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Kenya Environmentalists Fight Forest Giveaway

In Kenya, environmentalists say they are going to court next week to challenge a government plan to give away nearly 70,000 hectares of public forest.

The environmentalists, who include members of the East Africa Wildlife Society and Kenya Forests Working Group, are appealing to people who have been issued deeds to the forest lands to come forward and explain why they need them. The government defends its action by saying it is trying to help landless people. The case opens on July 9.

A lawyer for the environmentalists, Stephen Mwenesi, argues that the government has acted illegally by giving the lands away before publicly announcing that it intended to do so, which he says is against the country's constitution. "There appears to been alterations of boundaries of forests and title deeds issued prior to the minister's legal notices," he said. "But we are wondering why such an important step has to be taken in apparent contravention of the Forests Act and the Constitution. We are not aware that the government has license to break the law."

Ali Kaka, director of the East African Wildlife Society, says the land is incapable of supporting anyone. "A lot of this land is not suitable for resettlement of anybody, even eagles for that matter," he said. "So this was highly suspicious. And Kenya simply cannot afford to lose any more forested land. We already had less than two per cent of forested land under protected status and losing more would mean disaster for this entire country and even the very people who were to be settled there."

Land grabbing has become a major problem in Kenya in recent years. Environmentalists say that many public spaces, including school playgrounds and parks, are being given to well-connected people in return for political favors.

The government, however, says it is only acting to help those who don't have land.