In 1994, I had the pleasure of traveling to Africa for ELAW for the first time.  ELAW was looking for lawyers working to protect people’s right to live in a healthy environment.  We wanted to learn how we could support their efforts and help them connect with their colleagues around the world. During that trip, I met inspiring young lawyers in Kenya and Tanzania who, like me, had recently graduated from law school and were passionate about protecting communities and the environment.

Young advocates Harriet Bibangambah and Lourdel Twinomugisha from Greenwatch in Uganda

Young advocates Harriet Bibangambah and Lourdel Twinomugisha from Greenwatch in Uganda

Nearly 20 years later, I returned to work with those pioneering lawyers, now the experienced generation, to connect with the next generation of advocates representing the public interest through law. In the face of massive investments by extractive industries in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these advocates are needed now more than ever.

Communities in Turkana County are among the most marginalized in Kenya. Hydropower projects in the Lake Turkana watershed have displaced communities and threatened the region’s already limited water supplies. Now, multinational corporations are beginning to pursue oil in this remote region, threatening to displace more communities and pollute water supplies. Communities in Kitui County, Kenya are facing eviction from their lands so companies can extract coal.  As demand for resources grows and the price for resources increase, the pressure to extract resources intensifies, and stories like these become more common.

That’s why ELAW is working with partners in these three East African countries to support lawyers working to help  communities understand their rights and defend and protect those rights.

Just over a week ago, ELAW and partners at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya, the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania, and Greenwatch in Uganda hosted a workshop to help lawyers in the region meet the challenge of protecting communities impacted by natural resource extraction. We hoped 20 lawyers would attend the meeting. We were thrilled when 50 lawyers asked to join us:  Through this work we are building a global corps of grassroots advocates who will protect communities and the environment for years to come.

ELAW thanks the Ford Foundation for making it possible for us to reconnect with partners in the region and reach out to new lawyers.

Jennifer Gleason
Staff Attorney