“It feels good to unite with fellow guardians of environmental and human rights”
Close-up with Raabia Hawa, director of the Ulinzi Africa Foundation, Kenya.
Eight years ago, Raabia Hawa, Kenya, left her career in media to fight poaching full-time. Today, she is the director of the Ulinzi Africa Foundation, the first non-profit organisation in East Africa that protects the rights of animal watchers (rangers). She is one of 200 participants at Defenders’ Days in Stockholm this week.
Kenya is home to many endangered animal species, that remain under great threat from poaching for profit. Raabia Hawa became aware of the problem while working as a national radio show host. She also realised how low the public awareness about the issue was and decided to take up the fight. She started the Ulinzi Africa Foundation, which works to educate, and strengthen the safety and working conditions of rangers. They are also fighting to ensure the prosecution of cases involving illegal poaching and fishing*
It is dangerous work. Private companies are trying to seize natural areas critical to the survival of elephants and other animals. It has happened that animal guards who stood in their way have been shot dead. In addition, the Tana Delta, where Raabia’s organisation primarily works, is plagued by the presence of terrorist groups. Raabia herself has received death threats from individuals linked to large companies and is constantly threatened to be detained and investigated by authorities.
“Because of my work to pursue the prosecution of an illegal trawling case, my organisation and I have been extremely targeted. Authorities had confiscated arms from and tried to arrest our rangers, and private actors with monetary interests in the region are running smear campaigns against us, especially me personally”, says Raabia.
She refuses to give up despite the resistance
Due to the increasing threats directed towards her, Raabia recently joined the Natalia Project, Civil Rights Defenders’ security alarm for human rights defenders. But despite the many actors doing everything in their power to stop her and her organisation, she refuses to give up. She would like to give the following advice to other activists:
“Never begin with a defeatist attitude. Believe in yourself, even when no one else does. So many people have told me, “just drop this, and you’ll be safe, and everything will go back to normal”. And trust me, I have been close to giving up. But then I say to myself – if I don’t fight for the elephants and their environment, who will?
She says she sees Defenders’ Days as a chance to get support from like-minded activists who, like her, find themselves in challenging situations where it sometimes feels like the whole world is against them.
“I’m here for networking and support. I did not know such a collection existed of like-minded people, and it is nice to unite with fellow guardians of human rights and environmental rights.
About Defenders’ Days
Defenders’ Days is Civil Rights Defenders’ global networking platform for human rights defenders, focused on making use of innovative tools to combat human rights violations. Defenders’ Days Conference is a conference with and for human rights defenders, organised by Civil Rights Defenders every two years, to support and connect people who fight for democracy and human rights.