Yala Swamp being Destroyed as some people Talk about Climate change. Makes no Sense

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Dear Mr President,

The National Land Commission, in its Yala Swamp allocation determination, subverts the interest of the local people in Yala instead of protecting community interests as required by the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

The Constitution recognises the NLC as the administrator of land held by county governments in trust for resident communities. But in Yala, the NLC has decided to retire community rights and turn community land into private land by allocating a private company 6,763.74 ha (16713.6 acres) for its use. 

Local community voices did not matter. In all manner of community-organised groups, they objected to the land allocation. NLC commissioners, led by their chairman, decided to stage-manage the process to ensure that the land was allocated for 66 years to Lake Agro Limited to grow sugar cane. 

For 66 years, communities in Yala will be as poor as those in Mumias. Cane cutters are paid slave labour. Tourism is now forgotten in this tourist hotspot. Carbon sequestered by the Yala Swamp is gone completely.

Lake Victoria waters will be polluted as the water filtration services provided by the wetland have disappeared courtesy of the NLC’s decision to subvert the interests of the local communities and the wishes of the global community. Now floods will rampage and drought will hit harder. 

Why does this wetland occur here? 

The NLC seems totally ignorant of science. A swamp forms because of a natural process of sediment deposition, which slows the rate at which water enters the main water body—Lake Victoria.

Clearing of the papyrus will lead to the free flow of chemicals and sediments into Lake Victoria, immediately killing fish, the fish-related economy and food supplies. Then the wetland will dry up and join the rest of the surrounding dry areas. 

Common sense has it that this critical resource should be kept for its invaluable ecosystem services. The NLC, however, does not see it that way. All it sees is sugar from sugar cane. It sees cane cutting as employment. it ignores fish as food. It ignores Lake Victoria’s fish-based economy. The NLC does not see tourism. It does not see biodiversity. It does not see carbon sequestration.       

Mr. President, the people of Yala call upon you to avert the destruction of their wetland. Yala Swamp is a precious natural asset. As such, Yala Swamp must be conserved and sustainably utilised for the prosperity of communities and biodiversity and not serve the interests of self-centred entities.

It is good to see the Siaya governor James Orengo finally speak about the tragedy in Yala Swamp where the largest filter system from the rivers to Lake Victoria is being handed over to private investors to do whatever they want with it or just keep it to sell later on.

I am alarmed that our governor is asking for a 33-year lease of Yala Swamp to a private company instead of the 66-year lease. Siaya County should not give this precious piece of land to anybody at all. That is what we expect our governor to be doing for the people of Siaya County.

I am happy that James Orengo is now in Siaya County. The last time I called I was told he lives in Nairobi and is rarely in Siaya. So good he is home now to work. He better figure out what is good for the county.

Siaya governor James Orengo on Monday pronounced himself on the controversial issue of the allocation of Yala Swamp by the National Lands Commission (NLC).

He was speaking during the swearing-in ceremony of his cabinet members when he stressed the need to conserve the largest freshwater swamp in Kenya and protect the interest of the swamp community.

The governor said that he will side with the people for the protection of the ecosystem because the land in question is community land, only being held in trust by the county government.

“Yala swamp is a resource for the people of Siaya. Its user must be determined by the people of Siaya,” he declared.

Orengo told the NLC and other stakeholders to be careful because Yala Swamp is a rare ecosystem in the world.

This, he said, must be guarded jealously as a number one priority.

The second priority, he said, is the people of Alego, Yimbo, Usonga and Busia who are disgruntled by NLCs recent verdict to lease out over 16,000 acres of the wetland to a private investor for 66 years for sugarcane growing.

The senior counsel averred that the concept of a nuclear estate is outdated and that locals must be given an opportunity to produce and sell the raw materials to the company.

“You don’t need one expansive piece of land. You got to get the ordinary farmer around your mill to produce the raw material for you so that they can also earn an income,” Orengo said.

Orengo suggested that 30 to 33 years would be fair instead of 66 but the final decision, he noted, will be made by stakeholders after a dialogue.

The stakeholders, he said, shall include the community and MPs Samuel Atandi of Alego Usonga, Gideon Ochanda of Bondo and Siaya’s first governor Cornel Rasanga.

The governor also stressed the need for any investment in the nutrient-rich swamp to be able to generate revenue for the devolved unit.

It was Rasanga’s regime that had invited Jaswant Rai’s Lake Agro Limited to invest in the swamp for 99 years following the exit of Dominion Farms in 2018.

Lake Agro has been growing sugarcane on the land even as the war between the community and conservationists raged on.

The community is now banking on Orengo to right the wrongs that were allegedly committed in a skewed effort to allocate the swamp to an investor.

NLC had last week Thursday given a green light to Lake Agro to plough the land despite objections of 18 different conservationists, government agencies, the community and individuals.

The NLC by their record is pretty much a criminal organization. Their are specialists in handing land to thieves all over the country.

The Yala Swamp matter should not be handed over to the NLC and some private company. It should be resolved between the Siaya County government, the local population and the national government first to protect the Lake and the environment and foremost to benefit the residents who live there.

That is the job that Siaya governor James Orengo has to lead and bring in his Azimio leadership friends to come to the leadership table to solve the problem. You cannot just hand over your biggest water catchment centre to your biggest lake to a private company to just trash it around. We need our governor to take leadership on this in a big and practical way.

Adongo Ogony is a Kenyan Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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