International Lawyers Project
EAWLS' Open Letter to The President of Kenya: #StopWeakeningOurForestAct #ForestBill2021
Updated: Apr 20, 2022
21/3/2022 International Day of Forests
Dear Mr President,
As the world marks the International Day of Forests (IDF) today, the Kenya Forest Working Group (KFWG), a multi-stakeholder advocacy network hosted by the East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS), wishes to express its concerns over the state of affairs in our public forests. We think that Kenya has little to celebrate mainly because the state institutions tasked with the responsibility to steward the country’s forests on behalf of citizens have apparently abdicated their duties.
How else would one explain the fact that some members of parliament have dared to bring to the House a proposal to amend the forests protection law that could allow a return to the bad old days when huge chunks of forestland were curved out at will and converted to human settlements or farmland without due regard for the ecosystem services derived from forests. Under the Forest Act 2016, only the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has the sole mandate to review petitions that seek to have forest boundaries altered after public participation. Parliament can only act on what KFS has recommended.
Before parliament is a hastily introduced Bill that seeks to repeal Section 34(2A) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act, a move apparently designed to emasculate KFS by taking away its mandate to review and make recommendations on any proposed public forest boundary alteration before they are submitted to the National Assembly.
The rush to introduce the repeal motion can lead one to infer possible mischief, ulterior motives or bad faith. With the enactment of the Forest Act of 2005 and subsequently the Forest Conservation and Management Act of 2016, Kenya had turned the corner from the days of whimsical allocation of public forestland. Much has been achieved in forest conservation and restoration of degraded woodlands, such as the Mau Forest complex.
Mr President, the proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation and Management Act is ill-advised. Repealing Section 34(2A) is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot, rendering all our national forest conservation efforts a charade.
It is with the aforementioned concerns that more than 40 organisations and networks, including the Ministry of Environment and Forests and KFS recently embarked on a public awareness campaign that included the demand that the parliamentary committee in charge of rules and procedures withdraws the proposed amendment to the law on forests. The proposed amendment has thus far already gone through the first reading in the National Assembly after which no other action has been taken on the Bill.
As conservationists, we are puzzled by the lack of further parliamentary action on the amendment Bill. It gives us no comfort. We are inclined to suspect the silence on the part of parliament on the matter could be a ruse, a delaying tactic to give the impression that the motion is being held in abeyance, only for the House to spring a surprise and pass the amendment Bill in the dying days of the current parliament. This kind of action, if intended, would be the height of betrayal of the trust bestowed by the Kenyan people on their political representatives. It could confirm the suspicion that the move to repeal section 34(2A) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act was a measure probably designed to make it possible for unscrupulous individuals or groups to grab forestland through subterfuge for political or material gain.
And history bears us out on this supposition. Before the introduction of the 2005 Forest Act, an estimated 5,000 hectares of public forests were lost to deforestation every year, with over 65,000 hectares of public woodland lost in just one day in 2001. Most of these allocations were given out through patronage often orchestrated by politicians and other influential people.
Mr President, the passing of the proposed amendment would be also a stain on your administration and would set a bad precedent for environmental conservation efforts in Kenya and other countries on the African continent. Kenya, as the seat of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has had a fairly positive global reputation on matters of environmental conservation and the protection of wildlife and their habitats, including forests. That reputation is now at risk of being tarnished if the Kenyan legislature is allowed to weaken key legislation on the protection of the country’s forests.
It should also be noted that Kenya is a signatory to several international conventions that touch on the preservation of ecosystems, including forests. Such treaties include the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Mr President, your administration has been largely supportive of conservation endeavours in our country, including the politically sensitive decision to authorize the eviction of squatters from public forests. As your term as our head of state draws to a close, please let it not go into the annals of history that an amendment of the law that opened up the Pandora’s Box of mischief that led to the decimation of the country’s forests was passed on your watch.
At the very least, if indeed members of parliament intend to push the proposed amendment through the entire legislative process, ignoring our calls to withdraw the Bill, it is only fair that the intended changes be subjected to scrutiny through public participation as provided for under the constitution.
Mr President, on this auspicious occasion of the International Day of Forests 2022, we note that with the Forest Conservation and Management (Amendment) Bill 2021 hanging over Kenya’s forest like the sword of Damocles, Kenyans uneasy about the protection of their forests may not have much to celebrate. They are gripped by a sense of foreboding.
The forest sector is a key contributor to the national economy when properly managed. It contributes 3.6 per cent to the country’s GDP and employs 350,000 people annually.
At the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow last year, Kenya was one of the countries that pledged to end deforestation by 2030. Have our political and government leaders forgotten that commitment now that they seem to have turned around to propose measures that can only lead to deforestation?
Your Excellency, we would also like to remind you of your statement when you supported the Leaders Pledge for Nature at the launch of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration in 2020. You said: “As we look forward to ushering in the decade for ecosystem restoration, we must recognise this interconnectedness and set nature on the right path of zero biodiversity loss and promote greener and much more sustainable practices.”
We cannot speak of a “greener” and forest destruction in the same breath!
Mr President, we look forward to your intervention by urging members of parliament to maintain the status quo concerning the Forest Conservation and Management Act. Incase members of parliament pass the amendment Bill, you as our head of state will be the only one left to uphold the rule of law by refusing to assent to the Bill when it lands on your desk for signature. And for that action, future generations, beholding a lush, green Kenya, will have a lot to thank you for.
Thank you, Your Excellency
Elizabeth Gitari – Mitaru Nancy Ogonje
Chairperson, Executive Director, East African Wild Life Society
East African Wild Life Society For: Kenya Forest Working Group
About the Forest Conservation and Management (Amendment) Bill 2021
The Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016) allows variations to forest boundaries as long as the changes do not endanger any rare, threatened or endangered species or adversely affect a forest’s value as a water catchment area or prejudice biodiversity conservation.
According to the Act, the variation of public forest boundaries can only be considered by the National Assembly upon technical recommendations from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
The Forest Conservation and Management (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposes that the clause that gives KFS the mandate to recommend changes to the forest border delineation be repealed. Instead, the Amendment Bill proposes the insertion of a provision that vests the power to review petitions on forest boundary changes on either the clerk of the National Assembly or a committee of the House.