Members of a community from Meru County have petitioned the government seeking to have Nyambene National Reserve degazetted saying its creation was not done in consultation with area residents.
In a petition before High Court Judge George Odunga the applicants from Nyambene residents have sued Meru County government
Through lawyer Gitobu Imanyara the applicants claim that a piece of land measuring approximately 640.6 square kilometers situated within what was previously Igembe Central, Igembe North and Tigania East constituencies but now covering Igembe Central, Igembe North, Igembe South which also includes Tigania West and Tigania East constituencies delineated.
The applicants fault the decision by the Meru County government and Kenya Wildlife Service in reviving the legal notice without consulting the affected community. “The decision to revive the legal notice without a resolution by county assembly has the effect of reversing or interfering with the adjudication process and this poses grave danger to security, law and order in the five constituencies,” they told court.
They allege that prior to the replacement of the defunct local governments with county governments following the promulgation and enactment of the new constitution in 2010, the said land which is the subject of the proceedings in the suit was under the jurisdiction of the Nyambene County Council as a trustee of the local community.
The applicant who have listed Attorney General, Interior and Coordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary, KWS and Meru County government as respondents, told High Court judge Justice George Odunga that together with thousands of residents and inhabitants of Nyambene National Reserve they led their then and current leaders of the five constituencies in protesting against the declaration.
“The gazettment of the national reserve was done without consulting the people at the grassroots yet these are the people who for their livelihood have for centuries depended on this land for farming and grazing,” they told court.
The petitioners now claim the area is a prime land since it has since been designated for the development of Isiolo Resort and the Lamu-Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor(Lappset) project as roads and other means of communication to facilitate easy movement into and out of the existing parks.
According to the petitioners neither the Meru County Government nor the national government have taken into account the increasing population in the area which has led to limited land for farming, grazing and the development of the contemplated Nyambene National Reserve is likely to heighten community tensions among the clans and families who stand to be displaced or they will forcibly be dislocated.
They say the area has not been effectively managed for the purpose set out in the Wildlife(Conservation and Management) Act now repealed and no benefits have accrued to the community and none are likely to accrue given the secretive nature and lack of public participation or endorsement.
“The creation of Nyambene National Reserve by the minister and the intention and actions of the county government contravene and breaches the principles of land policy outlined under Article 60(1) of the constitution. It also limits the communities’ access to land and threatens the security of their rights which hampers the sustainable and productive management of land resources in Meru County particularly the area set apart as Nyambene National Reserve,” they state in their application.
They also allege that the County Government of Meru has already formed, trained, inaugurated and posted wardens to the reserve in collusion with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in an unilateral move that has excluded the community from access and management of the affected land in contravention of Article 63(4) of the constitution which provides that community land shall not be disposed off except in terms of legistlation specifying the rights of each community individually or collectively.
They told court the actions of Meru County Government and KWS threatens the rights of current and future generations of the affected community as it fails to promote inter and intra generation equity amounting to unsustainable development.
They claim the creation of Nyambene National Reserve on June 6, 2000 through Legal Notice No.86, 2000 by the Minister of State was not in accordance with the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013.
In 2007, the applicants say the director of land adjudication through Maua District Land Adjudication and Settlement Officer in a notice announced the establishment of adjudication section covering Kangeta/Kinyagi/Njia all within Igembe North Constituency while another public notice established a second adjudication section covering Amwathi, Karachi and Mutuate in Igembe Central Constituency.
They informed court that establishment of the two adjudication sections effectively covered the entire area covered by Nyambene National Reserve and the process has since been continuing with a view to giving the community titles to their land.
They want the court to make a declaration the legal notice that paved way for the creation of Nyambene National Reserve was not done through lawful consultation with the defunct Nyambene County Council as was provided for in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act.
The applicants also asking the court to declare the legal notice by then Minister of State Marseden Madoka as nul and void saying it has been overtaken by events and it is no longer in the public interest to keep it alive.
They also want the court to give a declaration that the continued existence of the legal notice violates the constitution to the extent that it limits access to the said land by the local community.