in Kenya

How the Kasigau Corridor REDD project undermines local democracy in Kenya

Susan Chomba of the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya was the lead author of a 2016 critique of the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project. The authors found that the project increased inequity in the project area. In a response, Mwangi Githiru, an employee of Wildlife Works, the US company running the project, argued that the REDD project was actually “correcting inequity”.

In their reply to Githiru’s response, Chomba and her co-authors, Juliet Kariuki (University of Hohenheim), Jens Friis Lund (University of Copenhagen), and Fergus Sinclair (World Agroforestry Centre, and Bangor University) wrote:

In this rebuttal, we demonstrate that there were no empirical differences between our original paper and Githiru’s response that had bearing on our findings, but that there are substantial differences in our interpretations of legality and equity, and consequently divergence about who can expect to benefit from REDD+.

Now, Chomba has written another paper about the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project, titled, “Choices have Consequences: REDD+ and Local Democracy in Kenya”.

REDD and local democracy

The Cancun Agreements adopted in 2010 at the UN climate meeting include a “request” to “developing country Parties” to ensure “the full and effective participation by all relevant stakeholders, inter alia indigenous people and local communities”. This is one of the so-called REDD safeguards.

But as Chomba points out, this raises two key questions:

  1. How does REDD+ ensure inclusivity of all relevant stakeholders; who defines which stakeholders are relevant, and which stakeholders’ goals and needs are recognised in forest conservation under REDD+?
  2. By choosing to recognise particular ‘relevant’ stakeholders, how does REDD+ ensure inclusivity and avoid side-lining and/or weakening institutions that already have a mandate to promote local democracy?

“This article,” Chomba writes, “examines the implications of institutional choice for democracy and, in particular, for representation. Representation is the extent to which institutions, projects, or other interventions, become downwardly
accountable and responsive to local needs.”

Three questions

Chomba’s case study asks three questions relating to the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project:

  1. Which institutions did the REDD+ project choose to recognise and why?
  2. How did local communities perceive the institutions in terms of their democratic representation, including downward accountability and responsiveness?
  3. What were the implications of these institutional choices for local democracy?

The project covers an area of about 200,000 hectares in south eastern Kenya, between two national parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

Between 2011 and 2012, Wildlife Works sold about 1.2 million carbon credits, earning about US$6.3 million. Communities receiving carbon funds are in five administrative locations – each administrative location received US$135,000.

Chomba describes the local institutional landscape when the project started in 2008-2009, which consisted of the old provincial administration, top-down appointed officials, led by chiefs and Local Development Committees at the local level. There was also the elected local government represented by councillors at the local level.

Kenya’s 2010 Constitution created a more decentralised system of government. Following elections in 2013 councillors were replaced by Members of County Assembly at the local level.

Chomba’s paper includes a diagram showing how the REDD project cut across “old” and “new” institutional structures and worked with non-state actors, including Locational Carbon Committees and Community Based Organisations:

Chomba conducted a series of 61 interviews and ten focus group discussions, with project officials, leaders of local institutions, and key informants from communities in the project area.

“Unlikely to generate democratic outcomes”

In her paper, she concludes that,

This study found that institutional choices under REDD+ in Kenya are unlikely to generate democratic outcomes….

The REDD+ project chose to work “outside the realm of state-sanctioned actors, including local governments. The adoption of parallel governance structures for REDD+ risks perpetuating a view, that existing local governance structures are incapable of dealing with local needs.

The project facilitated the creation of Locational Carbon Committees which, together with Community Based Organisations, the REDD project recognised as institutional partners at the local level.

Chiefs and councillors became members of the Locational Carbon Committees, but without voting rights.

The role of the Locational Carbon Committees is to prioritise and approve community projects. They are supposed to ensure equitable representation (seven members of the Committee were elected by villagers), and to safeguard equity in the distribution of funds across the villages in the project area. They sign off on financial transactions together with Community Based Organisations. And they provide accountability checks on the Community Based Organisations.

The Community Based Organisations were either chosen from existing organisations, or new ones were registered. Their role is to implement and manage the community projects funded by the REDD project.

Chomba’s interviews and discussions reveal complex reasons for creating this parallel governance system. A project official argued that the Local Development Committees had to much to do handling other development projects that came through government ministries, and have “demonstrated neither capacity nor efficiency in handling them”.

At the same time, villagers regarded the Local Development Committees as nepotistic and corrupt, demanding bribes to carry out their work.

Before devolution, Chomba writes, the elected local government, no matter how corrupt and inefficient it may have been, had “never been given the opportunity to flourish.” Chomba writes that,

By partnering with carbon committees and CBOs and directing resources through them, the REDD+ project denied state-sanctioned institutions and particularly elected local governments, the opportunity to fulfil their mandate of representing local citizens. These choices appear to contradict the REDD+ safeguard principle of ensuring full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders, instead, circumventing some actors in the interest of efficiency.


PHOTO Credit: Stand for Trees.

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  1. Clear diagram, it’s as though it could be used as a template for the leverage financial actors have in skewing institutions away from representative democracy.