Fri, Dec 16, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Charities land purchases in Kenya cause problems

DISPUTE:About 2,000 families have stayed squatting on the edge of territory now designated for a national park, NGO Survival International said

The Guardian, NAIROBI and JOHANNESBURG

Members of the Samburu people in Kenya have been abused, beaten and raped by police after the land they lived on for two decades was sold to two US-based wildlife charities, a rights group and community leader have alleged.

The dispute centers on Eland Downs in Laikipia, a lush area near Mount Kenya.

At least three people are said to have died during the row, including a child who was eaten by a lion after the Samburu were violently evicted in November last year.

The non--governmental organization (NGO) Survival International, which is based in London, said that the Samburu people were evicted following the purchase of the land by two US-based charities, the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation.

The groups subsequently gifted the land to Kenya for a national park, to be called Laikipia National Park.

With nowhere to go, about 2,000 Samburu families have stayed on the edge of the disputed territory, living in makeshift squats, while 1,000 others were forced to relocate, according to Survival International.

INTIMIDATION

Jo Woodman, a campaigner for Survival International, said that the pastoralist Samburu had reported constant harassment from police with women allegedly raped, animals seized and an elder shot.

“There has been an ongoing, constant level of fear, intimidation and violence towards the community, which has been devastating,” Woodman said.

A community leader, who did not wish to be named, said that police beat people, burned manyatta (traditional homesteads) and carried out arbitrary arrests during the period leading up to and including the eviction last year.

The community leader also said that they confiscated many of the Samburu’s animals and that the intimidation has continued.

“The situation has been really bad for a long time,” he said. “[The Samburu] have nothing. Things like bedding and utensils were burned.”

Kenyan police were not available on Wednesday to comment on the allegations.

Survival International said it has written to the UN appealing for urgent action to put an end to the violence and provide assistance to the Samburu, who have gone to court to establish their right to the land.

“In one incident, a Samburu elder was shot dead by paramilitaries,” the group said in its letter to the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, dated Dec. 7.

NO REASON GIVEN

“The displaced community has nothing but their livestock, thousands of which were impounded — with no reason given — on 25 Nov,” the letter said.

“This is an urgent and serious violation of the rights of this community, which has been left squatting beside its land with no amenities,” Survival International’s letter said.

The two conservation groups gifted the 6,920 hectares to Kenya’s government in November to create a national park to be run by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

However, since then a court has banned the KWS from proceeding with the conservation project until a ruling on the Samburus’ legal case.

COURT CASE

Both the US-based charities indicated they were watching the situation with concern, but were unable to comment for legal reasons.

“The African Wildlife Foundation [AWF] does not condone violence. AWF has a longstanding history of working closely with local communities to ensure that conservation solutions benefit both people and wildlife,” said John Butler, director of marketing for the AWF.

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