visit. Instead, he reached out to individuals using SMS messages and Facebook messenger without offering any introduction or sharing terms of reference for his assignment.
In the past, individuals who have spoken out against NRT have faced intimidation and harassment, while donors have ignored community petitions for years. Given these realities, a lack of trust and fear remains widespread. Proper introductions and processes were necessary to address these concerns.
While the investigation was initiated in February 2022, it was not till March 31, 2022 that Mr. Sena sent a formal letter to the Borana Council of Elders. The Elders wrote back informing him that they were “operating at a minimum capacity in light of the holy month of Ramadan.” They offered to meet “after Ramadan to discuss your requests where you will required (sic) to avail all the relevant documents supporting your fact finding mission.” According to information available to us, Mr. Sena failed to reply to the invitation and did not meet with them. Given the failure to follow due process and to create a safe environment for community members to share their experiences with NRT, the investigation was flawed from the start.
3. Legal Cases Against NRT Purposely Ignored
In a statement released on June 8, 2022, The Nature Conservancy claims that the investigation found no evidence of loss of land rights and violence against local communities tied to NRT. Yet, beyond the Oakland Institute report, several court cases by local communities against NRT are underway. These include the Environment and Land Court (ELC) Petition 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 on September 27, 2021.
The petition accuses NRT and its umbrella bodies of establishing and running conservancies on unregistered community land, “without participation or involvement of the Community.” It states that NRT “hired armed Rangers whose presence in the county elicits tension which in several instances has resulted in violence and loss of life and forced disappearances as was the case during the establishment of the Biliqo-Bulesa Conservancy,” and that armed Rangers operate as a private army for [NRT] and are used to quell any opposition by the Community which in effect has led to a rise in the proliferation of small arms in the region as the community tries to defend themselves.”
The petition concludes that if the actions of the respondents, who also include the County Government of Isiolo, Kenya Wildlife Service, and several individuals are left unchecked, “will lead to dispossession of indigenous community’s ancestral land, destruction of the community land and the eco-system within the area.”
Additionally, Petition E021, filed in September 2021 to the ELC with urgency on behalf of communities in Garba Tulla and Kinna Wards, charges that eight individuals “purporting to act on the best interests of the communities” instead served as “stooges” for NRT in attempts to establish a conservancy. The petition claims that the full and informed consent of the community was not established, as a satisfactory and credible process of public participation had not taken place. Accusing NRT of brokering the “confounding, hurried, shambolic, and patently illegal” process, the Petition maintains that transferring unregistered community land into a wildlife conservancy would be to the “detriment of the communities living in the area as it will deny them access to their traditional grazing land.”
In December 2020, John Ngimor and 554 other community members on their own behalf and the residents of Endugh, Kasei, Sekerr, Masol, Lomut, and Weiwei wards in West Pokot County, took NRT, Masol Community Conservancy, Pellow Community Conservancy, and the West Pokot County Government to the Environment and Land Court at Kitale to prevent them from entering, mapping, surveying, and delineating their land. The residents feared forceful eviction of approximately 70,000 people who occupy 250,000 hectares of land in Endugh, Kasei, Sekerr, Masol, Lomut and Weiwei wards in West Pokot County. Most importantly, the community feared losing their ancestral grazing land to a private enterprise, which would use it in the name of “community conservancy” and that NRT’s delineation of their land would make it impossible for them to graze their livestock or perform cultural practices at sacred sites.
On March 25, 2021, an ex parte interim injunction order of the Court stopped and forbid the respondents and their agents [including NRT] “from entering, mapping, surveying and delineating community land, carrying out conservancy operations, importation of wildlife, evicting community members or any other activity under the Memorandum of Understanding for Collaboration in Conservation, Management, Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and to Promote Community Development Initiatives in West Pokot County…” While the matter has been referred to the Chief Justice, who will appoint a three judge bench to hear the case, the injunction marks a crucial temporary victory for these communities and a major blow to NRT.
While NRT downplays the significance of the injunction, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) remarked that the judge issued the injunction to stop NRT’s plans as “if allowed to continue [they] would cause irreparable loss to the indigenous communities in as far as their management and administration of their land is concerned.”
Mr. Sena’s failure to note these and other numerous legal proceedings currently underway against NRT is another illustration of the biased investigation that he led.
4. Corruption of Informants: The Case of the Isiolo Human Rights Defenders
The Oakland Institute report also accused the NRT of coopting and corrupting dissent. Following the release of the Institute’s report, the community based organization Isiolo Human Rights Defenders (IHRD) sent a letter on December 10, 2021 to NRT and the Oakland Institute claiming: “We are not part of the Oakland Institute report that is a misrepresentation of facts.” The communication is signed by Ibrahim Wako, Coordinator of IHRD.
It has now come to light that this letter was a result of NRT’s ongoing cooptation and corruption tactics.
Following the release of the Institute’s report, Osman Hossein, NRT Director of Operations, reached out to Adan Ibrahim of the IHRD, asking for a letter to rubbish the Institute’s report in return for them to be paid handsomely. IHRD’s chairman, Abdi Kadir Hasan also shared the proposal on the table. Abdi Kadir was approached by the Speaker of the County as well on the same issue.
The letter was prepared and sent to NRT on December 10, 2021.
This came after a meeting with Osman Hossein in December 2021 at the Bomen hotel, which was attended by Ibrahim Wako, Adan Ibrahim, Abdikar Hasan and Abdi Shabo. It was agreed that IHRD will be paid 10 million Kenyan Shillings for a fact finding mission to sanitize NRT. Additionally, NRT made the commitment to employ three IHRD members — Adan Ibrahim, Ibrahim Wako and Abdo Shabo — for four months at 15,000 Kenyan Shillings per month. Lastly, NRT agreed to pay 2.5 million Kenyan shillings for the IHRD to stop all advocacy against NRT. Osam from NRT allegedly increased this to 5 million Kenyan Shillings.
5. Shooting the Messenger: NRT and Nature Conservancy PR Tactics
Beyond the blatant flaws of this investigation and the fact that no attempt was made to interview the Oakland Institute’s staff, the manner it was released raises important questions. It is very unusual that an investigation commissioned by several prominent institutional donors would be communicated to the media in advance of its release through an apparently well-organized communication strategy. The first media article that was published on this investigation, titled Report clears Northern Rangelands Trust of rights abuse claims noted that “the report urged donors to continue funding NRT’s activities.”
On November 17, 2021, following the release of the Oakland Institute report, several land right defenders and individuals from the affected communities held a press conference in Nairobi. The event was attended by numerous Kenyan journalists and media representatives and led to a statement presented to the press. However, the lack of media coverage raised suspicions among the Kenyan participants that efforts were being made to prevent media exposure. According to Kenyan activist, Dr. Mordecai Ogada, “There was a major press conference in Nairobi on 17th November about this report, and all major media houses in Kenya were there, but the story has been “killed.”
To elevate the voices of affected communities, the Oakland Institute and Survival International organized a webinar on January 18, 2022 where the findings of the report were presented. We then witnessed a concerted effort to disrupt the webinar, during which a dozen of NRT employees and partners monopolized the chats and Q&A and led personal attacks against several of the presenters with the clear goal of undermining their credibility.
The flaws of the investigation and the PR campaign initiated as soon as our investigation was released confirm a shocking lack of accountability by NRT. Donors that have financed the so-called “due diligence” investigation will have to be held accountable if they accept its conclusions and more generally the highly questionable practices described above.
The Oakland Institute based its report on field work, followed by constant engagement with the impacted communities over the last three years. Our researchers received numerous direct testimonies from family members who lost their loved ones and from community members who have lost their land and livelihoods as a result of NRT’s activities. Regardless of the efforts deployed by NRT and its supporters, we stand by the findings of our report and remain committed to amplifying the voices of people facing human rights abuses.