Community Paralegals and Climate Justice (a view from Kenya)

Human induced climate change through burning of oil, gas and coal. Oil drilling and other related activities led to pollution of land and water. Coupled with this is the ever-present threat of displacement particularly of poor communities to pave way for development projects such as hydroelectric dams.

Fishing is vital to Africa; it supports an annual exports worth US$ 3,000 million. Fish are crucial to the health of 200 million Africa’s providing a source of cheap protein and income to over 10 million people engaged in fish production, processing and trade. Sitole (2007) notes that Lakes support 16-17 per cent of inland fisheries. Pollution, the introduction of non-native fish such as Nile perch (commonly known as mbuta on Lake victoria) and overfishing are having a negative toll on waters in Africa.

Many lakes in Africa are home to some of the world’s riches freshwater ecosystems with a rich diversity of species that exist nowhere else on planet earth. For instance Lake Victoria is home to 300 endemic species, Lake Tanganyika home to 140 whereas lake Malawi nearly 500 endemic species.

Climate change also attributes to the increasing loss in aquatic biodiversity; such include pollution and sedimentation, forest clearing, introduction of invasive species such as hyacinth on Lake Victoria and burning of fossil fuels. African lakes whose biodiversity is already being felt include Lake Victoria. Additionally, IUCN (2002) notes that 30% of fresh water fish and over 800 other fresh water species are on the brink of extinction in Africa’s lakes.

Information on climate change is many a times presented in scientific jargon which makes grassroots people unable to understand. The threat of climate change is real and is evidenced by forest fires, expanding deserts, loss of biodiversity and biting hunger.

Additionally, climate change results into a unique group of double vulnerable people known as climate refugees who are absent when many discussions are held about issues of climate change.

Additionally women face the brunt of climate change more than any other gender because of their roles in managing households and care for family members. Droughts and other related unpredictable rainfall subsequently leads to women having to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their households. In most instances the energy supply is through fetching firewood from forests, which have also become no-go zones. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality coupled with arouse labour undermines the social capital of females needed to effectively handle climate change.

Climate change has the effect of intensifying conflicts. In the Middle East for instance; dwindling resources such as water and land are the cores of on-going conflicts. Droughts and desertification significantly affect land that is available for farming. This puts pressure on livelihoods and sources of food. Additionally water stresses brought about by water scarcity are bound to affect — people in Africa alone by 2020.

To add to the already bleak situation, environmental justice defenders continue to face threats the world over. Faced with trumped up charges, illegal detention and in extreme cases execution, incidences of this are rife in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

It’s against this fragile backdrop that community paralegals can come in to address the environmental injustices faces by communities. As reservoirs of information, community paralegals can create awareness at the community level on issues of climate change and make communities aware of the need to tackle climate change. Paralegals can carry out advocacy work on climate change thus help organize communities to demand change. Additionally various legislations within states that cover issues of environment of which the bulk of the population is unaware. In Kenya for instance there exists the National Climate Change Action Plan, the Climate Change Act, Protection of Endangered Species, Water Act as well as institutions mandated to ensure a healthy environment. This information is lacking especially among grassroots communities who are sadly the most affected by climate change and who are in dire need of information in order to resist when their rights are aggrieved. Additionally, the Kenyan Constitution (2010) provides for a safe, clean and healthy environment, but in reality, this is but a mirage for the majority at the bottom of the economic ladder.

On environmental issues, paralegals can provide alternative dispute resolution to ensure communities live amicably. Various conflicts have erupted between communities on environmental resources. Such include conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, farmers themselves and among pastoralists from different communities. Paralegals based in the community can play the vital role of monitoring human rights violations and reporting these violations to relevant structure, and if the national structure is the one responsible for the violation then they can raise this issue in international platforms and call attention to the issue affecting marginalized people.

Paralegals based in the community can help the community make referrals on environmental issues. For instance a community facing imminent eviction which may not be aware of where to lodge their complaint can be assisted by paralegals to access justice.

At the community level, paralegals can also help communities in lobbying and advocacy on environmental issues. Through community mobilization, paralegals can work together with communities to access environmental justice who is just but a dream to many frontline communities affected by climate change.


Welcome to the legal empowerment network and thank you for posting. It’s great to get your perspective from Kenya. It’s also very heartwarming to reconnect with fahamu - I worked for fahamu in Oxford quite a few years ago now and helped set up pambazuka news.

It’s at this point in your post where ideas begin that are deeply relevant to members of this network. I’d be interested to hear reactions from members like @mustafa_mahmoud @davidarach and other members in Kenya, @kanchikohli and her team working on environmental justice, and @staceycram working on advocacy.

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Dear Tobias,

It’s great hearing from you and nice to hear that you’ve worked for Fahamu. Looking forward to continued learning and sharing.


@Leonida thank you for your thought provoking email and the faith in community paralegal efforts in using legal empowerment methods to invoke environment justice. The @cpr_team team along with critical partnerships has been trying to attempt this for the last four years in India. You can get more information about our work, tools and stories here and here. In addition we have been working with Natural Justice in Kenya to try out a similar but Kenya specific approach. Our colleagues there @ginococchiaro and @RoseBirgen will certainly be able to tell you more, incase you are not already in touch with them.

Both the NJ team and @cpr_team team would be happy to share lessons, methods and experience with Fahamu as well as learn from your experience.

We hope we can all come together to further our efforts in achieving legal empowerment and addressing environment injustices.


Thanks Kanchi.

@Leonida - we’ve actually met with Fahamu previously and would be happy to share, with our colleagues at Namati, more about the work in Kenya. Perhaps we can set up a time to meet? Please feel free to contact us on 0704 864 853.


That’s great. I am glad to see you offering to meet.

Can you also contribute to this topic here? Leonida has raised many points worthy of further discussion.

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Dear Kanchi,

Thank you for getting back to me and sharing what you have been doing in India.I will get in touch with Gino and Rose and see what can be done together.Please find our work on climate justice on Looking forward to continued learning and sharing

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Dear Gino,

Thank you for getting back to me.It will indeed be great to meet.But right now I’m in the Philippines and will be coming back on 27th , we can have a meeting when I come back.I will get in touch .Our work on climate justice is on, but of course more needs to be done.


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@LeonidaI agree with you on the issues that you raise on what Community paralegals can do in offering solutions to Environmental issues. As an organization we are working in Makueni county in Kenya where sand harvesting has caused serious conflicts leading to death.

Capacity building for community paralegals is a key issue in this debate. As they say information is power.


I agree with you Kioko , it would be a great idea to think through starting to incorporate Community paralegalism within our Climate Justice work.

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I would love to hear more on this as I know about the cartels in the sand mining industry in the area. Do you mind sharing more info on this? If possible a brief write up on how the paralegal are approaching the problem in the area.

Hello @Leonida excellent trajectory path for para-legalism induction in community and caring for the rights of first peoples may also assist our cause. It is diabolical experience everywhere colonization touched our shores. Papua First Nation is a young group whose membership will eclipse 1.6 million son. serihegame

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Dear Seri,

Thank you for getting back to me. It would be great to continue these conversations and see what we could learn from each other to help transform our communities.

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Dear Leonida.

The National Congress for Papua’s First Peoples established Papua First Nation which activated PFN Bese Limited with three functional units supported the Pari Village Accord in 2012 to pursue economic and political independence and decided land-rights would form the best strategy to kill two birds with one stone. From the governance perspective Papua First Nation adopted a “Bottom Up Approach” and the chambers addresses tribal and clan registration, cooperative society and SMEs for landowners and the third chamber looks after the marginalized, disabled and displaced people. serihegame

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This is a great achievement. Do you mind writing a separate post on how this works and some background on how the National congress for Papua was able to come up with such a policy? @serihegame

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Hello Mustafa ,

It is Seri who did it in Papua

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Thanks forgot to mention her :blush: