KENYA: Court blocks forest
NAIROBI, 24 Apr
2002 (IRIN) - Environmental activists in Kenya have welcomed a
court order temporarily blocking the Kenyan government's plans to
excise some 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of the country's
remaining forests, pending the hearing of a suit they have filed
challenging the move.
The local media reported on Tuesday that the temporary order,
issued by a Nairobi judge, Richard Kuloba, also halted the
carrying out of a survey, issuance of further land titles or any
other development on the disputed forest land, until the dispute
had been settled, the East African Standard reported on Tuesday.
Kuloba also ordered the contentious suit, filed jointly by three
organisations and two individuals, (namely the East African
Wildlife society [EAWS], Environmental Liaisons Centre [ELC] and
the Kenya Alliance of Residents Association [KARA]), James Aucha
and Lumumba Odenda respectively), served to the environment
minister and top government officers, according to the paper.
"We are quite pleased that the initial reaction by the court
was a stay of the transfer of land titles on the disputed
forests," Barbara Gammill, the ELC executive director, told
IRIN on Wednesday.
Gammill said the lawyers of the group which had made the
application were currently in the process of drafting a legal
notice to enable them to enlist additional signatures of support
from interested groups and individuals, on the application, which
will be used in the trial, in a month's time. "This would
mean that they are in support of the cause we are fighting for. We
filed the case on a representative basis, and the trial will give
the government an opportunity to defend itself," she added.
Ali Kaka, who heads the EAWS, told IRIN on Wednesday that this was
the third attempt by environmental groups to halt plans by the
government to excise forests, and the only one to succeed so far
in getting a court order.
The previous attempts, brought to court respectively late last
year and early this year by the local environmentalist Green Belt
Movement, failed on the basis of technicalities, according to Kaka.
"In this case, the judge gave the order, which technically
means nothing can be done by the minister of environment or any
other government official without being held in contempt of
court," Kaka said. "The order has brought the whole
process of excision to a halt. We want to publicise all the orders
and tell the public what they mean."
Gazetted land comes under Kenyan government control, and is
legally protected. Once an area is de-gazetted, the land is no
longer afforded legal protection and can be disposed of by the
government to private individuals and companies, after which they
are free to use it as they see fit, according to experts. "We
are broadly appealing to Kenyans to support the group, because the
implications of this matter on the country are very heavy. It is a
matter for all of us," Odenda told IRIN.
Odenda, who heads the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) told IRIN on
Wednesday the group's main argument at the forthcoming trial would
be that various government departments concerned with forests and
land, namely the departments of physical planning, the conservator
of forests and the land registry, had acted in contravention of
both local and international laws in the way they had approved the
excision and allocation of the forest land.
"We are all aware the judiciary is not independent. But we
want to go on record for Kenya's history that they [Kenyan
government] are in violation of Kenya's environmental and human
rights," Odenda said. "We are convinced from the laws
and procedures that the government is wrong in its decision. Even
the people know which side is right."
The government announced in October 2001 that it was planning the
excision as part of its programme to resettle landless people. The
decision outraged environmental groups in Kenya, which were
subsequently joined in their response by international
conservation groups such as Survival International and Global
A resulting coalition of such organisations, led by the EAWS's
Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG), then began to lobby the Kenyan
government to reconsider the decision. The KFWG issued an
ultimatum giving Environment Minister Joseph Kamotho up to 19
April to revoke the excision, failing which it would file a suit
in court to halt the move. The group has argued the main
beneficiaries of the excisions would be politically favoured
people and loggers.
"The government is cutting [down] forests for reasons which
are selfish," Odenda told IRIN on 27 March from Nakuru, where
his organisation is based. "Squatters are just being used as
an excuse, but the land is being used to buy political patronage.
We know all forest excisions in Kenyan history have never
benefited the so-called landless people."
Paula Palmer, Executive Director
Global Response P.O. Box 7490 Boulder CO 80306 USA TEL:
303-444-0306 FAX: 303-449-9794 Email: email@example.com
Link : http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=27444