Network Member Interview: Elizabeth Otieno, Legal Resource Foundation Trust

Elizabeth is a Climate Justice Paralegal whose experience spans more than 10 years. Elizabeth shares her journey and what inspires her, along with the important work Legal Resource Foundation Trust (LRF) in Kenya does in the field of land and environmental justice.

What experience or individual inspired you to join the fight for land and environmental justice?

It was when I started working in Siaya County No. 41 that inspired me to work on land and environmental justice issues. I saw many challenges, especially land fraud. We’ve had cases where someone just comes up with lies and then con you and your money.

Elizabeth Otieno, climate justice paralegal

People sold their livestock and other assets just to seek for justice. At the end of the day, the very same people who are poor and marginalized don’t get justice. People can sometimes be ignorant of their land laws and others take advantage of this.


“In criminal offenses, being poor is a crime. If you have money, you can buy the system.”


In addition to that, the issue of cultural beliefs and practices, especially those  who trump on other people’s rights –  affect women and girls negatively. For example, when it comes to matters of land, women are not given priority simply because of their gender. In one instance, a woman was summoned by the local court; this woman has 2 daughters and 2 sons. When the local court asked this woman how many children she has, she mentioned she has 2 children. She only counted her 2 sons! There are still situations where women are not allowed to plant certain trees, even some fruits. Planting bananas is taboo for some places here. Previously, I was also working in the Kenya Prison Service. Most litigants I met were charged with trespassing, creating disturbances, and/or assault; when I listened to their stories, the root cause of the offence was because of land. The police sometimes refuse to hear their full stories before drafting the charges.


Was there a turning point or particular moment in your life that shaped you or had a lasting impact on your journey?

LRF’s relationship with the courts is a key driver of impact, both at the personal level and at the organization level. As human rights advocates, we need to be strategic. One of these strategies was being included in the Environment and Land Court Users Committee (ELC CUC), where all stakeholders are brought together, including climate change officers like Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Meteorological Department, mining sector, county officers, judiciary, advocates, land registrar, and impacted communities. This committee is headed by the ELC Judge as the chairperson. There were a lot of issues when this committee was formulated, including land fraud issues. In time, because of our working relationship and a lot of strategy through the ELC CUCs, issues of land fraud started to diminish, and we were able to push the case that the land registrar office should be a secretary to the Environment and Land Court Users Committee.


“A related turning point for me is really the act of ownership of communities. When community members are ready to own the initiative that has been established, that really has a lasting impact.”


One experience I had was when a community didn’t want to repair their well. This was the well that gave them access to water, but because this well wasn’t perceived as community owned, repairing that facility took time. I’ve now seen the community is ready to have that act of ownership because they understand the importance of this facility. All this work was possible because of engagements at the county level. The county level engagements have given me the platform to sensitize communities. We have membership at the Ward level through the Ward Climate Change Planning Committee which is acknowledged by the Member of County Assembly (MCA). This membership a good opportunity to reach far – flung community members.  


This work can be challenging and difficult. What inspires you and helps you keep going?


Community raising their issues to LRF concerning registration of their community land which the government intends to lease to the investor for 66 years.

First of all, the positive support from the justice system at the county level is key. Whenever I need information, I just go to the registry to look for the records. This was when I was working on a compendium at the ELC Registry.

It’s not that easy of course, but we have the support from the county government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the ELC Court. Because our office is based in court premises, this makes our work relatively easy as well.

The communities I work with provide me with inspiration. Ultimately, it’s about patience and about love. I feel like I can keep going when they are willing to sit down and talk with me. I love helping the vulnerable and marginalized – it gives me that energy. When you have that love, it just sustains you. Community work is never easy; if you don’t have love for these people, you start feeling impatient. It just makes me happy to work in this field. As a human being – as myself, Elizabeth – I just want to keep working to find solutions to vulnerable peoples’ problems.

February 15, 2024 | Dominique Calañas