Last update:
2020-01-12

Illegal Logging in Chuka Forest, Kenya

Illegal loggers have been deforesting and displacing indigenous Chuka people on Mt. Kenya for decades. The Chuka teamed up with human rights lawyer Wendy Mutegi to fight the logging despite government corruption and death threats.


Description:

Magundu Ma Chuka, or the Chuka Forest, is a UNESCO Biosphere and World Heritage Site within Mount Kenya National Park and Forest Reserve inhabited by the indigenous Chuka people [2, 4]. It is an important environmental frontier as a habitat for many critical species such as endangered elephants as well as an important water source for all of Kenya [4]. Mount Kenya is one of the country’s five “water towers,” or natural landmarks rich in forest cover that capture rainwater and replenish freshwater sources [6]. The local tribe also depends on this forest for their livelihood, as they forage for resources such as medicinal plants, food, and firewood from the forest floor [4, 2]. Moreover, the mountain and its trees are sacred to the Chuka as the resting place of spirits. Although they used to perform spiritual rites and celebrations in the forest so that spirits would bless them, the community currently has restricted access to the land and are not allowed to perform their traditional ceremonies because they cannot afford to pay for forest use permits in the protected reserve areas [2]. The Chuka people have their own 3,000 member grassroots organization dating all the way back to 1934 during colonial times called “Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka,” or “Guardians of the Chuka Community Territory” (ABC) [2]. ABC was upset that their community did not give prior consent to designate their ancestral land as a protected area and received no compensation for their eviction. They also were not informed or consulted about tourism projects or extractive activities in the area. The Chuka also were concerned about the electric fence built to “protect” the reserve in 1997, which UNESCO research revealed was obstructing animal migratory patterns but was deemed necessary anyway for the sake of the animals, the tourists, and tourist facilities [3, 8]. However, the Chuka counterargue that the reserve protection efforts are more harmful and polluting than letting the community itself manage the area, and that the fence was more about policing the Chuka and preventing them from entering economically profitable places rather than ecological conservation [3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Illegal Logging in Chuka Forest, Kenya
Country:Kenya
State or province:Tharaka-Nithi County
Location of conflict:Chuka
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Land acquisition conflicts
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Timber
Eucalyptus
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Illegal logging is widespread in the country, both for timber and fuelwood, causing many conflicts. There is extensive encroachment into the edges of indigenous forests. The indiscriminate/uncontrolled selective cutting of rare tree species means that even with the ban on commercial logging, over 6,700 Camphor (Ocotea usambaresis) trees had been destroyed in Mt. Kenya forest in only one year (2007). Over 75% of cut trees are not replanted, exposing the land to soil erosion [11]. Logging companies pay local youths to go deep into the forest at night, cut down indigenous trees, and carry them out by hand. The community further alleges that KFS officials and local leaders are complicit in the scheme, otherwise it would be impossible for the trees to be carried out undetected or sold at market without the proper certification. According to Wendy Mutegi, these illegal practices are financed by rich people such as the chairman of the Community Forest Association [12].

Project area:9,712
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:19,347
Start of the conflict:06/12/1997
Company names or state enterprises:Kamweru Farm from Kenya - Perpetrator
Kenyan Forest Service (KFS) from Kenya - Corrupt governmental body
Mt. Kenya Community Forest Association from Kenya - Corrupt governmental body
Relevant government actors:District Forestry Office, National Land Commission, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America - Investor
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:World Conservation Union, Rhino Ark Charity, Law and Social Development Trust (LASODET), Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka (ABC)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Migration/displacement
Repression
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Moratoria
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Chuka people have recently won jurisdiction of a small portion of their original territory and there have been several temporary logging bans. Yet there is still a lot of complicity between the state and corporations, no resolution of cases for the 19 arrested protesters from 2014, and community members and Wendy Mutegi still receive death threats.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Law & Social Development Trust (LASODET) & 2 others v Attorney General & 12 others [2014] eKLR
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[12] THE INTERSECTION OF CONSERVATION, DEVELOPMENT, AND HUMAN RIGHTS OF FOREST DEFENDERS
[click to view]

Fencing and Forest Conservation: Attitudes of Local People Living Adjacent to Eastern Slopes of Mount Kenya
[click to view]

[11] FOREST LAW ENFORCEMENT AND GOVERNANCE IN KENYA
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[6] Kenya’s forests squeezed as government pressures environment groups
[click to view]

[1] Kenya: Human rights lawyer Wendy Wanja Mutegi receives threats
[click to view]

[7] Kenya logging ban: Do senator’s claims about GDP and demand add up?
[click to view]

[8] Chuka elders delighted by return of 10,000 acres of ancestral forest
[click to view]

[9] Lobby group raises red flag over logging of indigenous trees in Mt Kenya Forest
[click to view]

[10] MT.KENYA MOUNTAIN UNDER MERCY OF MULTINATIONAL LOGGERS.
[click to view]

[3] Atiriri Bururi Ma Chuka
[click to view]

[4] Terror at midnight: abduction trauma of Kenyan woman fighting for forests
[click to view]

[5] Logging in Mount Kenya forest pits politicians against local community
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update12/01/2020
Comments
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