Peaceful Land Rights Protest in Kenya Met by Police Bullets

May 22nd, 2023 - by Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute

This film did not include footage of the May 8 police attaack
on Korbesa villagers protesting Kenya’s  NRT.

Latest Community Protest Against NRT
Upended by Violent Crackdown
Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute

  • 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.

(May 18, 2023) — 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 (link is external), “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(link is external) 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 Gamecourt 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.

Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies
Devastate Land and Lives in Northern Kenya
The Oakland Institute

(November 16, 2021) — Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — reveals the devastating impact of privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism on Indigenous pastoralist communities. Although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used, the report exposes how the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), have allegedly dispossessed pastoralist communities of their ancestral lands, through corruption, cooptation, and sometimes through intimidation and violence, to create wildlife conservancies for conservation dollars.

Since its founding in 2004, NRT has set up 39 conservancies on over 42,000 square kilometers of land in Northern and Coastal Kenya — nearly eight percent of the country’s total land area. 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. NRT is also involved in security, management of pasture land, and livestock marketing, which according to the impacted communities, gives it a level of control that surpasses even that of the Kenyan government.

Based on extensive field research, Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya, is the first independent report to provide a comprehensive review of the evolution of Kenya’s land and wildlife conservation laws; the history, structure, and functioning of “community” conservancy model of NRT; as well as land and human rights issues surrounding the privatized model of conservation in Kenya.

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. 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.

In recent years, impacted communities have held protests, signed petitions, and initiated legal action against the presence of NRT on their lands. Community members have repeatedly asked for justice after years of being ignored by the Kenyan government and by the police when reporting killings of family members and other human rights abuses. The findings of Stealth Game call for an urgent independent investigation into land and human rights related grievances around NRT’s community conservancies — including allegations of involvement of NRT’s rapid response units in inter-ethnic conflict, and of abuses and extrajudicial killings.

The report’s release comes as the international community is considering adopting the “30×30 initiative” under the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for 30 percent of the planet to be placed in protected areas or other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030. Stealth Game makes it clear that fortress conservation must be replaced by truly Indigenous-led conservation efforts to preserve the remaining biodiversity of the planet while respecting interests, rights, and dignity of the local communities.

Click here to download full report.