Joannah Stutchbury: She Lived for Her Forest

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New Delhi – They cold-bloodedly killed my friend Joannah Stutchbury, a visionary, environmentalist and permaculture enthusiast. She was 67. Joannah was the great-niece of Jim Corbett, and felt a connection with India. On July 15, 2021, she was ambushed and shot dead just outside her home near Windsor Country Club, Kiambu, Kenya. Why was Joannah killed? Because she was resisting destruction of a forest in her area and refused to sell her forested land to developers. Her only fault was that she wasn’t greedy, she valued her environment more than money or material comforts.

President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta’s statement mentioned her as “a steadfast champion for the conservation of our environment.” He also said that she will be remembered for her efforts to protect the Kiambu forest from encroachment.

According to some data available online, Kenya has a forest cover of approximately 4,200,000 hectares, which is about 7.4% of the total land area of the country. The country loses approximately 5000 hectares of forest cover per year, primarily due to human activities and so-called development. In our conversations, Joannah sometimes vented out her frustration about the menacingly destructive forces (local and international) active in her area. But she wasn’t afraid of voicing her protest despite imminent threats to her life.

In February 2018, Joannah was very frustrated with all the persisting struggles and helplessness. In one of our conversations I was trying to cheer her up. I wrote, “…if you feel like, you can shift to India. I know you are a fighter, but still, your own safety is important.” Joannah replied, “Thanks Subodh! It is pretty crazy. These guys are ruthless thugs.” When I requested her to shift to some safer place, she wrote, “yes, for the first time in 55 years of living in Africa I have considered this!!!” But she loved her forest, she adored her environment so much that she never fostered this idea.

Joannah protesting in Kiambu forest

Joannah loved to travel to far and unknown places. She used to fondly remember her visit to India, and wanted another trip as soon as possible. She was considering a trip to Ladakh in 2019, which didn’t materialize due to some personal constraints.

Recently someone apprised me that Joannah owned a big land in Kiambu, worth a fortune. She never boasted of her property, nor did she try to monetize it. During the pandemic lockdown we were discussing the hardships and she mentioned that her business and income had suffered a lot. But even then, selling the forested land was a big NO for her. She lived for her forest, she died for her forest.

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