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P1080368.group.grass.2Last week I had the pleasure of joining 45 lawyers from East Africa to discuss how to defend the rights of communities threatened by the push for land and resources throughout the region.

With generous support from the Ford Foundation, ELAW partnered with Greenwatch in Uganda to host a workshop for lawyers from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.  The aim was to help young lawyers gain the skills they need to defend the rights of communities threatened by extractive industries.

More experienced lawyers came to give presentations and share their expertise.  But they also came to forge ties with the next generation of lawyers and mentor lawyers just starting out.  They depended on experienced lawyers to help them as they got started, and now they are happy to help the next generation of lawyers.

We are also helping build relationships between young lawyers within each country and across borders, so they know they are not alone taking on powerful interests.

In addition to Greenwatch, ELAW partners at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya and the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania helped organize the workshop.

I left the workshop inspired and full of hope and I believe that we all went away better prepared to defend the rights of communities threatened by unsustainable development.

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

ELAW’s newest Fellow, Harriet Bibangambah from Kampala, Uganda, arrived on Monday. Over the next two weeks she will work with the ELAW team to strengthen her organization, Greenwatch. She will also attend the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) and meet ELAW partners from around the world.

Harriet is Program and Research Officer at Greenwatch, which promotes public participation in the sustainable use, management, and protection of the environment and natural resources, and the enforcement of Uganda’s Constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

“We work at all levels, including traveling to remote villages and sitting down with community members to hear their concerns and share information about oil and gas operations,” says Harriet.

French, British, and Chinese companies have a joint oil venture in the Albertine Rift, with test wells inside Murchison Falls National Park and oil exploration near Virunga National Park, across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Communities need access to information about these developments so they can participate in decisions about natural resources,” says Harriet.

Harriet is part of East Africa’s new generation of grassroots defenders. ELAW has worked with Greenwatch for more than 10 years.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

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

I am pleased to share a recent victory from Uganda, a country I called home before joining ELAW in 1999.

After 10 years fighting the scourge of micro-thin plastic bags, ELAW partner Kenneth Kakuru and his team at Greenwatch are celebrating victory.

The High Court of Kampala ruled on Friday that plastic bags, commonly referred to as “kaveera,” violate the right of citizens to a clean and healthy environment.  The Court ordered that a bill be drafted “expeditiously” to regulate the use of all plastics less than 100 microns.

When I lived in Kampala, I worked at the Uganda Wildlife Society where I trained a local team to publish NatureWatch, an educational supplement inserted in Uganda’s daily newspaper, The New Vision.  This project was funded by the U.K.’s Darwin Initiative.

My team at NatureWatch toured a local kaveera factory.  We were amazed to see polythene spun into threads and quickly become thousands of kaveera.  Sadly, these inexpensively produced one-use micro thin bags tear easily and are quickly tossed, becoming an environmental menace for years and years.  They litter the landscape, clog roadside culverts, get stuck in trees, and kill cows that eat them.

That was 13 years ago.

I am pleased that ELAW has helped Greenwatch make progress tackling this menace.  Kenneth says:

“Most of the scientific information contained in the pleadings to substantiate the arguments was obtained from ELAW.  This is a major milestone in the environment landscape in Uganda considering the menace that polythene bags have caused over time.  Scientific Information from ELAW and judgments from other jurisdictions where ELAW partners operate have continuously been of great help to Greenwatch winning major court battles in Uganda.”

Kenneth and Greenwatch are an inspiration to ELAW partners around the world working to rid the environment of one-use plastic bags.  Congratulations Kenneth!

Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator

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