Many of my friends, particularly those from outside the conservation sector have been puzzled by the silence that has followed the release of the “Stealth Game” report by the Oakland institute https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/stealth-game-community-conservancies-devastate-northern-kenya. This, my friends, is because you people mistakenly imagine that conservationists in Kenya are normal, functional human beings. They are NOT, and the rational ones are fewer than 5%, the scientific threshold for statistical significance. For those of us who know them well, we can read and interpret this silence to a high level of accuracy. First of all, rest assured that everyone who need to see the report has done so, including government officials at both county and national level. I personally forwarded it to an official at the highest levels of government, and the response I got was “thank you”, at least admitting to have seen it. Interestingly, two senior county government officers also forwarded the report to me, leaving me wondering what exactly they see as their role in the whole scandal, as opposed to mine as an individual. The silence is only in the public sphere. I have direct contacts in a lot of private spaces where there is a lot of wailing, gnashing of teeth and breaking of wind as a result of this report.
The key point we all need to understand here is that people are in trouble- bringing to mind that uniquely American expression about faecal material hitting a fan and splattering everyone in the vicinity. Here’s why; A couple of years ago, a few colleagues and I visited the US house of representatives in Washington DC to present a memorandum on abuses of human rights in central Africa by WWF under the guise of conservation, an issue we also brought to the attention of various European legislatures. It has taken time, but the cosh has come down on WWF, culminating in a Senate hearing earlier this year, which has severely tightened the screws on them. First of all, the consternation that has greeted the report is disingenuous, because none of this information is new- it is simply saying the same things that myself and a few colleagues have been pointing out since 2016.
The conservation sector in Kenya routinely dismisses any questions from black Africans and the consternation is because the report is coming from an American institution, and cannot be dismissed on racial grounds. An amusing anecdote I’ve heard from one of the conservation groups is “This is just the usual noise from Mordecai Ogada”… then another member says “No, its from the Oakland institute in the US” then all hell breaks loose with people crying “Oh my God, what are we going to do??”. In a separate forum, a senior participant (who obviously hadn’t read the report) dismissed it as lacking credibility “Since the only source of such information is Mordecai Ogada (again!!??). Another participant pointed out that it was the result of over 2 years’ research and she changed tack attacking the author Anuradha Mittal on her racial and family background. The bizarre thing is that this woman is also from the same racial background! Many people will find this bizarre, but I don’t. Our conservation sector is so steeped in racial and ethnic prejudice that it’s shameful. Apart from dealing with people who don’t want to hear me because I am black, I’ve had to deal with indigenous Kenyans who routinely tell me to keep off wildlife issues in Northern Kenya because I am a Luo from Western Kenya!
The key issue of rights violations is studiously avoided by conservationists to a ridiculous degree. I’ve seen conversations where The Nature Conservancy’s communications director is asking a whole group of conservation professionals how they can “Counter Mordecai Ogada’s narrative” (Again!!??). A couple of years ago Northern Rangelands Trust hired Dr. Elizabeth Leitoro as a “director of programs” and one of the key expectations was that she should somehow “control” Mordecai Ogada (yes, Again) since over 20 years ago I was her intern when she was the warden at Nairobi National Park. She asked to meet me, and my son was patient enough to sit with us as we talked. Later on, she launched a racial attack on me and my family on social media to defend NRT (she deleted it and blocked me, but I still have a screenshot and NRT got rid of her) This shows the neurosis bedeviling conservation in Kenya. They will scream, shout and make personal attacks and noise about everything EXCEPT the problem at hand. Secondly, they are obsessed with appearances, so you will never hear a word said by any of the foreigners who run that show. It will always be ill-advised, ill prepared, but well-paid locals who will come out in robust (if somewhat foolish) defense of their captors. Right now the national government, county governments, and conservation organizations are all tongue tied, because they don’t know how to dismiss criticism from the US, where their lifeblood funding comes from. USAID is the biggest conservation funder in Kenya, and the biggest grantee is NRT, which gives them God-like status here. All other conservation voices like Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) or Conservation Alliance of Kenya (CAK) which receive small change grants cannot say a word against their “leader” NRT. That is why 5 days later, CAK claims to be “still reading the report”. They are waiting to see which way the wind is blowing before they make any noise or break any wind in defense of their fellow Kenyans.
Mark my words, these people have colossal reach- that’s why even GoK has said nothing. There was a major press conference in Nairobi on 17th November about this report, and all major media houses in Kenya were there, but the story has been “killed”. They have a HUGE PR machine, and if anything in the report was untrue, they’d have torn it to shreds. Their bogeyman, Mordecai Ogada (frankly I’m abit flattered!) is not in the picture, so they cannot point fingers at me anymore, and now need to address the ISSUES. I’m informed that some heads have already rolled. They are big, but not big enough to kill the story in the US public policy space. WWF learned that the hard way .There shall be wailing, there will be hypertension, some hyperacidity, diarrhea and other stress-related illnesses, but it looks (and smells) like change is coming.
This silence isn’t the golden kind, it’s the silence of sick, trembling cowards caught in a big lie. I have nothing to add to the “Stealth Game” report, but wherever and whenever I will be asked to say something about it, I will not let anyone get away with trying to look shocked. I will always state just how I told them about this injustice 5 years ago, but it never mattered then, truth be told, because I am black.