Recently, conservation ‘big-wigs’ in Kenya, led by international Conservation NGOs and leading national NGOs, were joined by “peripheri” NGOs, who are beneficiaries of funding from the large NGOs, at a breakfast to launch the Conservation Alliance of Kenya. The Minister for Environment was present to officiate over the launch. The creme de la creme of conservation were present and a few high profile friends to boot. I will find time to familiarise with the objectives of the association. In the meantime, I pray the following things change;
- Government participation– I guess the NGOs paid for everything and the government was a guest all through just to lend credence to the process. Because of the way NGOs report achievement and outputs, the participation and/or presence of a senior government official is a significant achievement. So by all means it will be reported that government supports the Alliance. I hope we can see the government support in action. For example, compensation for victims of human wildlife conflict, implementation of land use policy to protect wildlife corridors and designated conservation areas, support to private and community conservation areas, support to County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committees created under the wildlife Act 2013 and support devolved management. It is not a secret that conservation would collapse tomorrow if the NGOs shut down or left. How can government hold claim to a resource it cannot manage? It should co-own wildlife with people who support wildlife conservation. In particular, I have in mind communities that live with wildlife, the Masai for example. The local Masai say that government action of insisting it owns resources it cannot manage is like “reaping where they have not sown” or “milking cows it has never herded”.
- Change the wildlife conservation narrative by promoting a shared value of Wildlife. One of the biggest challenges of conservation in Kenya is the divergent values attached to wildlife. Conservationists see ecological and heritage value in wildlife. Tourism confers aesthetic (romantic) value to wildlife. Local communities are struggling to identify with these new values. In many local communities, wildlife was used in folklore to depict different human characters. For example, the hyena represented greed while the lion represented bravery. The Elephant in my community was used in metaphors related to taking responsibility for your actions however how big they were, because the elephant carries its own trunk and tusks. The baboon was associated with ugly looks. My community also believed cheetah and leopard were kept by witches. These are just some of the many similar folklore associated with wildlife that are shared among many local communities. Some writers have argued inability by conservationists to create a common/ shared value for wildlife, hence a new narrative remains the biggest challenge to conservation. Until such a time that majority of Kenyans see wildlife the same as they are defined in NGO project proposals, we will continue to lose wildlife.
- Systematic and genuine public involvement in conservation is what we need, not participation. I am tempted to ask why the launch event of the association was not held on a weekend in a football stadium if indeed conservation is everybody’s business?Conservation has been preaching to the choir for far too long. An exclusive club to say the least. They should borrow from tourism which learned the hard way that domestic tourism is good for the country. Three years after that discovery, domestic tourism is growing faster than international tourism and new packages targeting local people have opened travel for Kenyans. Hail the #tembeaKenya campaign! Maybe it is time for ‘domestic conservation!”. We need to see many grass-root, local people driven conservation organisations receiving funding from the big guys to run their own conservation programs and campaigns in a ways that resonate with their people. Conservation through the eyes of the local people.
In an effort to be inclusive by working together, exclusion was screaming loud at this event.
As promised, I will read more about the organisation and review my thoughts