Kenya has seen an exponential rise of conservancies in the past decade than at any other time. Most of the conservancies are in private hands.
For instance, Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has been at the centre of most of this expansion. Its debut conservancy at Lewa has transplanted the idea in many of the conservancies coming up in the North. In recent years, they have spread from its original site near Laikipia and further into Samburu and Isiolo in places like Billiqo Bulessa, Naisulu, Gottu, Leparia, Oldonyiro and Ngaremara.
The latest expansion comes as the affected communities wait for registration of community land in much of the north.
The conservancies have been at loggerheads with herders, who have concerns on shrinkage of grazing lands for their livestock. The rush to expand conservancies seems to be an attempt at locking out indigenous nomadic or pastoralist communities from their ancestral grazing lands.
While the government says it intends to privatise wildlife management, it has already been doing so through conservancies, which it has given a carte blanche to grab community land supposedly for wildlife habitats. Tourism ministry should explain to the country how conservancies, mostly run by foreign organisations through donors, have become central in management of our wildlife.
National parks and reserves have been set specifically as animal reserves. What has since changed to require unnecessary input from private conservancies in wildlife management other than for their personal economic gain and to bloat their land portfolio?
Some of the areas targeted in the north are not known for huge wildlife populations as the savannah. When wildlife is transferred from official reserves in the south or east to the north, all conservancies are trying to force a concept on people that don’t need such investment. They never asked for it.
Wildlife in the north is clearly becoming a species valued much more than pastoralist or nomadic communities, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by illegal land grab in the name of conservancies.
Putting up a few structures for schools and clinics sounds like bribery, to hoodwink communities into giving up more of their land. That conservancies rely on private and government security to legitimise their operations means they know what they are doing is unethical and voracious: Pushing herders out of their lands.
Wildlife management is the responsibility of the government but has been transferred to the hands of private wildlife enthusiasts hung up on colonial mentality that thinks less of African populations, and who treat indigenous land management systems, cultures and way of life of nomadic communities with blatant arrogance.
National and county governments have the duty of caring for, protecting and preserving community land. They cannot keep siding with conservancies and sedentary communities near Mount Kenya who pose a threat to herders from the north.
Former Cabinet Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri, invoking the name of President Kenyatta in the land tussle between Meru and Isiolo communities, amounts to threats to the herders to stop making demands on what is rightly theirs.
The President is every Kenyan’s President. It is important, therefore, to hear from him, rather than from busybodies, on an issue that has become injurious to the lives and livelihoods of the many communities in the north, especially in Isiolo and Marsabit.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then Foreign minister, was flown to Laikipia in 2017 with biased information on insecurity there then to speak in support of conservancies despite their involvement in it. The right person to protect the interests of nomadic or pastoralist communities is the President and the government. The government’s silence on the matter is tantamount to complicity in the land grab and consequent displacement of populations.
Insecurity in the north is exacerbated by the government’s slow reaction to land disputes between communities. Delay in registering community lands is exposing them to exploitation by conservancies out to con them of their land.
It behoves Lands CS Farida Karoney to speedily register community lands in the north to stop their encroachment by conservancies and non-locals. The sooner that is done, the sooner peace and socioeconomic prospects of nomadic or pastoralist communities will be secured.
The government should outlaw conservancy models to save herder communities.