Monday, July 24, 2017

Land Grab for Conservation

Samburu herders in Kenya are fighting for control of 17,000 acres of land that a former president sold to become a national park. Human-wildlife conflicts are intensifying amid climate change and population growth. 

The Samburu, a semi-nomadic people with the same language and culture as the Maasai, claim ownership of the disputed ranch in Kenya's troubled Laikipia County, saying they squatted on it for 25 years before being evicted for wildlife conservation. After an 8-year court battle, judges last month rejected their claim, clearing the way for the land to be turned into Laikipia National Park, managed by government-owned Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The case comes at a time when protected areas around the globe are expanding in a bid to save endangered wildlife and boost tourism revenues, pitting conservationists against marginalised people facing loss of their traditional lands. The Samburu lawyer, Lempaa Suyianka, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "Here are people with no alternative places to live, people who are born there... They have nowhere else to go."
The Samburu legal case rests on the principle of adverse possession, whereby someone who has lived continuously on a piece of land for 12 years can gain ownership. They also claim ancestral rights, saying the British forced their Maa-speaking ancestors off the land a century earlier to give it to white settlers.he court dismissed the adverse possession claim as Moi only owned the land for 11 years prior to the 2009 evictions, after buying it in late 1997 from Ol Pejeta, a cattle ranch. It did not consider the period from 1981 to 1997, when the Samburu said they also lived there, because Ol Pejeta, which received the title to the land in 1962 from the colonial government, was not named as a respondent in the case.  The judge even asked the Samburu, many of whom are poor and illiterate, to pay for helicopters to take the court to see the disputed land. "How can a court be so toothless?" said Gertrude Angote, executive director of Kituo cha Sheria, a legal aid charity.
The disputed land, Eland Downs, was sold for $4 million by Kenya's longest serving president, Daniel arap Moi, in 2008 to the Washington-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Half of the funding came from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the largest U.S. environmental charities. Violent police evictions in 2010 and 2011 prompted an outcry from rights groups and international media, who said an old man was shot dead, women were raped and huts were burned. A report for TNC by the International Labour Organization said the charities' decision to make a "closed-doors deal" was a "recipe for conflicts". "There does not seem to have been sufficient due diligence and consultations with the community... despite the fact that evictions in Kenya by state security agents are well known to be characterised by violence and high handedness," it said.

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