It is eight o’clock at night in Narok, about 140 kilometres away from Nairobi. Ms Naisola Supejo is agitated and confused at the same time. The meager wages the mother of two earns cannot see her through the month. She’s unable to purchase medication for one of her children who is down with pneumonia.
Supejo works as a cleaner in one of the tourist hotels. Established within a community ranch just outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the hotel operates as an eco-tourism concern. Besides generating revenue for the investors, the venture is also meant to provide livelihoods for the local community through employment and revenue sharing. Its business is also premised on what is hailed as sound environmental principles and respect for local people and their culture.
Supejo is not alone. Her predicament is shared by most people who live next to, or work within wildlife conservation areas in the country.
Since the 1990s, these people have been encouraged by the government, through the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), to set up community conservancies for purposes of trapping part of the cash generated from tourism. They are enticed so that they can find motivation for hosting wildlife on their land.
But this has not worked well. “Community conservancies only benefit the committee members who are paid hefty allowances” lamented Sydney Quantai, the Chairman of the Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation and Management (KCWCM). Quantai says that ordinary members are only paid yearly dividends of between Kshs 1, 000 and Ksh2, 000 (about US$10 to $20).
KCWCM is an organization bringing together 20 conservation NGOs and community representatives from 22 wildlife regions in Kenya.
Similar observation is made by Vanessa Wijngaarden of University of Amsterdam. In a 2008 research paper; Blessings and Burdens of Charismatic Mega-Fauna: How Taita and Maasai Communities Deal with Wildlife Protection in Kenya, Vanessa says; “the success of Kenya’s protected areas as eco-tourist destinations are limited, especially regarding (the) provision of benefits and incentives for local communities.”
This brings to mind the debate about whether wildlife conservation and eco-tourism -defined by the Ecotourism Society of Kenya as ‘responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people- has really been able to live up to the reputation. Vanessa says that this tourism concept recognizes local people as important because the survival of wildlife depends on them. But she notes that for local people, what is of primary importance is to overcome poverty.
In Kenya, enabling communities to share in tourism benefits goes back to the 1950s when local people, through the district councils, would be paid hunting fees by rich white hunters for each animal shot, a practice that went on until sports hunting was prohibited in 1977.
Around the same time, the management of some game reserves in Kenya were handed over to local county councils.
This included the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve which was granted to the Narok County Council in 1961. It is considered the earliest ecotourism project in Africa.
But over the years, multinational tourism businesses have continued to tighten their stranglehold on Kenya’s tourism sector. Though they have always lobbied and secured business deals that ended up with little benefits for local people, nevertheless they continued to be regarded as ecotourism partnerships.
The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the Kenyan government, through KWS, accords inadequate support to communities while the law does not guarantee that local people obtained their rightful share from tourism, despite the fact that they invest big chunks of their land into the deals.
This has often led to anger within communities that is often taken out on wildlife in what is now universally termed “human-wildlife conflict.”
According to the Report on Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Kenya undertaken by Africa Conservation Centre on behalf of ActionAid Kenya in October 2003, communities living next to protected areas lose half their crops to marauding elephants, resulting in their dependency on food aid.
“Nomadic pastoral cgmmunities who live side-by-side with wildlife lose at least one animal every week to predatory wildlife.” The report estimates that 80 per cent of Kenya’s wildlife is found outside protected areas.
ActionAid Kenya states that seven years before the research was conducted , about 200 people in Kenya were killed by wildlife while “a far greater number were injured or maimed.” For instance, in an incident reported in the Daily Nation (April 11, 2003), a 20-year old man was trampled to death by six elephants that had invaded his farm near Mount Kenya. He died while trying to drive the elephants away to save his crops.
In another incident reported in the Daily Nation (June 27, 2003), Maasai people in Narok District, took to the streets to protest being held hostage by elephants in their homes for 12 hours as the pachyderms raided their crops. The protest followed the death of a man and his wife as they took their sick child to hospital. As they demonstrated, they accused KWS of inaction and vowed to kill the marauding animals.
But KWS absolves itself from blame and says that local people do actually benefit from wildlife conservation. Mrs Munira Bashir, KWS’ head of community enterprises said; ” KWS works closely with locals living around conservation areas.”
“Protected areas are not entirely fenced off and animals can roam outside these areas. The human-wildlife conflicts are mainly brought about by fragmentation of land in the country.” She gave the example of the land around Tsavo National Park saying that local people there even buy plots next to the park, creating a situation in which conflict is almost inevitable.
For solution, Mrs Bashir said that Kenya should have been zoned out in order to secure wildlife migration corridors. She further said that KWS is encouraging communities to establish conservation areas around migration areas and giving them training to boost their capacity. “KWS is set to enroll 300 community rangers for a 3-month training at its Manyani camp starting from January 2012.” She said upon graduation, the latter will then go to work with KWS rangers.
On his part, Paul Udoto, KWS corporate communications manager, said; “many communities benefit from the presence of wildlife on private, community, county council and central governments land.”
According to Udoto, some of the community conservation schemes that benefit local people include Mwaluganje in Kwale, Shompole in Kajiado, Kimana in Amboseli, Ilngwesi in Laikipia, Ishaqbini in Ijara and Lumo in Tsavo.
“Many communities are reaping the fruits of wildlife conservation and from the programmes we are rolling out,” he said in an email interview.
However, Udoto’s assertions were hotly contested by Mr Quantai, who said that leasehold arrangements signed between communities and investors are “the main problem.”
Quantai gives the example of the community that owns the Shompole Ranch that has a 15-year lease agreement with an investor. But through the community gets some cash to pay for school fees, Quantai, says this is hardly sufficient but the community cannot wriggle itself out of the agreement.
There have been concerns over what pundits call “unhealthy business relationships” between investors in the tourism sector and group ranch owners, some of which are brokered by conservation NGOs. Quantai said that such deals hardly benefit the people. “Tour operators and foreign investors look for profits and are not interested in the affairs and well-being of the people.”
According to Vanessa, more than 70 percent of the income generated from tourism businesses in Kenya goes to multinationals. “Overseas investors walking off with the big money is the rule in the Taita as well as the Maasai areas around Tsavo and the Mara.”
The root of the problem, according to Mrs Bashir, has to do with faulty legislation. “The wildlife sector has been chaotic as it is not a conducive legal framework.” She however said that the revised Wildlife Bill would address most of the current concerns and challenges.
The government, through the ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, currently compensates only death (Kshs 200, 000) and injury (Kshs 50, 000) as the law does not provide for any compensation for crop losses occasioned by marauding wild animals.
However, the revised Wildlife Bill might address that. It proposes a compensation of Kshs 1 million for death occasioned by wildlife. It says that injuries are to be assessed and evaluated by medical doctors before a figure can be arrived at, while crop losses will be compensated according to the prevailing market rate.
There is debate on whether those community projects carried out by some of the investors are indeed beneficial to local people. Usually, such projects are in the form of public infrastructure such as schools and dispensaries. But though they are useful and necessary, they do not provide subsistence, income neither do they secure livelihoods to community members. There is also debate on whether investors of ecotourism concerns should continue funding such projects which, in any case, ought to be done by the national government.
This lopsided situation is set to continue as the high and increasing level of market power exercised by large, vertically-integrated tour operators gets entrenched. Among other things, it has made it almost impossible for communities, local businessmen or even associations to negotiate for fair terms with the foreigners.
By Michael Puma
Animal Welfare Magazine December 2011