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Kenya’s Land Grab is Profiting From Pain | Opinion

They came at dawn with barely any warning, and they came in the hundreds. Armed state officers swarmed the homes of Indigenous Ogiek living deep in the Mau Forest here in Kenya, shouting insults, destroying food stores, dismantling some dwellings, and setting fire to others.

Since Nov. 2, more than 700 families have been displaced despite two landmark rulings by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights that recognized the forest as their ancestral home. Under both Kenyan and international law, these evictions are blatant human rights violations. The Kenyan government seems determined to defy the rule of law.

While government officials claim it is acting to protect against deforestation, there is credible evidence suggesting their primary motivation lies elsewhere—in the lucrative global carbon market. Kenya has long wooed foreign investors looking to offset their CO2 emissions. To decrease their carbon footprint, large companies (and some governments) purchase swaths of forests, plant trees, or buy into renewable energy projects. Critics lambast this $2 billion industry for doing little to help the environment, while causing great harm to Indigenous Peoples. Proponents—the Kenyan government included—see opportunities to raise revenue to fight the impacts of climate change. While Africa contributes the least to global warming, it bears the brunt of its effects and receives just 3 percent of global funds for mitigation and resiliency.

Kenya’s special envoy on climate change recently boasted that our nation was Africa’s leader in generating offsets and announced plans for expansion. And at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi in September, President William Ruto touted the continent’s forests as an “economic goldmine.” He now plans to take that message to the United Nations‘ Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.

This madness must stop. The global carbon market is a false solution. And in Kenya, it is threatening lives and livelihoods. We call on world leaders gathering at COP28 to condemn President Ruto’s evictions of the Ogiek Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral land, and to uphold the rule of law by implementing the African Court’s rulings.

The Ogiek community—about 50,000 traditional forest hunter-gatherers—has lived in the Mau Forest for thousands of years sustainably beekeeping, gathering medicinal plants, hunting, growing food, and maintaining the forest. While government-sanctioned evictions date back to colonial times, in recent years, forest rangers have grown more violent. Human rights groups have also accused the Kenyan government of selling off acres of forest land to logging companies and tea farmers who have felled thousands of trees.

Starting in 2009, we worked alongside the community to fight back. We brought cases before local courts in Nakuru and Nairobi. After suffering several legal setbacks, we took the fight to the African Court in Arusha, Tanzania. In a landmark ruling on May 26, 2017, the Court found that the Kenyan government had violated the Ogiek peoples’ human rights, recognized the Mau Forest as their ancestral land, and affirmed their role in protecting it.

But the harassment continued. In the summer of 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, forest rangers evicted hundreds, alleging the Indigenous community had set up illegal settlements and were depleting the forest.

The African Court saw through these lies. On June 22, 2022, it issued a reparation ruling that required the government to restore Ogiek land ownership via community land titles, prohibited the state from continuing evictions, and awarded the community $1.3 million for damages, among other mandates.

The Kenyan government, which was involved in all the litigation stages, was obliged to implement the court’s ruling within 12 months. Even as that deadline passed, we remained buoyed by our legal victories, believing that the Ogiek community would soon secure land rights to their forest once and for all. Then, recently, the state officers returned and razed families’ homes.

This round of evictions is especially cruel as it comes during the rainy season. Families are living outside in the cold and heavy rains. Their belongings are waterlogged. They cannot build fires to keep warm. Those who fled are being barred from coming back. Those who remain are living in fear. It is inhumane and degrading. It is a desperate situation.

We are working with other humanitarian partners to provide bedding, tarpaulins for shelter, food, and other basic support. We have requested a stop order from the court in Nakuru, filed complaints with the attorney general and the Ministry of Environment, requested meetings with representatives from the European Union and its embassies, petitioned the African Court to address the Kenyan government’s refusal to implement its rulings, and worked to raise worldwide awareness about the ongoing injustice.

As a community, we will not lose hope. Though it took 13 years to secure our first legal victory, we know these battles can be won. We are much more informed, organized, and connected with brothers and sisters in Africa, and around the world. If we keep fighting for our rights, we know surely they will come one day.

Source: News Week

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