In November 1884, European powers (represented by elderly white men) met in Berlin presuming to divide amongst themselves the large “cake” that was the African continent. It was a looting mission that later morphed into a political exercise, and the rest as they say, is history. An interesting footnote is that the conference lasted a whole three months until February 1885, indicating that the discussions must have been quite protracted, and probably interspersed with copious amounts of food, drink and debauchery (a feature of conferences that hasn’t changed much, over a century later!)
Fast forward to 21st Century Africa. The much-touted Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC2022) has been held in Kigali, Rwanda. Myself and others have already written and spoken extensively about how “Protected areas” are actually “white spaces” in a majority black continent. During the colonial era, they were literally spaces set aside for the recreation of white people. In the post-independence era, the spectrum of users now includes black people, but they are still lily-white in terms of the paranoid, prejudiced, violent and intellectually stunted manner of their management. This mentality is the “white” identity of conservation practice in Africa today. The practitioners have made many attempts to mask this identity, by creating strange mongrels referred to as “conservancies” of various kinds, but the concept is the same. Annex land from indigenous African people who use it for their livelihoods and set it aside for the self-actualization of foreign elites. Africa is fabulously wealthy in natural resources, but we must ALWAYS remember that the value of the visible above ground resources is a mere fraction of what lies underneath. Sadly, the spectacular beauty of our wildlife, forests and rangelands makes them the perfect windowdressing for the cruel schemes laid out against us as a continent. The brutality of slavery and colonialism showed us the cruelty that exists within the matrix of western capitalism. Laws and regulations have obviously been written in the last 100 years, but it we must remember that colonialism was a capitalist enterprise and it would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that capitalism had somehow lost its cruelty. The new dispensation only required that they apply new and more sophisticated methods and voila! Enter the climate change/ carbon trade/ conservation cult. It’s a perfect vehicle because it is pervasive, running in a contiguous vein through corporations, governments, civil society and even global bodies like the UN. Cult leaders (read: conservation ‘icons’ like Goodall, Attenborough, et. al) have access to heads of state. Their greatest coup has been the so-called “30×30” plan, which is the ludicrous proposal that every country should put 30% of their land under “protected areas” by the year 2030 to conserve biodiversity. The “evil beauty” of this plan is that the plan has to be implemented in the global south, because there is no significant biodiversity gain to be made from expanding Regent’s Park in London or Central Park in Manhattan by 30%. Everything is primed and ready to go. The UN and governmental adoption of this plan smoothes out all the necessary regulatory hurdles, including tax breaks in both source and client states. Once that is done, now all you need is a major conference like APAC2022 where you can blow all the dog-whistles against indigenous people and give all the apocalyptic alarmist statements about Africa (with no reference to the west where the real environmental destruction has been for the last 100 years). First, you pick a country like Rwanda that has formally decided that their greatest role in Africa will be as a European foothold on the continent (remember the UK refugees’ caper). Then we convene conservation organizations, practitioners, their corporate funders and governmental enablers. After a few days of lip service, drink and debauchery, you come up with a closing statement that includes a huge carrot and little substance https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/africa/africa-protected-areas-congress-continent-gets-200-billion-conservation-fund-83955?fbclid=IwAR0Y6dvwCC9gFTJ-0e4WLFeFSSzqbGXR2QkkmQeFvAjvfCefxrbU83ZRdTg and everybody leaves struggling with flatulence induced by excitement over the impending windfall. One of the most strangest parts of this excitement is that very little of the largesse actually finds its way to indigenous Africans. Most of it goes to expatriates from the donor countries, while Africans at all levels from heads of state to village elders are swayed with breadcrumbs in the form of business class air tickets, accommodation in luxury hotels, alcohol and perdiem payment to attend meetings where they simply say ‘yes’ to everything. The key point to note about this so-called conservation fund is that it proposes a ‘network’ of a total of 8600 conservation areas covering a total area of 26 million square kilometers. This is a startling figure, given that it is an area more than twice the size of the US, and represents more than 80% of Africa’s land mass. How do these people subvert sovereign structures with such consummate ease? A simple tool known as “transboundary conservation areas”, conservation that purports to manage contiguous habitats across international boundaries. We then find ourselves in a strange situation where non-state actors enjoy powers unheard of in state agencies, with untrammeled reach across international boundaries. An example of this power is the Big Life Foundation that operates across the Kenya-Tanzania border, enjoying access that Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) cannot have. This is the nature of the new colonies. They fly under the radar by not following known boundaries, and within countries they exist as conservancies that don’t exist in law, don’t pay taxes and don’t register lands in their names. As the host of the conference, Rwanda has been the first signatory on this project and is taking leadership, asking other African countries to sign. With all due respect to that Great Nation, I don’t think that the owner of 0.0065% of the protected areas in question should assume leadership of the same. This however reveals another well-practiced annexation technique ngof the conservation organizations. Eliminating individual opinions of Nations and people, by lumping them together into “projects” and “communities”. The colonists are here, again to stake a claim on our birthright. The other tried and tested technique is the relentless drive to evaluate our lands in terms of this strange thing they refer to as ‘carbon’. What most Africans don’t realize about ‘carbon’ credits, sequestration, sinks etc is that it is a tool for eliminating the natives from any discussions or calculations about the said land. They aren’t the fat old white men we see in the artists’ impressions of the Berlin conference. Many of them look like us, speak our languages, many are young, and many are women too, and they claim to be saviours. The methods and faces are certainly new, but the avarice and corruption remains unchanged, 137 years later. Despite myself, I must grudgingly acknowledge the historical correctness of holding the conference in Rwanda, part of what used to be German East Africa. Aluta Continua
Seretse Khama Ian Khama posted this on 13 April 2022
“This was one of the largest if not the largest tusker in the country. An elephant that tour operators constantly tried to show tourists as an iconic attraction. Now it is dead.
How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies. Our tourism is wildlife based. No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream. Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!”
This a quote from the immediate former president of Botswana, lamenting the recent killing of a particularly large-tusked elephant by white paying poachers (aka sport hunters) in his homeland. As expected, the comments section was filled with paroxysms of grief, accompanied by the smells and sounds of people breaking wind in consternation. His post above, illustrates that like 99% of African leaders, he is completely incapable of examining or understanding the value of our natural heritage outside the prism of entertainment and edification of white people. My home country, Kenya is a veritable intellectual vacuum in this regard. 99.5% of people in the conservation sector have zero understanding of the value of natural heritage. Out of the 0.5% who do, I am probably the only one who doesn’t work for the 99.5%
We in conservation have become prisoners of this is ridiculous ‘whiteness’. The best description of this malaise that I’ve heard was given by Darius Okolla, a Nairobi-based researcher; “Whiteness describes a paranoid society which cannot co-exist with nature without seeking to acquire it in some way”. The mindless bloodlust of sport hunters is just one of many symptoms of the disease, but there are many others, including the theft of elephant calves from the wild by “conservation” organizations who then hold them captive to entertain other paranoid clients for money. Another is the intellectually vacuous program KWS launched which seeks to get money from paranoia victims who want to “acquire” wildlife by paying to “name” animals after themselves. If we allow ourselves to think clearly, we will realize that the need to kill a bull elephant for his huge tusks comes from exactly the same mental place as the need to name him after yourself (because of his huge tusks). Do we now understand clearly why the biggest tusks in Amboseli belong to an elephant called “Craig”? Now examine all the policy arguments around conservation in Kenya. They are all centered around the needs of different centers of whiteness, namely the tourism industry, the hunting industry, and the “conservation” industry. These are all different facets of whiteness, each with its own methods and avenues of violence. The sport hunting industry is the most primitive facet of whiteness, and in some ways, the most honest, because they kill in broad daylight and until the rubbish they started speaking recently, they have never claimed to be interested in anything or anyone’s need, other than their own bloodlust. The tourism industry is the most intellectually stunted facet, because they wait for other people’s warped or childish dreams about Africa, then work very hard, doing their best to bring this nonsense to reality. The most devious and deliberately violent are the conservationists, most so because they seek to serve the interests of whiteness by expressly vilifying indigenous people, their livestock, and their livelihoods. They are also the most dishonest, because they claim to be altruists, doing all this for some strange faceless concept they call ‘nature’ that is somehow separate from human beings. Their hubris is only matched by their hypocrisy, and its normal to hear them cry over the violent death of an elephant and rejoice over the violent eviction of humans from their homes to make room “for wildlife” with which they have shared their homelands for millennia. That’s also why the people who constantly moan about the local population ‘threatening’ wildlife in Kenya are the same ones who went to ask the minister to allow them to hunt, and he actually formed a taxpayer-funded task force to look into that nonsense. They are the ones who imprison our political leaders and state authorities into parasitic relationships that facilitate their violence. Our authorities thus become their choirboys, singing their praises and mourning when they are challenged, either by natives, or their fellow pirates. This is the intellectual ditch Khama has fallen into. The killing of any African animal for sport is a brutal affront to our values as Africans. However, Khama thinks this is a tragedy because of the value of this animal to another set of “white” pirates who want to acquire it in a different way. If he and other African leaders truly understood conservation, they would know that the size of his tusks are about as important to us as the size of the ticks on his wrinkled backside. Aluta Continua!
As a young student, I was always fascinated by the ‘top’ universities and the erudite people who emerged from those August institutions. My first contact with Ivy league people was when I arrived at Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia in 1999 to commence my MSc research. I met students and faculty from Princeton University (which is a trustee of the research centre) and was reassured that they looked ‘normal’, with all the academic challenges and foibles that a Kenyatta University student like me had. After I finished my MSc, the administration were impressed enough with my work to offer me a job as resident scientist, which I took up with the alacrity of someone taking up a big break he got through hard work (I got a rude awakening later, but that’s a story for another day). As part of my job, I was assigned to supervise a group of Princeton undergraduates doing a senior field project, and sharpened my ecologist brain wanting to impress, especially because I thought I would be instructing some of the world’s sharpest young minds. I now laugh at my consternation when after mapping out clear and easy ecological transects for them, they strayed off into a neighbouring ranch and I got a call from the security personnel there that they were sunbathing topless on the research vehicle (they were ladies) and that the boss might be offended. Later on, I asked a postgraduate student from the same institution how these ladies could be so casual about their studies, and she couldn’t hide her amusement at my ignorance. “Grad school is competitive, undergrads get in because of money and name recognition”. I was stunned, but I remembered this when I saw the poor work they submitted at the end of their study. Being an aspiring lecturer (and a student of the late brilliant Prof. R. O. Okelo) I marked them without fear or favour, assuming that they would be used to such standards at Princeton. I was told that I couldn’t give them such low marks because they were supposed to qualify for Med school after their biology degrees. The next cohort included one serious student who I actually enjoyed instructing and she finished her course successfully. By that time though, I was getting restless and had started writing an academic and financial proposal for my PhD, and I finished it about 6 months after my student had gone back to the US to graduate. The then Director of Mpala, Dr. Georgiadis refused to let me do my PhD on the job, so I submitted my proposal to several conservation organizations, including the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society. I got a positive response from them (offering me a grant) which hit me with a strange mixture of feelings. First of all, I was elated at the prospect of starting my PhD, but I was completely baffled at the signature on the award letter. It was the undergraduate student I had supervised about 8 months earlier. An American undergraduate who had spent 2 months in Africa was somehow qualified to assess a PhD proposal on ecology of African wildlife written by an African MSc. holder. It was my first rude awakening to the racial prejudice that is de rigueur in African conservation practice. But I had to get my academic career moving and indulge my first taste of the ultimate luxury that my competence and work could afford me, which was the ability to say “NO”. It was with extreme pleasure that I wrote and signed my resignation letter from my job at Mpala, leaving it on the Directors desk.
Years later, after I finished my PhD and had a useful amount of conservation practice under my belt I attended the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) conference in Sacramento, California where there was a side event featuring publishers from several Ivy league universities and I excitedly engaged them because at the time, Gatu Mbaria and I were in the middle of writing “The Big Conservation Lie”. I pointed out to all of them that there were no books about conservation in Africa written by indigenous Africans, but they were uniform in their refusal to even read the synopsis of what we had written. I later understood this when I learned that in US academia, African names as authors or references are generally seen as devaluations of any literature. From Sacramento, I made the short trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, to give a seminar to an African Studies group. I felt honoured to be giving an academic contribution at an Ivy League university and I prepared well. My assertions about the inherent prejudices in African conservation practice were met with stunned silence by the faculty, many of whom are involved with conservation research in Africa. One bright spot in that dour experience was one brilliant Ph.D student in attendance who echoed my views and pointed out that these prejudices existed within academia as well. I later found out that he was Kenyan, His name is Ken Opalo and he now teaches at Georgetown University. Fast forward to today. The ‘Big Conservation Lie’ got published, and after the initial wailing, breaking of wind, gnashing of teeth and accusations of racism, Mbaria and I are actually being acknowledged as significant thinkers in the conservation policy field and our literary input is being solicited by different publications around the world. Now, the cultural differences between how European and American institutions treat African knowledge are becoming clear (certainly in my experience). I have been approached by several European institutions to give talks (lectures), contributed articles and op-eds (to journals and magazines) and one book foreword. Generally, the approach is like this;
“Dear Dr. Ogada, I am_______ and I am writing to you on behalf of________ . We are impressed with what you wrote in _____ and would appreciate it if you would consider writing for us an an article of (length) on (topic) in our publication. We will offer you a honorarium of (X Euros) for this work, and we would need to receive a draft from you by (date)….”. Looking forward to your positive response…”
When inviting me to speak, the letters are similarly respectful and appreciative of my time. The key thing is the focus on and respect for your intellectual contribution.
Publications from American Ivy league schools typically say;
“Dear Dr. Ogada, I am __________, the editor of __________. We find your thoughts on _______ very interesting and we are pleased to invite you to write an essay of________(length) in our publication. Previous authors we have invited include (dropping about 6-8 names of prominent American scholars).
The entire tone of the letter implies that you are being offered a singular privilege to ‘appear’ in the particular journal. It is even worse when being asked to give a lecture. No official communication, just casual message from a young student saying that they would like you to come and talk to their class on__________(time and date on the timetable). No official communication from faculty or the institution. After doing that a couple of times, I realized that the reason these kids are so keen to have an African scholar speak to them and answer all their questions is because they need his knowledge, but do not want to read his publications, or (God forbid) have an African name in the ‘references’ section of their work
European intellectuals seem to catching on to the fact that knowledge and intellect resides in people, not institutions. That is why they solicit intellectual contributions based on the source of an idea they find applicable in the space and time. Name recognition doesn’t matter to them, which is why they seek people like Ogada, who doesn’t even have that recognition in Kenya. The US elite schools still place this premium in institutions, which is why whenever an African displays intellectual aptitude, those who are impressed don’t ask about him and his ideas, but where he went to school. They want to know which institution bestowed this gift upon him.
For the record, I usually wait about a week before saying ‘no’ to the Ivy league schools. Hopefully, they read my blog, they will improve the manner in which they approach me, or stop it altogether.
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.
This is the original English manuscript of the Article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 17th October 2021
Weather and Climate has suddenly come ‘front and center’ to our lives, and demands our attention because its vagaries have suddenly hit the global north. One of the greatest unspoken fallacies of our time is that climate change is a recent phenomenon that ‘we’ suddenly need to be concerned about today, with regards to our emissions and carbon footprint. The truth of this matter is that greenhouse gases the atmosphere accumulate, and what we are witnessing now is the cumulative effect of what has been emitted in the 200 years or so since the industrial revolution.
It goes without saying that mankind are all in trouble now and must all work together to solve the challenges brought to us by climate change. However, the search for solutions to this problem must come from a position of honesty, if we are to have any chances of success. Therefore, the first thing we must deconstruct is the false corporate term “we” in reference to responsibility for the origins and drivers of climate change.
People in the tropics (also referred to as the ‘Global South’) do not experience the extreme seasonal variations typical of the temperate zones, but the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) where they live has always been subject to extreme weather, including droughts and floods. In Kenya, and much of Africa, rural indigenous communities developed resilience mechanisms, including “reserving” key resources like springs and highland grazing areas exclusively for use during times of crisis. In most communities, this wasn’t only a material consideration but a social and occasionally spiritual one. This is because the use of these resources was subject to decisions by designated elders, and some of these ‘reserved’ areas were also used for cultural rituals and spiritual purposes. Nature, therefore was part of a continuum that included people, their cultural structures, spiritual standing, and physiological needs.
People in the temperate ‘global North’, on the contrary, have always seen themselves as ‘external’ to nature, and used the latter as a resource to be consumed and exploited. The rate of consumption was only limited by the physical capability of the consumer. When the industrial revolution came, mechanical engineering exponentially increased their capability to consume. In addition to that, it gave rise to capitalism, whereby consumption was now driven by the profit motive, in addition to the initial individual need. The earth (and it’s environment) suddenly had to cope with a society that had the desire, and capability to consume far beyond its physiological needs, and initial geographical boundaries. The pressure was on, and students of history will easily recognize how this drove colonialism, war, environmental destruction, resulting in the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today. The instability, unpredictability and occasional violence of atmospheric conditions which we pretend to understand and describe in a deliberately vague term; Climate change.
“Climate change” is a terminology that appears to denote something current, fluid and urgent. When used within the context of describing extreme weather events, it evokes images of an event that is happening right now, driven by actions being undertaken by everyone right now. Those are the reasons why it is such a useful term, because it feeds the crisis narrative. Scientists can make millions of dollars in grants and base their entire careers on it without doing anything tangible. Politicians and political parties can ride on this crisis to power or positions of power within coalition governments. World powers can easily use it at global forums as a pretext to try and curtail the industrial ambitions of their rivals. At the back end of the ethical spectrum It has even been used as an excuse by adults to put a teenage girl on the frontline of the geo-political battles we should be protecting children from.
One of the most absurd facets of the chimera we know as climate change is the rise of monetization of the environment. The rise, and acceptance of the bizarre notion of “carbon” offsets, credits, and trading in the same. In a previous paragraph above, we see how capitalism and its associated consumption patterns is a major root of the environmental miasma in which we find ourselves today. For us to imagine that capitalism, brokerage and profiteering can be used to mitigate the same damage it has caused over all these years is the height of hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance or both on a global scale. At a basic level, the money that changes hands in these has zero impact on emission. It simply means that those who pollute pay for it. The cost of his payment gets passed on to consumers, so the polluters don’t lose, and with most emissions coming from essential consumer goods, what we end up with is a simple extortion scam, paid for by the consumers, who then suffer its atmospheric consequences through extreme weather.
The most harmful part of this hypocrisy has been the fallacy of ‘carbon sequestration’ by annexing and colonizing lands and seascapes in the tropics. Allied to that is the accelerated creation of new ‘protected areas’ driven by the fatally flawed premise that wealthy people and biodiversity will somehow survive the vagaries of a destabilized atmosphere within islands of land fenced off from the rest of the world.
That vague term ‘climate change’ has allowed us to conjure up an entire economy of ‘greenwashing’ trade in intangible ‘carbon’. It has engendered scientific publications, academic and political careers, not to mention the relentless search for ‘alternatives’ that will somehow excuse us from changing our consumption patterns. The prejudices that are such an integral part of human nature have found a comfortable home in the miasma that is climate “science”, with industrialized nations pointing at livestock in the global south, and ignoring cars, industries and fossil fueled power stations in their own countries. Pointing at population growth in the global south, while ignoring the existing density and incomparable carbon footprint in the north. The people who drive this are “scientists”, ironically funded by the corporations that do most damage, so we must not let ‘science’ become the unquestioned cult it seeks to be. We must scrutinize it in the same manner we examine everything else around us and apply logic to it.
Extreme weather, in its unpredictability and power, is actually a reminder to us, that our international borders, protected areas, international conferences, harebrained financial schemes and ‘scientific research’ means nothing if we don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must get our act together because for once, we face a challenge that completely ignores wealth, race, religion, fences and all the other divisions we place amongst ourselves. Weather, the great equalizer.
WHAT DO JOHN MUIR’S WRITINGS AND THOUGHTS MEAN TODAY?
John Muir is widely acknowledged to be the ‘father’ of conservation thinking, indeed considered by many to be a conservation hero whose standing straddles two centuries. Whether or not that is justified is a different issue, but the pinnacle of this adulation is probably the reference to him as ‘Father of the National Parks’. A historical examination of the global network of protected areas shows that the original US National parks like Yellowstone were the inspiration behind the establishment of similar structures all over the world. From a personal perspective, there are a number of different things which inspired my childhood fascination with wildlife and wild places and a major one was the wonderful hardcover book “The American Wilderness” by John Muir, a somewhat unlikely read for the typical African child, but part of my experience spending part of my childhood in the United States. Others were the romanticized and shallow portrayals of African wildlife in films like “Born Free” and “Serengeti Shall Not Die” by Joy Adamson and Bernhard Grzimek respectively, which were made in the 1960s, but really became staples in the 1970s. One theme that endured the test of time from the turn of the 20th century into the beginning of the 21st century has been the dominance of white people in the global conservation narrative.
When we read the works of John Muir today, what stands out to critical observation is his gift of expression and passion for the wilderness he talks about. However, therein also lies the deep malaise that grew from charismatic men like him, and their gift for imparting their belief. Conservation practice around the world today is based loosely on the fortress conservation model developed in the 19th Century North America. Reference to history books reveal to us portraits of a society that had little or no place for any human perspectives that weren’t Christian, Male, and white. These dominant perspectives were enforced by continuous violence, perpetrated on Native American nations, women, black slaves brought from Africa, and Hispanic people from further south. One of Muir’s more famous works, ‘Our National Parks’ was published in 1901 and this caught the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. They corresponded regularly and in 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir and they undertook a camping trip in Yosemite. To this day it is still considered the “most significant camping trip” in history. There, together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s expansive conservation programs. This was the beginning of the global protected area network, driven largely by hubris and the need for self-actualization through purported protection of ‘nature’. This convergence of ideas between these two famous men also conferred acceptability to the notion of ‘pristine wilderness’ devoid of human presence. The seeds of racism in conservation practice were also sown during this time by Muir, who regarded the native Americans as ‘unclean’ and something of a stain on the pristine wilderness that was Yosemite
The perceptions of European colonists around the world determined what part of biodiversity was worth killing and what was worth saving, resulting in a strange situation where they simultaneously occupied the place of killers, and that of ‘saviours’. Even today, where the intrinsic values of biodiversity seem to be indelibly stained by the needs of tourism, the desires and aspirations of white people continue to influence what in nature is to be eliminated as vermin, what is to be hunted for prestige as trophies and what is precious enough to be protected through the use of force and violence. In some cases, species like the African elephant are hunted by white hunters for prestige while being protected by white saviours from black ‘poachers’. Indeed, conservation practice is one of the few facets of human endeavour where duplicity is accepted as the norm, with endangered wildlife protected with military might, while those who are wealthy enough gladly pay for licenses can kill them for fun. We have Muir’s contemporaries like Teddy Roosevelt who were extraordinarily proficient killers of wildlife celebrated as pioneers of conservation. To fully understand the true import of John Muir’s story and legacy, conservation scholars ought to delve into American history to understand the context within which he was living and marveling about this ‘beautiful wilderness’ within which he found himself. Firstly was the creation of Yellowstone National Park in March 1872. This park is widely acknowledged to be the foundation upon which the development of protected areas as a conservation tool grew into the widely held paradigm that we see today. We know very well what Yellowstone is in the history of America as written by the European colonists, but what is Yellowstone on the ground? A two million acre expanse of land from which the ancestors of the Kiowa and Crow Nations were excluded in order to provide a recreation area for the settler colonists. Conservation was and still is an integral cog in the wheel that is colonialism, because it ‘erases’ indigenous people from landscape and lexicon. Even today, the history of Yellowstone as detailed in the US National Parks’ service website does not have any account of the Native Americans’ role in the history of the park. The history of Yellowstone National Park is therefore resolutely ‘white’. The efficacy of terrestrial wildlife conservation is widely (and erroneously) stated by science to be proportional to the geographical size of the ‘protected area’. Conservation science knows, but never acknowledges that the geographical size of a protected area is also directly proportional to the degree of violence required to establish and maintain it. This thinking is also an inadvertent admission that present day conservation science is based on settler colonialism; primarily the notion that wildlife cannot sustainably share landscapes with humans. The sharing of habitats, landscapes and resources with wildlife is an ancient and present reality of indigenous populations all over the world. It is a widely accepted fact that human populations, consumption patterns, and carbon footprints have changed irreversibly over the centuries. However, humans are a unique species in that we are able to change the carrying capacity of their habitats through behaviour. When we examine this capacity for behavior change through the prism of natural resource use, it is conservation practice in it’s purest form, the very essence of civilization. From their own historical accounts, the settler society in North America was still very primitive and violent society in the 18th and 19th centuries with the gun becoming an essential part of everyday life for people everywhere, in farms, in the wild, and even in urban settings. The Hobbesian nature of North American settler society of the period gave rise to the second amendment to the US constitution giving every citizen the right to bear arms. This was a self-justifying law, because the right to bear arms, in itself gave rise to the overarching ‘self-defence’ justification for bearing arms. This is the world in which John Muir distinguished himself through his appreciation of wilderness and natural spaces. Through his appreciation for wild spaces and his gift for writing, he managed to bring nature ‘home’ for the white settler population, gathering a vast following in the process. The amount of interest in nature that Muir managed to garner was also a reflection of the entitlement to it that was felt by the European settler population. The settler population’s admiration for nature made no reference to the Native American nations that they found living with, and using these resources. The universal admiration for National Parks also reveals ignorance or tacit acceptance of the fact that protected areas are almost universally created through acts of violence and disenfranchisement. The peace and tranquility that protected areas represent, is actually a result of areas being ‘cleansed’ of the indigenous people that used them, an act that in itself reduces the owners of resources to the level of a nuisance that needs to be removed, or otherwise dealt with. Racism is very difficult to deny or escape in conservation literature over the generations and Muir wasn’t immune to this difficulty. His writings revealed a grudging admiration for the ways in which the native Americans lived off the land on naturally available resources while leaving a very light footprint on the landscape. Muir’s own limitations in this regard were brought into sharp relief by his inability to find sufficient food during his forays into the wilds of Yosemite, the main limitation that curtailed the amount of time he could spend out in the wild. He was conflicted in the manner in which he regarded nature as clean and pristine, while regarding the natives who blended so well into it as ‘unclean’. Despite being a typically detailed and expressive writer, Muir’s work studiously avoids mentioning any positive interactions with, or assistance from the Native Americans, although he does describe interactions and conversations with Chinese immigrants. This starkly illustrates conservation’s greatest prejudice- the disregard for indigenous peoples. It does not stand to reason that Muir could have spent so much time exploring, sketching, painting and describing Yosemite without regularly encountering its original residents. This was a deliberate effort to erase them from the Yosemite narrative and it is a sad testament to the culture of conservation that this erasure was accepted without question for over a century. Once we understand the attitudes of John Muir an and European settler colonialism, the pall of racism that stains his writings becomes more visible, for instance in the way he refers to the Natives’ knowledge of their environment as ‘instinctive behaviour’, a description commonly used in zoology to describe the behavior of various wildlife species. In addition, there is the conflicted manner in which one who considers himself a naturalist grudgingly admires indigenous knowledge, while stating that it is beyond the remit of what he describes as “civilized whites”. Another vital lesson that contemporary conservation scholars should draw from Muir’s descriptions of his experiences is the nexus between western Christianity and conservation’s attendant prejudices. Muir’s grew up in a staunch Christian family and the spiritual tone is very ‘audible’ in his writing, particularly when describing beautiful features and landscapes. More tellingly, the repeated references to the Native Americans as ‘unclean’. He expressly refers to ‘dirt’ on their faces, but it is a well-known fact that face painting is an integral part of the culture of many Native American nations. Moreover, personal hygiene was never an important attribute of 19th century “civilized white” outdoorsmen. This was more a reference to ‘heathen’ in the biblical sense- recognizing them as human, but unable to attain the imagined level of ‘cleanliness’ upon which he placed “civilized whites” and nature.
In order to understand the impact (or lack thereof) that John Muir had on the behaviour of the “civilized whites” of his time, we need to examine the state of biodiversity in North America at the time. His lifetime (1838-1914) straddled a period of precipitous decline in wildlife species which had astounded settlers by their sheer abundance. The Bison roamed the prairies in the tens of millions until the early 19th century, but were hunted down to less than a hundred animals in 1880. They were killed for their tongues and hides, with the rest of the animal left out to rot. Even by contemporary standards, the sheer destructiveness and bloodlust defy belief. Some heroes like Willliam ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody are still celebrated today for having single-handedly killed thousands of Bison. Two notable declines of avifauna in North America also occurred during Muir’s years, namely the Ivory-billed woodpecker and the passenger pigeon-species that neither posed any danger to, nor had direct conflict with human populations. The passenger pigeon’s decline was far more precipitous and it finally went extinct, when the last specimen died in captivity in 1914. To put this into context, the passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, with a population estimated at around 5 billion birds. They were hunted by the Native Americans for food, but the precipitous decline and eventual extinction was driven by the arrival of Europeans and hunting on a commercial scale for food. The ivory-billed woodpecker was also decimated by hunting, probably driven by the fact that it was a large, brightly-coloured and highly-visible bird. The casual destruction is starkly illustrated by reports that in the late 1940s when the bird was critically endangered some hunters and fishermen were still using ivory billed woodpecker flesh to bait traps and fish hooks. Given the low level of technological advancement at the time, these extirpations demonstrated and extraordinary commitment to killing, which indigenous populations around the world are neither psychologically equipped to understand nor perpetrate. The unique neurosis of conservation interests and naturalists is notable in the fact that the final precipitous decline of both these species were driven by collectors who went out shoot specimens for private and institutional collections. The inexplicable pride that collectors have in writing scientific papers about the ‘last collected’ specimen is a feature that excludes indigenous people from extirpating species, because even where they are hunters, an animal that is reduced to a few specimens is no longer worth the energy and time required to hunt and kill it. For a ‘conservation scientist’ however, when there are only two left, there is an irresistible compulsion to find them, kill them and collect them. The reward is fame through media coverage, scientific publications, promotion in academia, and bizarrely, conservation grants to help ‘prevent extinction ever happening again’. The hundreds of skins of these decimated species that remain in the collections of universities and museums bear silent witness to the wanton destruction done in the name of conservation ‘science’. So the most important question of our times is, if we claim that John Muir inspires or conservation work more than a century after his passing, why wasn’t he able to stop the mass extinctions precipitated by the destructive nature of his fellow ‘civilized whites’ in North America during his lifetime? It is very difficult to find any records of his trying to do so, despite all his lofty social connections. The lack of concern from conservationists over the actions of white people obviously isn’t a new phenomenon.
Conservation being a ‘noble’ obligation therefore set the stage for exclusion of the proletariat, and celebration of the nobles, regardless of what they actually do. Our state of knowledge in 2020 needs to acknowledge that sustainable use of natural resource is the cornerstone and a necessary preoccupations of indigenous civilizations all over the world. This is uncontestable, because the indigenous societies that didn’t have this culture died out, leaving only ruins as evidence of their past existence. The fact that wildlife and biodiversity still exist side by side with these societies implies that conservation was, and is still part and parcel of their cultures and livelihoods. In over 20 years of research and practice in wildlife conservation policy and practice, I still haven’t encountered a word for ‘conservation’ in any African language because it was simply a principle governing how people lived their lives. The word used most often in Kiswahili for example is ‘uhifadhi’ which translates more closely to ‘keep’, more akin to an item kept on a shelf than a living system with producers and consumers.
Conservation, therefore as a structured, abstract and discrete concept is a creation of destructive people, those who need to create barriers to their own consumption, which extends far beyond the remit of their needs and into the realm of wanton destruction. It is a concept that lives very comfortably with contradictions and duplicity, for example, the protection of wildlife not for its intrinsic value but in order to satisfy the desires of those who seek of those who seek dominion over it. This fundamental flaw is the reason why wildlife conservation in Africa still remains has been unable to escape from racism and violence to this day. Its mindset all grew from the thoughts, imaginations and deeds of Theodore Roosevelt and his bloodthirsty harvest of wildlife during his 1909 Kenya safari. The animals he brutally killed for his self- actualization are still displayed in the National Museum of Natural History, and Smithsonian (which sponsored his trip) still celebrates this slaughter to this day. Many euphemisms have been used to describe his trip, including high-brow terms like ‘expedition’ and ‘scientific collection’, but the truth is that he was neither a scientist nor and explorer. He was a wealthy American seeking self-actualization and to demonstrate dominance through the slaughter of African wildlife. This is still the profile of westerners’ involvement in African conservation even in the 21st century, with the only notable difference being that some of them are now women and some come to “save” rather than slaughter our natural heritage. Looking at the story of John Muir, there is so much importance attached to his association and closeness to Theodore Roosevelt, which of course is perceived as a significant bolster to his already considerable credentials as a conservationist. So who was ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt and what does he mean to those of us seeking harmony with our natural heritage today? He was a picture of the self-interested need to possess and dominate nature which so often masquerades as love for nature and wildlife. This sentiment is also a very comfortable redoubt for racism, because it instantly places indigenous people living in situ in the position of ‘obstacles’ to conservation and the survival of ecosystems. Roosevelt was an unabashed racist, and conservation will continue to suffer, until it can escape from the intellectual clutches of its prejudiced icons. Racism amongst individuals wasn’t remarkable in early 20th century America, but scholars of conservation today must pause for thought at the manner in which racists are accepted and celebrated by individuals and institutions in our field. The American Museum of Natural History in New York features a larger than life bronze statue of Roosevelt at the front entrance. He is astride a magnificent horse and flanked by two people on foot; a Native American, and a black man. The location of the statue implies appreciation of Roosevelt as a conservationist, but the statue itself portrays Roosevelt as a conqueror of sorts, giving a nod to white supremacy. We in conservation accepted it and never once questioned its message. It took the social upheavals and racial tensions of 2019 to commence discussions around its removal, almost 80 years after it was erected. There are many cases in history where racists escaped odium because their prejudices were closeted. Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t of that ilk. He described Native Americans as “squalid savages” and justified the taking of their lands to spread white European “civilization”. It isn’t difficult to imagine that this sentiment played an important part in his affinity for John Muir, especially since the creation of national parks was a faster and more effective way ruse to appropriate lands belonging to indigenous people. It still is, all over the world. The following are excerpts from his spoken and written words. One of the most starkly racist statements from a world leader was probably Roosevelt’s expressed opinion on the lengthy genocide perpetrated by European settlers on the Native American population; “The most righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman . . . A sad and evil feature of such warfare is that whites, the representatives of civilization, speedily sink almost to the level of their barbarous foes.” It isn’t a stretch of imagination to perceive the possible part this sentiment played in the mutual admiration between Muir and Roosevelt. Muir’s regard of Native Americans as ‘unclean’ would have been bolstered by the unequivocal support of a racist president. This in turn, would have greatly enhanced the moral acceptability of the violent eviction of Native Americans to make room for the National Parks that are so celebrated today. Roosevelt’s racism wasn’t restricted to the natives and this was his opinion on the annexation of Texas in 1845: “It was of course ultimately to the great advantage of civilization that the Anglo-American should supplant the Indo-Spaniard.” His opinions on black people probably give us the most pause for thought when we examine the spread of fortress conservation around the world’ On slavery, Roosevelt said: “I know what a good side there was to slavery, but I know also what a hideous side there was to it, and this was the important side.” He also believed that the ‘average Negro’ was not fit to take care of himself, and this was the cause of what he referred to as “the Negro problem”. It isn’t debatable that Theodore Roosevelt was racist, and racism isn’t a new malaise afflicting societies around the world, but it is imperative that we ask ourselves why conservation is the one field that can make a racist acceptable and even celebrated around the world. Judging from the views he aired in the public domain, Roosevelt’s bigotry borders on white supremacy, but he was a much admired figure during and after his presidential tenure receiving many accolades, including the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. In the 100 years since his death in 1919, he has been relentlessly celebrated as a champion of nature with a slavish devotion that only conservation and religious cults are able to inspire. He is praised for ‘setting aside’ land for National Parks, even though it didn’t belong to him, and the process was in violation of Native Americans; rights. Conservationists even celebrate the centenary of his slaughter of Kenyan wildlife, somehow seeing it as the inspiration for their conservation work. It was meticulously documented in photographs and journals, but through it all, Africans were conspicuous by their absence from the narrative. Photos therein depict hundreds of black porters carrying heavy loads on foot, while Roosevelt and his white companions rode on horseback. The inspiration for the bronze statue outside the American Museum of Natural History is obvious. His detailed journals narrating his direct bloodthirsty interaction with African wildlife without ‘interference’ from indigenous populations helped give rise to the myth of untrammeled African ‘wilderness’ devoid of human presence or influence. Sadly, this still remains the cornerstone of what western tourists aspire to experience. It is ludicrous that conservation science even extends this fallacy to the rangelands of East Africa, which archeology acknowledges to be the cradle of mankind, having developed in the presence of humans for over a million years. Indigenous peoples have been vilified by conservationists for generations as ‘primitive’, ‘unclean’ and ‘uncivilized’, but it is now time for us to acknowledge the truth and confront the fact that those dubious distinctions are actually features of conservationists and their chosen profession.
As we evolve into more intellectually astute or ‘civilized’ practitioners of conservation, we will have to look at how attitudes have been shaped by Christianity, in nations where the settler colonialists included Christian missionaries. Dominion of man over other creatures is a well-known Christian tenet and dominion over the same in foreign lands is an expression of expansionism and imperialism over lands and peoples. An examination of the fortress conservation model and how it has been practiced around the world, its perceived successes and failures is basically a walk along the path trodden by European colonists in partnership with Western Christian missionaries. The fortress conservation model has either died, or had to remodel itself radically in those societies where Christian missionaries and colonialists found strong and structured religious traditions that preceded them. Knowledge of this history is vital in the understanding of contemporary conservation narratives. China and India are the world’s two most populous nations. They are also home to a magnificent array of biodiversity, including iconic endangered species like the giant panda and tiger respectively. A common narrative in the conservation arena today is the claim that human populations are compromising space available for wildlife and space needs to be ‘secured’ in one way or another for wildlife. We have known for some time now that this is a racially-biased concern because it is never said in reference to any country whose indigenous inhabitants are white, despite the fact that some like the UK have relatively high population densities and hardly any biodiversity worth speaking of. Countries like my homeland (Kenya) which have a well-developed tourism industry have the added intellectual burden of selling a spurious product which presumes to place indigenous people in the position of bystanders and props. Terms like ‘winning space for wildlife’ are de rigueur in conservation circles with the attendant loss of resource rights remaining unsaid. Closer scrutiny of all the noise surrounding human population as a challenge to conservation will reveal that China and India are prominent by their absence from this discussion. You are unlikely to hear of China’s human population being described on global platforms as a threat to the survival of the giant panda, or India’s population as a threat to survival of tigers. A similar argument could be extended to Indonesia on the nexus of population density, coexistence with biodiversity and low penetration of Christianity, which has now been replaced by conservation as the most effective vehicle of Caucasian hegemony in the world today.
Conservation practice today is based on settler colonialism because it is invariably led by the needs, sentiments and aspirations of outsiders. This is a fundamental flaw that began with European immigrants to North America like John Muir, who then presumed to claim ownership, concern and value for natural heritage beyond that of the Natives in whose presence this entire ecosystem had evolved. Today, it is incumbent upon conservation practitioners plying their trade away from their homelands to correct this by understanding and accepting local people’s aspirations. We need to accept that these aspirations could include the desire for us to go away and leave them alone. We in conservation need to read more into the social sciences and move away from the imagination that ours is a field of biology. The Australian anthropologist Patrick Wolfe accurately (if inadvertently) describes conservation’s neuroses in his 2006 paper entitled ‘Settler Colonialism and The Elimination of the Native’. We must realize that the challenges we are facing aren’t discrete events, but a flawed, cruel and unjust structure, that must be dismantled before it collapses on itself. The foibles and faults of Individuals like John Muir, therefore aren’t the problem as much as the structure that they and others created that removes humans from nature and worships the resultant falsehood as a fetish. Yosemite, Yellowstone, Serengeti, Kruger, Tsavo, Corbett, Kaziranga and all other national parks around the world are monuments to this fetish. We must value them, not just for their ecosystem values, but for the memories of the brutalized populations who were victims of their creation and continue to be victims of their maintenance. Anything else is patently false. We in Africa are constantly under assault from ‘saviours’ who love African wildlife but hate African people. We must temper our celebration of conservation “icons” with knowledge of their deeds and context. If we do this, we’ll understand that someone like John Muir was just a relatively sensible member of a brutal and primitive colonial settler class who appreciated nature and sought to take it away from its indigenous owners.
The relentless need that westerners have to impose the colonial model of conservation on indigenous peoples of other races is less about concern for biodiversity and more about the need to deny the existence of civilizations that preceded them in these lands. In my experience, one of the highest forms of civilization is the capability of living with wildlife for millennia without destroying it, and for this alone, indigenous peoples deserve to be celebrated, and not vilified, displaced and occasionally killed. This regular injustice has been accepted and celebrated for the last 100 years, until completely unrelated events in 2019 gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly, global consciousness of racial injustice has been heightened, with calls for the removal of monuments to racists around the world, including Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History. Things came full circle in July 2020, when the Sierra Club distanced itself from John Muir, its icon and founder, admitting that he was actually a racist. Is this new information? No it isn’t. John Muir was one of those people who achieved ‘icon’ status in their lifetimes, so society has always been aware of what he said and his thoughts. Our acknowledgement today of his prejudices is simply a sign that the primitive conservation field is gradually becoming civilized. Ideally, we shouldn’t regard the legend of John Muir as an inspiration for anything we should do in the future, but as a prism through which we can view the false edifice we refer to as ‘conservation’. It is also a glimpse into conservation’s dark past- one which we should neither forget nor repeat. Through this prism of historical knowledge, ‘Yosemite’ is an essential historical work for anyone who understand where conservation has come from, and where it should be aiming to go.
Heads up- Do you know any conservationist who was in Marseille, France in the last couple of weeks? If you’re a conscious African citizen, you need to ask them exactly what they were doing and what they discussed at the IUCN world Conservation congress there. Personally, I was there as part of a group organizing resistance to the relentless advance of colonialism under the guise of conservation throughout the global south. Like most Conservation conferences today, this meeting was full of back-slapping and self-congratulatory nonsense exchanged between celebrities, politicians and business people. It is the ultimate irony because this is the group of people most responsible for the consumption patterns that have landed the world in the climate predicament we see today. Firstly, they created the most effective filter to keep out people from global south (where most biodiversity exists), the students who may be learning new scientific lessons on conservation, and the independent minded practitioners who may be there to share their views, rather than prostitute their faces status and credentials to the needs of their benefactors. This filter was the registration fee. The cheapest rate was the “special members fee” which was 780 Euros (slightly over Ksh. 100,000/- at today’s rates). While most of the Kenyan conservationists are now back from Marseille gushing to all and sundry about the beauty of the South of France (which is true), I am back home a worried man, even more perturbed than I was before, about the march of colonialism under the guise of conservation. To any African proud of his heritage, this worry is only made worse by the unending line of homeguards and uncle toms lining up and singing for places and positions from which they can eat some crumbs and leftovers from massa’s table in the form of small jobs, big cars and trips to conferences at which they will be prominent by their dark complexions, rather than the intellectual content of their contributions. These heritage salesmen and women will call themselves all sorts of fancy titles, but their brains are of no consequence to the European Colonizers. They are as much props as the obviously (physically, mentally or both??) uncomfortable woman unfortunate (or foolish?) enough to have her ridiculous image carrying a pangolin on the blueprint for the new scramble for Africa.
In the first photo, you can see Mr. Philip Mayoux from the EU presenting the audacious grand plan. He expressly stated that they are going to use the “Northern Rangelands Trust model” which has served them well thus far. I’ve been saying for the last 5 years that NRT is a model for colonialism and some invertebrates here have been breaking wind in consternation at my disrespect to their cult. The financiers have now said that it is a pilot for their planned acquisition of Africa’s natural heritage. What say you now? Who’s in charge of the plantation? Do the naïve majority now understand the violence in Northern Kenya? Do the naïve majority now understand why foreign special forces are training armed personnel (outside our state organs) to guard the so-called conservancies? Following this extravagant declaration by Mayoux the CEO of NRT, Mr. Tom Lalampaa, barely containing his joy, took the stage and gushed that “NaturAfrica will be welcomed by all Africans” as Mayoux looked on indulgently.
It is only the irrational excitement that comes from massa’s praises that can make a mere NGO director purport to speak for the 1.3 billion inhabitants of the world’s second largest continent. Kwenda huko! (‘get out of here!’ for my non-swahili speaking readers) we can see through the scheme. In the close up of the map, you can see the takeover plan (darks green areas).
Tsavo, Amboseli (in Southern Kenya) and Mkomazi in northern Tanzania is a colony of the WWF “Unganisha” program https://issuu.com/wwfkenya/docs/wwf_kenya_country_strategy_2020-2030program. In the west, there is the The Nature Conservancy colony consisting of the Maasai Mara wildlife conservancies association in Kenya, and the Northern Tanzania Rangelands Initiative in Tanzania. The rest are the NRT colony (including the rift valley, which is clearly marked) and the oil fields in Northern Kenya. East Africa’s entire Indian Ocean seascape is marked for acquisition, and spare a thought for the Island nations therein, because they have been swallowed whole. The plan has already been implemented around the Seychelles and documented https://www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/mar/soiom-2016-01/other/soiom-2016-01-seychelles-01-en.pdf I will repeat this as often as necessary:- The biggest threat to the rights and sovereignty of African people in the 21st century is not military conflict or terrorism or disease, hunger, etc. It is Conservation organizations, even governments that seek to dominate us come through conservation. They will bring their expatriates, their militaries, and their policies. If you look at the map, the relatively “free” countries like Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan, Somalia, etc are those where international conservation NGOs haven’t been able to get a foothold. Here in Kenya, our state agency KWS is busy counting animals, not knowing that they are well on the way to becoming irrelevant spectators in our conservation arena. If you think this is far- fetched, ask someone there why there are radioactive materials dumped by Naromoru gate to Mt. Kenya National Park. Or why KFS is standing by without any policy position while the Rhino Ark goes about fencing Mt. Kenya forest- a UNESCO world heritage site.
Has anyone asked the EU why this grand plan isn’t global, but only focused on Africa? Are there no conservation concerns in Europe, Asia, or the Americas? Ours is the land of opportunity and this is why they want it. The funding will facilitate immigration and pay to employ the expatriates that will look after their interests in our homelands. Their militias will keep us out of our lands which they need for ‘carbon credits’ so their industries and emissions can continue unabated. Lastly, they need our land for export dumping of their household rubbish, toxic wastes, and most of all radioactive materials. This is obviously a continental initiative, but addressing my compatriots (Kenyans), can you now see what I have been talking about for years, even as the European colonists tell Maasais, Samburus and other pastoralist communities that they shouldn’t listen to me because I am Luo? Can you now see how miniscule that school of thought is, how easily you have been diverted to discussing irrelevant minutiae vis a vis the scale of their grand plan?
As I said in the beginning, my mission, together with colleagues in Survival International, is the de-colonization of conservation in Africa and the global south. The violence and routine violation of indigenous people’s rights is the most visible symptom that brought this problem to our notice, but we must understand that the violence isn’t just for sport, as much as these organizations revel so much in it. Like the 18th and 19th century colonialism, it is a commercial venture that is just followed by political aims because it is too big to remain private. When Leopold’s Belgians massacred people in Congo, it wasn’t just for sport (although at some point it looked like that) – they were there to collect rubber and other resources. The conservation militias don’t just kill indigenous Africans for sport, they are here to protect colonies on behalf of capital interests. It is not about the wildlife, that is just the window dressing. After all, the people and the wildlife were here for thousands of years before we had militias.
This is why we cannot afford to give up. Its not just about biodiversity, but about our identity, our resources and our children. This is why we must fight intellectually to develop our own conservation philosophy and reject this paranoid, violent, and elitist western model that is based on ‘Tarzan’. In order to restore the rights of indigenous peoples, we must tackle the reason why they are being oppressed, tortured and sometimes killed. It is commerce. Conservation is just the attire in which it is clothed.
Find an African who was in Marseille, and ask him or her what they were doing there. If they cannot demonstrate what they said against this colonial project, they had better show you a lot of photos of them shopping and spending a wonderful holiday in the south of France. If they cannot come up with either of these, then they were in France selling or facilitating the sale of our heritage to corporate pirates.
“When a wealthy criminal murders a person in Europe, he can pay a broker a lot of money to go to an African country and frame an innocent man into spending the rest of his life in prison while the family he can longer provide for are given a few handout crumbs to make them forget the loss of the father, husband and livelihood. The family never even get to know the heinous crime done in Europe for which their kin has been incarcerated. For a few more coins, the government of the African country hands over the running of the judiciary, so the European broker can prosecute and jail as many people as he wants. This is a recipe for massive financial profits as the depraved and wealthy European criminals can now live out all their cruel fantasies and fetishes, knowing that there is an endless supply of African innocents to be incarcerated on their behalf”.
The above story is not true. It is just a fictitious dystopian allegory that I have created to describe the global criminal enterprise known as carbon credits, or carbon trade. I needed a simple story to break it down, because spurious complexity and deliberate obfuscation are the hallmarks of all great scams of our times. Whenever someone questions it, he can be dismissed with the statement “You don’t unsderstand…” Now, substitute the European criminal with a polluting industry, and the innocent African is simply that- An innocent person living in rural Africa, dependent on in situ natural resources for his survival and livelihood. The brokers are all the big conservation NGOs plying the carbon trade that are almost worshipped by all and sundry. The same ones who hold environmentally destructive festivals of offroad driving, drink and debauchery to fund their fencing projects. It is crucial to understand the neurosis of fencing and the obsession around it; In Africa, carbon credits can only accrue from lands where black people have been removed and fenced out. It doesn’t matter how many trees are on it, you cannot get credits if there are black people living there and using it. If there are white tourists at an exclusive lodge with a huge carbon footprint on the land, its no problem, the broker still get the credits and sells them for large sums of money. The key to money laundering is to talk up the value of, and sell something intangible (unaccountable) that you do not produce, and cannot be accounted for. At a lower, more primitive level, we had the traditional short lived schemes that took their name from the swindler Charles Ponzi in the 1920s. The longevity and success of these scams is directly proportional to their complexity and the creation of an ethereal “commodity” that is bizarrely “traded” between two people, neither of whom can ever claim ownership thereof. Carbon trade is perfect in this sense and it would be an entertaining irritant like cryptocurrencies. The greatest challenge with carbon trade is that it requires the oppression and disenfranchisement of communities in Africa in order to function. It ALWAYS harms indigenous people, and since people have started questioning it, they are now shape-shifting again and beginning to call themselves “nature-based solutions”. We live in a world today where people are terrified of thinking, and anything promoted by people who are rich and well-presented gains instant acceptance (more so if the promoter is Caucasian, in addition to all that). Cryptic mechanisms are especially helpful in countries like Kenya, where state agencies in charge of our natural resources (especially Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service) haven’t the faintest understanding of how valuable our wildlife and forests are. If the carbon trading nonsense going on in Kenya wasn’t a scam, these two would be the wealthiest state corporations, not begging for alms from donors and tourists. We can now understand why NGOs are suddenly obsessed with fencing all our forests and rangelands at colossal costs. These biomes are priceless on the carbon markets, but only if they can remove and keep black people out of them. Some of the black people thus removed are now destitute, and those of them who have arms are currently engaged in violent resource conflict in Northern Laikipia. Why do you think conservation NGOs are silent about the conflict? They know the cause, but want to maintain the “African savages” or “political violence” labels that always serve so well to cover their corporate crimes.
Today, I wrote on my timeline that carbon credits are a global money laundering scheme. Nobody from any of the broker NGOs spoke up to oppose me, but my timeline was crowded with people asking me to give them a link to a ‘credible’ article that says so. This illustrated an extremely deep malaise that is all too common to public observations of the conservation sector in Africa (especially Kenya);
These questioners obviously have NO IDEA what carbon trading is. If they did, they would notice that none of the practitioners confronted me
They heard of carbon trading from white people, so they are asking for reference to a paper written by a white author (as opposed to the opinion of a black observer) in order to question it. In this case ‘credible’ was just a euphemism.
The majority of Kenyans have been emasculated intellectually, and will do anything to avoid having to think for themselves, make a decision and take responsibility for the said decision.
However many different flowery terms, global conferences and stars they use to promote their schemes, we must understand that the movement of large sums of money without any goods or services in exchange is money laundering, a criminal enterprise, and this is what international conservation organizations are doing, day in day out. They call it innovative funding models, carbon credits, trading, offsets, nature-based solutions, amongst other names. This fraud is also harmful to our environment, because payment of ‘protection money’ or ‘greenwashing fees’ in this manner entitles them to continue harming their environment in situ. The brokers who receive the money are the same people who audit this intangible carbon, and eject people from their homelands in order to ‘sell’ forests they never created and earn money for nothing. They are pirates. All of them. This is organized crime, and anyone who expects to find an article in a conservation journal questioning the source of this free money has serious cognitive challenges.
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.
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
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
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:
An institutionalization of policy to take land away from citizens and turn it into protected areas.
Access to western funding to finance the above policy (they are currently discussing the huge amounts of money here in Marseille
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)
Dear Natives, here is a what seems like a very firm declaration, driven by the need to address the many many young people asking me for advice because they are trying to make their way in the conservation field in Kenya. Young people, stop trying to avoid making decisions, there is no advice I can give you that will replace the need for courage and conviction. You MUST be prepared to join one of the following groups;
1. Those who fight for justice. You will FIGHT every day. It hurts in every way you can imagine, but you sleep well at night and walk with your head high. However, you must watch your back, because our conservation sector is organized crime. Anyone can do this, but you must be brave.
2. The Slave owner (This position is only available to those of Caucasian extraction) no description required.
3. The “Uncle Tom”. Working for the slave plantation, serving the interests of the slave owner. This position is available to all races, but black Kenyans doing this tend to pretend that they don’t know what they are doing and pretend to be focused on “communities”, beadwork, “alternative livelihoods” and other nonsensical minutiae. Homeguards or ‘ngaati’ as my Kikuyu brothers call them
4. “Bundekamnara” This is a bastardized Dholuo insult corrupted from “Bunduki come nearer”. White colonials used to carry guns everywhere, and the most trustworthy, physically strong and intellectually stunted native available was designated as gunbearer. He was strong enough to carry a heavy rifle and ammunition all day and too stupid/ cowardly to turn it on the boss in spite of all the mistreatment he received. The gunbearer position in Kenya is mostly occupied by state agencies, but civil society is loudly staking their claim to be gunbearers through the wildlife conservancy movement.
If you want to get into the conservation movement in Kenya, take your pick from these positions. They are the only ones available. And most importantly, don’t ever fall for the lie that there is any placement outside these categories. We are all one of these, and if you cannot fit anywhere here, go into banking or something else. One of the biggest lies told by conservationists in Kenya is that it doesn’t include racism or white supremacy. If it didn’t our government wouldn’t place our wildlife under tourism. The reason I don’t entertain arguments on this assessment of our conservation sector is because I have lived it for over 20 years and I still live it today. Below is a recent email exchange with a white british man who lived and taught biology in school in Kenya some years ago. Because he is white, he cannot believe that a black man with a PhD in wildlife ecology can have the temerity to question the actions of a white high school dropout (Leakey) in conservation. He is even appalled that I am talking back to a white biology schoolteacher, more so because white people bring in millions of dollars in aid to finance the ‘Tarzan’ lifestyles of white conservationists in Kenya. For the record, my feeling is that foreign conservation funding to NGOs has now become the biggest source of corruption, threat to our wildlife, our indigenous people, and the sovereignty of our nation. Because I do this, to him, I am racist and childish, and because we have corrupt politicians and poor people living in slums, we should never question white people on wildlife matters. This fellow is just too primitive to hide it, but that’s the dominant attitude in Kenya. I have often said that I do enjoy the art of the insult, and dispensing them, but please read the racism between the lines and relate it to what we see every day in the conservation arena in Kenya.
On Wed, 21 Jul 2021, 16:06 Alan, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I was very disappointed with your book, ‘The Big Conservation Lie.’ I was so looking forward to reading it. However, I found the utterly racist, forensic analysis of Leakey et al’s failures unnecessary. When are you going to stop whining about white colonialism and start making you own history? You have had independence for nearly sixty years, elected your own politicians and made your own beds. You have to lie in them I’m afraid rather than blaming things which happened a lifetime ago. I notice you do not object to the hundreds of millions of white dollars pumped into Africa over the years.
What have you done? Why are people still living in shanty towns and slums.
Before you assume that I don’t know what I am talking about, I am a biologist, conservationist and lived in Kenya a number of years. Perhaps your own corrupt politicians and so called ‘rangers,’ who look the other way in the pay of poachers could be part of the problem. Or is white colonialism responsible for that too?
On 21 July 2021, at 14:42, Mordecai Ogada <email@example.com> wrote:
Hi Alan!! Wonderful to hear from you and thanks for your feedback. Firstly, I am happy that you’re disappointed because you’re precisely the ilk of person we intended to offend.
Secondly, I don’t know what kind of “Conservation biologist” you are because I can’t for the life of me find any evidence of Conservation work you’ve done in Kenya! I am not sure what the poor slum dwellers or corrupt in Kenya have done to attract your attention, but I can assure you, none of them knows or care who you are.
Lastly, you’re an example of the long term problem of colonialism. The bigotry survives long after independence. I find no substantive issues you have raised on the content of our book, so I won’t try to address noise. For the record, I have tagged my co-author and publisher because I didn’t want to enjoy this alone!
Have a wonderful afternoon
On Wed, 21 Jul 2021, 18:45 Alan, <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
To address your points,
There’s only one bigot on this page and its not me!
I never said I did conservation work in Kenya. I was a teacher of biology. Maybe some of your associates were trained by me not that that would count for anything in your fantasy world.
I’m afraid I have to disappoint you, I am not offended (nor surprised) by your rhetoric. It is the usual hogwash I’ve heard all my life from people with enormous chips on each shoulder.
It’s evident nobody in power in Kenya gives a damn about the slum dwelling people either, too busy with their snouts in the trough.
I wasn’t even born when colonialism occurred so I don’t dee the connection.
Notice the measured response I have given you. A bit different to the childish racist bullshit of yours to me, with silly emojis.
If you want to write such rubbish, you must be prepared for criticism.
Hoping you will grow up soon,
Love to all the animals,
Mordecai Ogada <email@example.com>
Jul 21, 2021, 6:48 PM (3 days ago)
Ah…I obviously didn’t express myself clearly enough, because you’re obviously suffering under the impression that I actually care what you think.