by Rhodri C. Williams
Although I gather that the Government of Kenya is serious about implementing the February 2010 decision by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in the ‘Endorois case‘, I have yet to hear much about what actual progress has been made in the nearly two years since it was issued. However, an article in the Guardian on the recent displacement of Kenya’s Samburu people indicates that the fundamental lesson of the Endorois decision may be slow in sinking in, at a high cost to indigenous peoples in East Africa.
One striking thing about the Samburu case is the broad similarity it bears to the original Endorois evictions in 1974. This includes the fact the Samburu are also a pastoralist people, that they have been moved through acts of official violence and intimidation to marginal areas at the edge of their former homeland, and that the justification for the eviction in both cases involved the creation of a nature reserve. In both cases, national litigation appears to focus on formal title issue without apparent regard to customary ownership (or “indigenous title” in the ACHPR’s parlance). Coincidentally (or not?) both cases even involve land associated with former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi.
However, one factor clearly distinguishing the Samburu case is the involvement of two international charities, the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation in acquiring the land and gifting it to Kenya for use as a nature park. While the Guardian reports that both are maintaining a watchful silence, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure that will inevitably mount on them. Given the public profile of these organizations, neither are likely to tolerate the patterns of cooptation and brutality apparently encouraged with regard to pastoralists by private safari park interests in neighboring Tanzania (I linked to an MRG account of this situation earlier here; for an exhaustive report by a Swedish observer who was actually expelled from the country for her troubles, see the view from the termite mound).
Whether the Nature Conservancy and AWF will be willing to act as decisively as the Body Shop did in Colombia last year in response to allegations of land-grabbing by one of its suppliers is another question. In that case, an NGO, Christian Aid, was able to act as an intermediary between the aggrieved Colombian farmers and a fundamentally sympathetic company. In the case of the Samburu, however, another NGO, Survival International, has taken a more skeptical stance. Upon reading their press release and watching a documentary clip on the evictions by Channel 4, it is not too hard to see why.