Kenyan youth activist fights to make Turkana county's voice heard at Cop21
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Activists from around the world have gathered at Cop21 to make their voices heard here in Paris, by sharing ideas and speaking to others regarding climate change problems and solutions. Turkana county youth activist Ekai Nabenyo, a member of the Global Greengrants Fund, spoke to RFI about combating climate change and greedy developers in his community.
What do you do as a youth climate change activist in Turkana County ?
I carry out a tree-planting program in my community we plant trees in almost all of the primary and secondary schools in Turkana County.We don’t want to appear as a people
who just talk and talk about climate change and energy sources without trying to show the community the real thing we’re talking about. We try to engage people and students to be able to be agents of environmental conservation in their schools. And that way we’ll be able to achieve our objectives and to empower the people of Turkana County and get them to understand climate change.
Why are you planting trees?
I plant trees because I have alaways said that if you have never planted a tree in your life as a person, then you do not have a right to our oxygen. So I plant trees to make our environment beautiful and green. As a climate change advocate, I want to see a beautiful Turkana environment. And the only way I can contribute to that is not by sitting on the fence and criticizing the government for not planting trees, but by rolling up sleeves and getting into the field and planting trees. So I plant trees because I feel I can contribute to making my planet green.
There are pastoralist and farmer issues in Turkana, specifically in the fight for natural resources. Have you discussed this with the students at school, or with the community as a whole?
Turkana is highly dependent on livestock and on pasture and water. And recently there’s been a huge debate in Turkana county on community rights in private sector investments. People come from outside Turkana to invest and transact on Turkana land without involving the local community. So the debate which arises is that these resources belong to the national government but they also belong to the community. In my village, the people believe that the pastures that are used to graze the livestock belong to my ancestors. And the current generation is holding it in trust for future generations. So, the debate about natural resource management is that we should conserve natural resources in Turkana county to be able to benefit the local community specifically and the people of Kenya generally which should be taken head on.
Do you personally think there is a place for private investment in your community?
I bel that private investments, when they adhere to human rights, and to existing procedures and laws, are very good and very welcome in my community. But when investors come and copy-paste, bulldoze ideas which they think are good in other parts of the world to local communities without appreciating their way of life and culture and their livelihoods, it becomes a big source of conflict. So we welcome private investments to have a place in Turkana county, to help people get jobs and to turn around the economy, and to help my people make a living. But they too, like many other people, must and should observe the existing procedures on environment and respect our environment. For example, when oil and gas companies came into my community in 2011 to carry out oil and gas exploration, they carried out human rights violations, destroyed our pasturelands, destroyed our watering points, and literally chased away our animals from their traditionally-known pasturelands. So private investors are most welcome in mly community but they must adhaere to the law. You have to balance between the rights of the local community and the rights of the private investors, who, in most cases, according to my experience, prioritize profit-making to the detriment of the local communities. So that has to be looked into. And I think COP21 is my big hope.
There are companies that come in and promise schools and hospitals with results that never materialize. Are you doing anything to prevent this, especially with the oil and gas companies that have come into Turkana?
When oil companies came into my community in 2011, they promised a lot of good things in my community they promised heaven and earth.We will build hospitals, we will build schools, we will bring employment to the people who are engaging in cattle-rustling and banditry with the neighbouring community. You give the oil company your consent to use your community land to do oil and gas exploration because of that promise, but when they get into the ground, working for the oil and gas exploration, then they do the exact opposite of what they promised the people. So in my view, as a law student and as a climate change advocate in Turkana county, I believe that corporate responsibility is a right, a legal right, provided by Kenyan law and international oil and gas law. So private investors in oil and gas and other sectors have no other choice but to develop their local communities where they operate. Because in most cases, with experiences in place like the Niger Delta and Malaysia, for example, oil companies have negatively impacted on the lives of the local communities which inhabit the place where oil and gas is found. So I don’t want that repeated in my home county, Turkana. They must develop my place. Because the constitution of Kenya says they must enact a law to compel private investors to make sure that their operations benefit the local economies and the local communities in which they operate. Our argument is legal and based on the law of the land.
But do you think that Turkana county is ignored by Nairobi, by the federal government?
I can authroitatively and confidently say that historically Turkana county has been ignored by the national government. And before the concept of devolution, Turkana county was known for all the bad reasons cattle rustling, disease, poverty, ignorance and many, many others, which to me was a very sad story. I was born and raised in Turkana county and I experienced firsthand what it means to be a poor person in the poor part of this planet. My people have always been marginalized, and their pleas have always fallen on deaf ears. Human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch raised concerns about what’s happening in Turkana county with climate change, and the Lake [Turkana] disappearing because of the ongoing work. The government, instead of coming and giving solutions to my people, go and sign agreements with the European government who will purchase electricity which is being produced through the blockage of the waters of the river which accounts for 90 per cent of the waters of Turkana. Turkana county has been marginalized for a very long time. It’s a sad story, but with the coming of devolution in Kenya, which I say is a blessing, I think the future is very bright. Now we have got our own Turkana leaders, managing a huge chunk of resources allocated by the national government which didn’t exist when devolution was not there.
Have you been able to speak to Kenyan leaders here at Cop21?
Politicans make up most of the delegations here and they are very funny people. For example, can you believe none of the Kenyan delegation, none of the members of the Kenyan team here in Paris, know that there’s a boy called Ekai from Turkana here and part of this process and trying to contribute positively to positive developments after Paris? They are not aware. The best I can do is to serve my own people in my own private capacity... I don’t mind the neglect by the government. They can keep sidelining us in these important delegations and important conferences like the one in Paris, but we’ll always find a way where these issues are being addressed and make our voice be heard.
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