News: "We do not beg, we demand an end to colonial conservation” Indigenous peoples from East Africa call on IUCN to commit to “decolonise conservation” on the occasion of the IUCN Africa Protected Area Congress

19 July, 2022

Kigali, Rwanda

On the opening day of the Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Indigenous Peoples from East Africa call on the IUCN to put their rights front and center in any conservation efforts being proposed, including an immediate end to illegal evictions from areas where people have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years.

“It’s the indigenous communities who have been taking care of our lands,” said a Maasai community representative from Tanzania.

“This is why our lands are so attractive for the ‘conservationists’ to come and evict us. They say we are destroying our land. If we have done that then why is our land attracting them?” she said.

Too often, efforts at conservation have come at huge cost to the peoples who have lived in the designated areas for millennia, and as a result, at a huge cost to the ecosystems and wildlife they’re expecting to protect. This is the case, for example, for thousands of Maasai who have been displaced, including those targeted in direct and brutal evictions last month in Loliondo, Tanzania, to make space for tourism and wildlife hunting. Most of the evicted Maasai are lacking basic needs, including food supplies, medical care and accommodation, and over 2,000 have now crossed into Kenya to avoid further harassment and detention by security forces. Judicial harrassment followed the shootings, with a case of the 27 people (including 9 ward councillors) charged with murder set for the 28 of July while the 72 Loliondo residents that were arrested for allegedly being “illegal” immigrants have been released on bail except for one person.

“The colonial governments gazetted our lands and trampled on our traditional ways of conservation”

- a Sengwer female community representative from Kenya.

“Our independent governments inherited the colonial ways of conservation and gazetted more of our remaining lands without consulting us,” she said.

“They said they were evicting us so they could enable conservation, while in reality it is a way to get money from donors.”

In the leadup to APAC, last month ten indigenous peoples’ communities from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania came together for the ‘East Africa Assembly on Land, Justice and Indigenous Peoples’ Co-operation’, the first round of a series of community-led assemblies to explore concrete ways to address the legacy of colonial conservation in Africa and put an end to indigenous land appropriation.

In the declaration prepared from the assemblies, the communities laid down a series of demands, including:

‘...[we] call on IUCN - including its state and non-state members – to set up a commission that is sufficiently resourced, staffed, empowered, and given an urgent timeline, to tackle the legacy of the colonial approach to conservation in Africa. This approach is based on appropriating community lands rather than recognising them as the rightful owners and custodians of their lands.’

‘Such appropriation is through forceful evictions, long-term impoverishment, and constant attacks on people's basic rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Such a commission* needs to attend to both these national situations and to the international organizations and governments who legitimize such practices.’

During one of the assemblies an Ogiek elder from Mt. Elgon spoke of how indigenous peoples’ ways of life are focused on caring for their environment.

“‘Conservation’ is a foreign idea altogether. It has no meaning to us. We live by our environment, and our environment - our forests and animals, live by us.” he said.

During the two assemblies participants shared the story of their struggle against land dispossession highlighting the importance of building solidarity and collaboration among communities facing colonial conservation. The three-day community-organized assemblies focused on:

1) women’s role in the land struggle and in sustaining community culture and livelihoods;

2) successes and challenges in the struggle for land rights, and;

3) caring for the land through community control and indigenous knowledge.

At the end of the assemblies communities drafted the People-to-People Declaration at Laboot - a declaration articulating communities' demands to IUCN, including the establishment of an indigenous peoples-led commission on “decolonising conservation '' to promote and oversee the transformation of the legal and policy framework regulating land management and tenure in all IUCN member states.

In the declaration participants included a collective statement speaking out against the ongoing evictions of Maasai residents from Loliondo, Tanzania. The People-to-People Declaration at Laboot was presented at the APAC pre-congress meeting in Kigali on July 16-17 by assembly participants from Uganda and Kenya - it also helped shape the IPLCs statement at the APAC opening session and the pre-APAC Nairobi Declaration of IPLCs.

"We know our world is facing a crisis – we are losing biodiversity at a frightening rate and the climate is changing, making our planet unliveable for us all.”

- Milka Chepkorir during the IPLC statement at the APAC opening session. Watch her speech here.

“Unfortunately, the conservation response, adopted from colonial times, has been sustained and even refined with increased militarization. These approaches have not only failed to offer a real solution to this crisis, but they have also caused untold harm and trauma to the very citizens which governments should look to as conservators. To say this is only in the past will be a lie. As you are listening to me, it is happening to my brothers and sisters,” said Chepkorir.

"Our trauma, our rights, and our wish to be Africa’s primary natural resource conservators should not be, once again, swept under the rug."

Further information


The participants included five representatives (3 women and 2 men) from both pastoralist and forest peoples communities: the Sengwer of Embobut forest, the Ogiek of Mount Elgon, the Ogiek of Mau, the Aweer of Lamu, and the Yaaku of Mukogodo forest (in Kenya); the Maasai of Loliondo, Simanjiro and Ngorongoro (in Tanzania); the Benet Mosop of Mount Elgon and the Batwa of Kisoro (in Uganda).
The proposed commission would operate on three levels:
(1) Primarily, the commission should work with state parties to decolonise their legal and policy frameworks so that they no longer continue the colonial legacy of appropriating communities’ rights and resources, often in the name of some ‘greater good’ that never materializes for the population;

(2) Secondly, the commission should work with state parties to ensure they (a) swiftly implement constitutional articles that seek to end such colonial practices, or revise constitutions to ensure they require the ending of such colonial practices, and (b) implement legal rulings made in their own or in regional courts which require the ending of such dispossession, rulings which the colonial legacy continually seeks to block. Where such practices are not ended or where such rulings are not adhered to then IUCN’s state and non-state members need to hold state parties accountable, for example through suspending their membership until there is compliance with the necessary implementation of rights based procedures and commitments; and

(3) Thirdly, the commission should work with state and non-state parties, and above all communities themselves, to swiftly address the legacy of a conservation based on the dispossession, marginalization and humiliation of rights-holding custodian communities. Informed by the methods and outcomes of the two Whakatane processes that have taken place in Africa, and recognising the severe limitations placed on these by the colonial legacy, the commission needs to be extensively resourced to - by the end of 2022 - begin working across Africa to address colonial conservation’s dispossession of communities.

Post date: 
Tue, 07/19/2022 - 01:00