Florence supports communities in Kenya's Salt Belt to fight for their land rights. She is 26 years old and works for ActionAid Kenya's partner, Malindi Rights Forum (MRF), to support communities to understand their rights, land laws and environmental conservation.
She is also personally impacted by the activities of salt mining companies as 2,400 villagers in Garithe, where she grew up, are taking legal action to fight for their rights to continue living and working on nearly 800 acres of land they have farmed for generations.
“I am a human rights defender. As we continue to teach and inspire people to advocate for their rights, my community and village go through abuse from the companies," she says. "However, I have hopes that working together with Malindi Rights Forum and our leaders in different ways we will eventually find a solution and have our land back and the problems will end.”
Florence highlights the impacts of salt mining on local communities, saying: “The first problem is eviction of community members from their land. As they mine, there have been other problems such as pollution of water for domestic use. Salt mining has also negatively affected the environment, there is destruction of mangroves as a result of their work.”
She says it is women who are worst affected as pollution from the mines means they have to travel long distances to find safe water.
“I educate women on their rights and ensure they not only understand but are also able to advocate for them," she says. "According to our customs and traditions only men inherit land. ActionAid works together with Malindi Rights Forum to empower women to advocate for gender equality and equal land ownership in the community.”
In August 2020, the Munyu Salt Company cleared 40 acres of land in Garithe, including mangroves, which are an essential breeding ground for fish and marine life, and as a natural flood defence, coconut palms and cashew trees, which people rely on for their livelihoods. No strangers to the harmful activities of salt mining companies in the area, the community acted quickly to inform the authorities and stop the destruction.
Kitasi Wanga, manager for policy and campaigns on land, agriculture, and natural resources at ActionAid Kenya, explains: “The villagers, in particular women, have been trained by ActionAid and the Malindi Rights Forum so when the demolishers arrived, they knew the steps to follow to halt further destruction. The Kenya Forest Services have now taken the Munyu Salt Company case forward to the public prosecutor and we are awaiting trial.”
Five months on from the destruction, a date has yet to be set for the trial and villagers are hoping for a positive outcome. Florence says: “I have faith that through our advocacy efforts and partnership with government, our lands will be able to be surveyed and the villagers will acquire tittle deeds for their lands. I hope they will let us have our farms back so that we can make a living.”
Kenya's Land Act 2012 says that communities are entitled to their ancestral land and investors need to consult the communities before commencing work. ActionAid Kenya works with the Malindi Rights Forum to ensure that communities in the salt belt, like Garithe, get their land papers so they can prove their rights.
Kitasi says: "Development projects should only be pursued with the consent and involvement of the people they affect and never be used as an excuse for human rights abuses and those seeking profit from displacement. We hope that the villagers are compensated for their loss and we see justice being served.”
Photo: Florence Mramba with colleague Peter Komora at the office.
Photo credits: Erika Piñeros/ActionAid
This article was originally published by ActionAid International, “'I am a human rights defender. I have hopes that we will have our land back”, 08/01/2021