Plight of Busia victims of human-wildlife conflict

Ms Elizabeth Maugo of  Sisenye village in Busia County. Her husband was  killed in a ferocious attack by a hippo in Lake Victoria.

Photo credit: Angeline Ochieng | Nation Media Group

Since her husband was killed in a ferocious attack by a hippo in Lake Victoria seven years ago, life has not been the same for Elizabeth Maugo from Sisenye village in Busia County.

The mother of three had hoped that a compensation claim she lodged with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) would be processed and the payment released to her so that she can support her family.

Her husband, Didmus Oyiengo, was a fisherman in the lake. He used to bring the catch to her, and she would sell it, earning some money for food and other family needs.

Now her haggard appearance paints the picture of frustration and despair. She toils as a casual labourer on her neighbours’ farms to get food for her children.

A copy of the compensation form she filled after his death in 2015 and delivered to the KWS offices in Busia has turned gray.

There has been no word from KWS on whether the family will receive compensation.

Maugo’s is among 28 families that have been waiting patiently for compensation after their relatives were killed or injured by wild animals including hippos, crocodiles and snakes in Budalang’i sub-county.

On the fateful day, Maugo recalls how she had escorted her husband to the beach before he set sail on the lake.

“My husband left home at the crack of dawn and promised to be back by 11am,” she says.

 She was later told that his damaged boat had been swept to the beach by the waves. There was no word about what had happened to him. The boat had a huge gash on the side.

“I was informed that he had been tossed into the water after a hippo knocked over his boat, injuring him. He drowned after the incident,” she says.

His body was found two days later. The family filed a report at Port Victoria police station.

“I had hoped that if I’m compensated, I would use the money to build a house and keep the children in school. But life has been tough since I lost my husband,” Maugo says.

A short distance away from her home, Monica Akinyi has been going through a similar ordeal after her son, Emmanuel Onego was attacked by a hippo while swimming in the lake on November 25, 2015.

Onego is lucky to be alive; fishermen and villagers came to his rescue during the attack.

“My son sustained injuries on his hands, neck, head and legs and he was hospitalised for more than six weeks,” says Akinyi. 

Steven Wanyama of  Sisenye village in Busia County. He claims he is yet to be compensated for a snake bite.

Photo credit: Angeline Ochieng | Nation Media Group

As required, she filed a report at the Port Victoria police station and attached a medical report before filing a complaint with KWS.

Seven years later, there has been no word on whether her son will be compensated for injuries sustained in the hippo attack.

“My son walks with a limp and complains of pains after he was attacked by the hippo. This is because he did not receive proper medical care after the attack,” says Akinyi.

 The young man sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Education examination in 2021, but has not joined college for lack of fees.

The patience of the victims and their family is running thin by the day. 

Akinyi says: “We have been in the dark for a long time and the KWS should have informed us whether families who lost their loved ones and the injured will receive any compensation.”

Steven Wanyama, 48, was bitten by a snake as he cleared his farm near the lake seven years ago. He sought treatment and filed a report with KWS, but to date, there has been no word on compensation to him.

“For how long will we wait before we are compensated? I have been trying to follow-up with the authorities but there has been no feedback as we languish in pain and misery,” says Wanyama.

The few lucky ones who have received some form of compensation have complained about the amount paid.

Section 25 of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (WCMA, 2013) calls for compensation for personal injury, death, and damage to property, including crops and livestock.

It requires every county to have a Community Wildlife Conservation Committee to deliberate on the claims and give recommendations if the claimant qualifies for compensation.

Since the enactment of the WCMA, 2013, the government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, has released Sh1.2 billion for compensation of victims.

 Between 2014 and 2017, Sh1.5 billion was awarded, while Sh1.8 billion worth of claims have been deferred due to lack of relevant documentation, while claims amounting to Sh1.5 billion have been rejected.

In the 2019/2020 financial year, the Ministry of Tourism, in consultation with the National Treasury allocated Sh569 million for payment of approved compensation claims as one way of addressing human-wildlife conflict.

However, the victims of human-wildlife conflict in Budalang’i remain in the dark on whether their claims for compensation will be approved.

Those who are affected say the complaints committee was formed in 2019 to ensure victims are compensated, but the team has since gone dormant. The committee had a meeting in 2020, but has not convened any meetings in 2021 and 2022, they say.

The complaints committee was also entrusted with deciding the amount that each victim is to be paid following attacks.

A member of the committee who requested not to be named says some claims might have been rejected because reporting was delay — not done within 24 hours of the attack as set out in law.

“The victims are required to report the cases within 24 hours of the incident, failure to which their applications may be dismissed,” said the member.

The Western Kenya KWS Senior warden, Ms Grace Kariuki, asked the affected families to visit her office.

“The affected victims should visit my office for any clarifications and a way forward,” said Kariuki.

 Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Environment and Natural Resources released a report indicating that KWS owed victims of human-wildlife conflict Sh2.6 billion in unpaid compensation claims.

Out of these arrears, only Sh606 million has been budgeted for by KWS in the next financial year, meaning many victims of human-wildlife conflict will have to wait longer for the compensation.

“The verified and approved human-wildlife conflict pending claims that are likely to be carried forward to the financial year 2022/23 amount to Sh2.579 billion. However only Sh606 million has been provided to settle these claims in the financial year 2022/23,” says the report.