Environment activist shot dead outside Nairobi home after death threats (Kenya)


Jason Burke, The Guardian

Date Published

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A prominent environment activist has been shot dead near her home in Kenya, after receiving multiple death threats following her campaign against the development of wetlands in a national park.

Joannah Stutchbury, 67, was killed at 10pm local time on Thursday as she returned to her home on the outskirts of Nairobi. Friends said she had stopped her car to clear branches blocking her driveway when she was shot several times. Neighbours found her body in the car with the engine still running and valuables still in the vehicle, suggesting the attack was not a robbery.

Stutchbury had vocally opposed attempts by powerful local businessmen to build on the nearby Kiambu forest, and had received death threats in the past.

“It is really awful. The conservation fraternity is very shaken. It is devastating,” said Dr Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, condemned the killing. “For the longest time, Joannah has been a steadfast champion for the conservation of our environment and is remembered for her relentless efforts to protect Kiambu forest from encroachment,” he said.

Though Kenya’s natural heritage is a main source of tourist revenue, it is threatened by encroachment, squatters and developers, often with links to powerful local politicians.

The Kiambu forest lies on the outskirts of the Nairobi, where land prices have soared in recent years. “Joannah was a big help to [the Kenya Forest Service] and was a big voice against the destruction of Kiambu forest. We need a detailed investigation by the police to find out what happened and what was the motive. People should not forget what happened,” an official from the service told the local Star newspaper.

Stutchbury’s killing is only one of a number of violent deaths of conservationists in recent years. In 2018, Esmond Bradley Martin, a Kenya-based American conservationist whose investigations of the elephant ivory and rhino horn trades were considered critical in efforts to protect the threatened species, was stabbed to death in his Nairobi home. His murder remains unresolved.

“There are a lot of bad things happening to the environment in Kenya. People are very scared, even of officials. There is a lot of fear, but no one imagined that someone would kill someone like Joanna, an old lady. This was deeply cowardly,” said Kahumbu.

The Conservation Alliance of Kenya, a coalition of NGOs, said the Kiambu forest had been “invaded by land grabbers for housing developments” and said Stutchbury had recently reported a threat from a developer.

Amnesty International’s Kenya branch condemned Stutchbury’s killing and called for a swift investigation. “Joannah was known for her actions in … Kiambu county. She never turned a blind eye when she saw any illegalities within the forest. We condemn this senseless killing and call for justice for Joannah and all the other environmental and human rights activists who’ve sadly lost their lives while defending the integrity of our environment and natural heritage,” it said.