From Marseille to Kenya: Fighting The Global March of conservation colonialism

Putting on my scientist’s hat, I have examined the findings and numbers as compared to what I already knew, and the less I say about them the better. There is nothing in there that I can find any use for. When touting this project, KWS told us that they were counting wildlife in order to plan. Plan what exactly? I can understand the importance of counts in situations where there is hunting. Obviously, it is interesting to know how many we have of various species, but how is this a priority here in Kenya, given all the resource challenges already faced by KWS? Do 200 elephants need a longer corridor than 10 elephants? Do 10 elephants need less security than 100 elephants? True conservation practice is qualitative, only the dysfunctional consumptive western model of the same is quantitative. That is why there are no megafauna left in the west. One day, our wildlife sector will hopefully gain the intellectual depth required to understand this. The quality of the work is summarized by the fact that they report that there are 10 vervet monkeys in the Amboseli-Magadi ecosystem, yet I know that you can see more than that number from your window without leaving the room at Amboseli Serena Lodge. What then, is the purpose of this report, being that it is so lacking in technical/ statistical quality? These numbers are a distraction from the prose, which contains all the western neo-colonial underpinnings that myself and colleagues have been fighting against for the last few days, here in France. Being a notoriously imperceptive society, over 99% of us haven’t noticed it, with my brothers Gatu Mbaria and Johnny Namnai being the only 2 exceptions I noticed. These two friends of mine picked up on the recommendation number 4 “There is need for review of legislation to recognize community conservancies as protected areas as they constitute important wildlife range”. This is an express recommendation to take away people’s homes and turn them into protected areas. This however, only refers to community conservancies, so the private ones (Lewa, Ol Jogi, Ol Pejeta, etc) belonging to wealthy (Caucasian) owners would be left untouched. These are the people perpetually being served by our wildlife-cum- tourism sector. The greatest danger to our pastoralist communities and the wildlife they share their lands with is the unbearable “whiteness” that pervades the sector. It is worth noting that the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies association hasn’t said a word, yet the CEO is a board member at Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI). The Conservation Alliance of Kenya has said nothing (although I have learned not to expect anything from them). Here is the evidence in an excerpt from the conclusions on Page 110; “There has been an influx of livestock into the key wildlife ecosystem like Laikipia-Samburu-Meru-Marsabit, Tsavo, Maasai Mara and Lamu-Lower Garissa. This scenario will possibly affect the wildlife species negatively as their habitats become encroached and competition for resources (water, space and forage) increase. As such, displaced of wildlife is likely to occur as they avoid competition with the livestock. This was observed in Laikipia-SamburuMarsabit-Meru Ecosystem, where it is believed elephants relocated to the hilly areas in the ecosystem, which made it difficult for the census team to sight and count them leading to an overall recording of less population than was recorded in 2017. Such incursions also fuel poaching as most herdsmen are armed with automatic weapons.” Before taking their land, you must first vilify pastoralists.

  1. Whiteness 1. Use livestock as a euphemism for pastoralist people so you pretend you’re not targeting them. Livestock don’t walk or graze alone
  2. Whiteness 2. Use words like ‘influx’ (or incursion or invasion) to imply that these people are ‘coming in’ from somewhere and this is not their home
  3. Whiteness 3. Call them poachers. Herdsmen will not jeopardize their precious herds worth millions of shillings and immense pride to shoot wild animals that are of no use to them. That is why there are megafauna across Kenyan rangelands occupied by pastoralists. Lastly, when there is a criminal out to shoot an elephant for ivory, this is a highly dangerous and difficult mission. What level of stupidity would advise him to take a herd of cows on his mission? Even those who go out to steal baby elephants for their orphanages aren’t accompanied by cows!

The census may have many purposes within the institution of KWS, which I am not privy to. However, as an external policy scholar, the only “benefits” I can see accruing from this “census” are:

  1. An institutionalization of policy to take land away from citizens and turn it into protected areas.
  2. Access to western funding to finance the above policy (they are currently discussing the huge amounts of money here in Marseille
  3. Larry Madowo’s wonderful report, which actually raised his professional standing within CNN

This places us in a very vulnerable situation and I would be delighted to be proved wrong, though I fear I am right. I tip my hat to the several PhD holders in the list of authors. I am glad that their names will remain prominent for posterity as experts in the history of Kenya’s conservation sector. The saddest part of this is that I am forced to face the fact that our wildlife sector can only be one of two things; Intellectually incapable of understanding what is going on here, or complicit in it, neither of which bears thinking about.

It is somehow lucky that they have released this report at this time, because it is a learning moment. It offers a perfect snapshot of the conservation colonialism that we’re fighting against in the entire global south. Aluta continua.

This article is dedicated to the late Said Wabera, a pillar in the fight against the pirates who scheme to disenfranchise us through contrived “CONservation” Rest well, brother (Passed August 22, 2021)