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RESOURCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONFLICTS IN KENYA

Benedetta Wasonga

 

Over the years, Kenya has been faced with conflicts over natural resources such as water, forests, minerals and land among others. The existing legal and institutional mechanisms that are in place to deal with environmental conflicts have not offered much in stemming the prevalence of environmental conflicts.

 

“Environmental conflicts” refer to the contests that exist as a result of the various competing interests over access to and use of natural resources such as land, water, minerals and forests. Various groups, communities, developers, government and other organizations have differing ideas of how to access and utilize environmental resources. Laws and policies which have a conflict generating capacity are often pursued by the various groups leading to further friction among them.

 

There is a legal and institutional framework that is supposed to deal with environmental conflicts and either resolve or manage them. These institutions include the courts of law, tribunals under various Acts, The National Environmental Management Authority, Public Complaints Committee, Environmental Tribunal and other various informal community based resource governance bodies.

 

The laws include the numerous statutes that deal with the environment. Notable among them is the framework law, the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA), the Public Health Act, the Forest Management and Conservation Act of 2016, the Water Act and the various statutes dealing with land. Despite the existence of the aforesaid laws and institutions, environmental conflicts continue to manifest themselves in Kenya. There have been for instance violent conflicts over access to and use of land in Kenya especially forest land, which conflicts are well documented an example of the Mau Complex ongoing conflict.

 

Key to resolving resource conflicts is the application of environmental governance, which calls for adequate participation by the people. Environmental democracy which involves giving people access to information on environmental rights, easing access to justice in environmental matters and enabling public participation in environmental decision making. There is on the other hand what is commonly referred to as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods. They include mediation, conciliation, negotiation and traditional/community based dispute resolution mechanisms. These methods aim at realizing tranquility that comes with equitable resource sharing between communities, which is much sought after. The nexus between the environmental conflicts and the state of the existing dispute resolution mechanisms for resolving environmental conflicts is yet to be fully explored. The institutional and legal mechanisms for resolving environmental conflicts now in place in Kenya are geared towards eliminating environmental conflicts.

 

The Constitution of Kenya requires the State to, inter alia: ensure sustainable exploitation, utilization, management and conservation of the environment and natural resources, and ensure the equitable sharing of the accruing benefits; encourage public participation in the management, protection and conservation of the environment; and utilize the environment and natural resources for the benefit of the people of Kenya. Further, every person has a constitutional duty to cooperate with State organs and other persons to protect and conserve the environment and ensure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources. It has rightly been argued that giving voice to communities and explaining the details of these conflicts helps them regain power in decision-making process and create a model of active democracy enabling them to help protecting their own territory and environment.

 

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