Kenyan legislators are considering modifying the country’s forest law to make it easier to adjust the boundaries of protected areas, a move that activists fear would have a negative impact on the country’s wildlife and ecology.
Conservationists worry that the amendment will allow developers access to valuable forest land, while supporters maintain that it will assist safeguard those with legitimate claims to contested land from eviction.
The Forest Conservation and Management Amendment would erode Kenya‘s Forest Service’s (KFS) ability to veto planned boundary changes that would put rare species or water catchment regions at risk. Calls to KFS for comment were not returned.
Forests around Nairobi, Kenya’s expanding capital and dubbed the “green city in the sun,” are at the centre of the dispute, which is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee.
“What we will have if that amendment bill is allowed…what we are seeing here,” said environmentalist Christopher Muriithi, pointing to a cluster of structures and a tarmac road cutting across land that was formerly part of Oloolua Forest on Nairobi’s outskirts.
However, advocates of the proposal believe that modifying the legislation protects those who have already established on contested forest land, such as families who have saved up to buy a home in good faith.
Nixon Korir, a parliamentarian who has voiced support for an amendment, did not answer to demands for comment, but has previously stated that the government must take action to safeguard innocent homeowners.
According to the African Development Bank, Kenya lost half of its forest cover between 1980 and 2000, and another 11% in the next two decades, according to Global Forest Watch.
Oloolua used to occupy roughly 682 hectares, according to Muriithi, but it now only covers 500. Individuals, loggers, developers, and even the state, which built a railway line through the forest, took off vast swaths of beautiful land. He recalls seeing giraffes, zebras, and buffaloes, but they are no longer there.
Muriithi is not optimistic that they would return, but she wishes to save what is left. He is the president of a community group that monitors the forest, replaces invasive trees with native trees, and collaborates with government to prosecute loggers.
However, this is a perilous situation. Muriithi claims that while investigating illegal logging, a body was placed in the forest and he was informed that he might be next, causing him to flee to Uganda.
“It’s scary, but I’m glad the community has come out in force now,” he said, standing next to a pile of soil and wood fragments from land he claims was illegally destroyed.
“They may assassinate me or someone else, but they will not assassinate the entire community.”