I have been away for almost a month since the public hearing on the jatropha project proposed for the globally important site for biodiversity conservation, the Dakatcha Woodlands. During that time, things have not cooled down or been sorted out at all. NEMA were meant to have produced a report and the proceedings from the meeting but we are still waiting for it. In the meantime last week, the NatureKenya manager for coast, Francis Kagema, together with two reporters and two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers went to the Jatropha plantation site to interview the man in charge. They were met by a mob of 30+ people armed with clubs, pangas (machetes) and stones who attacked them and damaged the car and injured two people. This attack was apparently provoked by the Provincial Administration, which if true is particularly alarming that the government is taking this approach to support a project which has been clearly shown to have little hope of success, but rather will have a very significant negative impact on the area and human population.
Paul Matiku, Director of NatureKenya wrote this brief update on the event last week:
“I write to inform you that following our aggressive campaigns against the setting a side of 50,000 ha for Kenya Jatropha Energy LTD to plant Jatropha in Dakatcha Woodland IBA, there are unpleasant developments.
Nature Kenya staff, KTN reporter and KWS rangers in a Nature Kenya car were attacked on Thurs 1st July by armed people from the community supporting the jatropha project mobilized by the area provincial administration. The bad news is as follows:
1. A KTN reporter wanted to cover the issue in Dakatcha so Mr Francis Kagema, Nature Kenya Conservation Programme Officer, requested security from KWS and in a Nature Kenya car they left Malindi to go to Dakatcha Woodland. Their going was not a secret, so people in Dakatcha knew they were going.
2. On the way within Marafa Division where Dakatcha woodland is found, they met a group of local people armed with pangas, clubs and stones. They charged to attack them but the KWS rangers cocked their guns and the crowd receded. They stoned the car and also injured two local people who were passing by the scene and who are known to oppose the project. They escaped unharmed except the damage to the car that could still be driven.
3. The Margarini District District Commissioner (DC) called OCPD (Officer in Charge of Police Division) Malindi and ordered the arrest of Mr Kagema and the Nature Kenya car. On their way they met the OCPD security team who stopped them – all they wanted was Mr Kagema who they said was wanted by the OCPD. Kagema said he also wanted the OCPD. They both drove to the OCPD in Malindi.
4. At the OCPDs office in Malindi, Mr Kagema was joined by Kenya Wildlife Service and other staff who together with the rangers totalled five and who then explained to the OCPD the background behind the attack. The two injured community members and the KTN reporter were also there. They recorded their statements with the OCPD and the OCPD did not see any reason to arrest Nature Kenya staff nor the car.
5. Later the scared DC, who did not know that there was a KTN reporter in the car, called repeatedly pleading with the reporter not to cover the incidence.
6. No arrests have been made.
Background to the attack:
1. During the public hearing of the EIA, Area Councilors were heard talking publicly in the meeting chaired by the DC saying that Nature Kenya and any people opposed to the project should be killed.
2. The councilors have also been heard saying that if Nature Kenya continues to oppose the project, they will evict Nature Kenya from the division.
3. The County Council of Malindi has tried to stop Nature Kenya conservation activities in the area but a meeting before the conference we held last week on Monday had allowed some activities to take place especially if Nature Kenya agreed to setting a side of 32,000 ha to be allocated to the county council for jatropha growing.
4. The press conference and the wide media coverage was badly received by the County Council, the Councelors and the Provincial Administration who have allowed illegal destruction of the Dakatcha Woodland to start ahead of the EIA approval process. Nature Kenya strongly objects to the EIA and the project and that stand remains.”
So this is a major increase in the heat of the event. Matiku has spoken to Dr Mwinzi, Director General for NEMA who promised that the EIA will not be approved. He also said he will talk to his staff on the ground and that he is aware that the developer has gone ahead and planted jatropha on the illegally cleared land ahead of the EIA approval process. Let’s hope that NEMA for once will have the teeth to really do something about this. My name was brought up in the whole affair, apparently, with me being accused to have gone to the jatropha site on the 2nd to take photographs together with Kagema – and apparently a police car was sent to arrest us there! As it was, I was in Nairobi that day…
We have been praying very much for this whole issue and it is amazing that Kagema and the reporters were not hurt as it could have been a lot nastier. We continue to pray for God to really intervene in this and are looking to take what action we can at international levels as well as locally. Please join us in this and in raising what storm you can to have a stop put to this project which really will not bring anything to the anyone in the area except increased poverty and habitat degradation.