The brutal killing of Esther Mwikali, a 57-year-old land rights activist whose mutilated body was found dumped near her home at Mithini village in Murang’a County in August last year, has seen Kenya remain in a list of countries considered hostile to land and environment defenders in the world.
A report released by a watchdog Global Witness says Mwikali was among 212 eco-defenders globally who were murdered in cold blood in 2019.
“Esther was renowned for her work to prevent community members being evicted from land claimed by tycoons. Local activists had no doubt her murder was related to the area’s ongoing land struggles, a tragic reminder of the alarming regularity with which extra-judicial killings are routinely carried out in Kenya,” says the report.
Mwikali’s body was discovered in a thicket, with the eyes gouged out and injuries to the private parts.
In neighbouring Uganda, a park ranger was shot dead by unknown assailants suspected to be poachers with connections in the government.
According to the report titled “Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders” 2019 was the deadliest year on record for people defending their homes, forests and rivers against climate-destructive industries.
The 2019 figure was a notable jump from the 167 people killed in 2018.
The two countries with the most known killings of eco-activists last year — Colombia with 64 and the Philippines with 43 — collectively accounted for over half of all murders documented by the group.
Other countries with a big number of killings included Brazili (24) and Mexico (18), Honduras (14), Guatemala (12) and Venezuela (eight).
The 2019 report, titled “The Enemies of the State? How governments and businesses silence land and environmental defenders”, documented two deaths of activists who were brutally murdered in 2018.
In January 2018, a member of the indigenous Sengwer community, Robert Kirotich, was shot dead and another seriously injured during a forced eviction by forest guards in Kenya’s Embobut forest, according to the 2019 report.
“In May 2018, two Kenyan activists were arrested for peacefully protesting against Lapsset, a mega infrastructure project that comprises sprawling transport networks, an oil pipeline and a coal-fired power plant.
Human Rights Watch reported in December 2018 that at least 35 activists campaigning against the project had faced intimidation or harassment by police, the military and other state officials.
The new report says that agribusiness and oil, gas and mining have consistently been the biggest drivers of attacks against land and environmental defenders.
Mining activities caused the murder of 50 land and environment activists globally, followed by agribusiness (34), logging (24), illegal crop substitution ( 14), land reform (11), dams (six) and poaching (four).
Land and environmental defenders usually find themselves in trouble for taking stands against activities that accelerate climate change, such as deforestation and air pollution.
"Many of the world's worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system," the report says.
This article was published by Daily Nation.