Kenyan Environmentalist Wants Lenders to Insist on Conservation

By Tom Osanjo

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 13, 2001 (ENS) -- Already under close donor scrutiny, the government of Kenya may have more trouble ahead if lenders adopt an environmental group's proposal that commitments to conservation be part of the conditions for any loan.

The Green Belt Movement has written to the World Bank president James Wolfensohn and the International Monetary Fund calling for an evaluation of the government’s commitment to environmental conservation before any further grants or loans are given.

Green Belt coordinator Professor Wangari Maathai told a news conference Thursday, "It is high time environmental conservation was made part of the conditions before we can receive donor support. It is quite unfortunate that the government is bent on destroying forests and other national treasures, yet it says it is committed to good governance."

Maathai

Wangari Maathai (Photo courtesy Euro African Green Conference 1998)
The International Monetary Fund suspended disbursements to Kenya late last year which severely affected the implementation of high priority government programs, the government said in a statement today.

If the World Bank Group donor agencies agree with Maathai’s suggestion, it would be another obstacle in Kenya’s path towards resumption of full aid.

Honored with many awards for environmental leadership, Maathai ran unsuccessfully for president in the 1997 election representing the Liberal Party of Kenya against incumbent President Daniel Arap Moi, who has been in power since 1978.

She has long maintained that corruption in the Moi government has prevented environmental conservation in the country. Kenya will hold an election in 2002.

On August 8, Members of Parliament stalled a bill that would entrench the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority in the constitution. Today the government asked MPs to vote for the re-establishment of the anti-corruption body tomorrow to avoid loss of Sh25 billion in aid for the country.

In a statement, the government said vital private sector investment may not be forthcoming should Parliament reject the Bill.

A Nairobi court ruled last December that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority had been constituted illegally, and that it has no power to prosecute people suspected of engaging in corrupt dealings. But the creation of the anti-graft body was one of the conditions donors gave Kenya to fulfill before aid could be resumed.

Maathai said that environmental degradation is part of bad governance, and the government must show it wants to conserve natural resources for posterity.

She took issue with the decision by the government to excise a forest and settle people on it. The administration when announcing its decision said that it was hiving off parts of Onturiri Forest in Meru District to settle landless people. This is against a court order issued in June that stopped the government from interfering with any of the forests.

Maathai said that Kenya is already operating far below the international accepted forest conservation standards, and that any additional destruction of the forests would have far reaching consequences for the country's rainfall pattern.

"Internationally, a country is supposed to have at least 10 percent of its total landmass as forest. Kenya is already far below this and this is catastrophic especially for a country whose main economic backbone is agriculture," she said.

Maathai appealed to MPs to follow India's lead and enact a law that would bar foreigners from owning land in Kenya. "What we are seeing is a situation where soon all the prime land would be in the hands of foreigners while the average Kenyan is left to live in the slums. It is the responsibility of our leaders to enact such a law," she said.

In August 2000, the World Bank approved a US$150 million credit to support Kenya's economic recovery efforts. This is the first new credit to Kenya from the World Bank in three years with the exception of the extraordinary El Nino Emergency Project credit that was approved in 1998 to assist in the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed by floods.