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Why the Kenyan state protects wildlife at the costs of its people

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Why the Kenyan state protects wildlife at the costs of its people

If the Kenyan state is subsidizing instead of making an income out of wildlife conservation, why is it so occupied with reinforcing the complete protection of wildlife? Miller claims that 'tourist revenues provide the raison d'être for officially supported wildlife protection' (as quoted in Rutten 2002: 1). The question is, revenues for whom? As has become clear above the private sector largely roams off the benefits from wildlife for the Kenyan state and population. Despite this, Kenya continues conservation efforts. This is largely due to the involvement of two sets of players, the first being international donors, which are represented by conservation NGOs, developed states and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank. They are allied with the Kenyan elite that rules the Kenyan state.

The power of international donors

International donor agencies such as the World Bank, USAID and international conservation NGOs are very important in funding of wildlife conservation and tourism development in Kenya, providing money to the Kenyan government as well as private businesses (Njogu 2003: 151, 165, 168, 206, Rutten 2002, 2004: 5, 12, 28-29, Sinclair 1998: 32) to achieve these goals.169 These international donor agencies in turn are almost entirely funded and ruled by developed countries, either by their governments or by their populations. They often strive to help developing countries with aid, mostly in the form of loans. However, they only provide this help if the developing countries move into a direction that is also in the interest of the developed countries, or at least not harming them, focussing mostly on forms of development that can be mutually beneficial for donors as well as receivers (Wijngaarden 2006).

Environment and wildlife protection through tourism is such a sector. It benefits the developed countries that produce large amounts of CO2170 and where natural areas that can be used for recreation have become scarce. In addition, it is an industry that is likely to continue to be dependent upon developed countries for considerable times to come, because they are the main source of visitors. Moreover, developed countries' businesses can make good money in the industry, and financing 'green' sectors is popular with the Western public.171 At the same time tourism can provide an income to developing countries, which are in need of foreign exchange, boost the development of their businesses through foreign direct investment and create employment. However, in practice the donors providing the funds have a lot of influence in what is done with the money.

International occupation with the protection and exploitation of Kenya's wildlife resource has a long history, starting with creation of the Southern and Northern Game Reserves for hunting parties from the West and Asia in 1899 and 1900 (Rutten 2004: 5, Njogu 2003: 139). The first International Convention of wildlife was held in London that same year with eight European nations, all having territories or protectorates in Africa discussing how to prevent wildlife extermination, ratifying various articles covering trade, hunting and wildlife reserves (Njogu 2003: 139). After the ownership over Kenya's wild animals had been claimed by foreign white hunters, it was claimed by foreign white conservationists, again excluding (local) Africans from their wildlife resources (Steinhart 2006: 12-13).172 'With the rise in popularity of game viewing in the 1940s calls for protection of wildlife grew louder' (Rutten 2002: 3) and in 1946 Nairobi National Park, the first national park in Kenya was established, soon followed by Tsavo National Park in 1948.173 At Kenya's independence in 1963, there were seven national parks and reserves (Njogu 2003: 140-143).

After independence there was a large amount of pressure of international conservationist organisations upon African governments to maintain colonial laws prohibiting use of land in national parks and traditional hunting of wildlife (Neumann 2001: 312, Rutten 2004: 5). Conservation was put forward as having economic potential in the form of tourism, for instance during the Arusha Conference (Njogu 2003: 140). However, within Kenya, foreigners, in the form of private companies, wealthy business tycoons174 and European and Asian settlers had dominated the tourism sector from the start, only later being joined by elite Africans (Rutten 2004: 6-7, see also Njogu 2003). Up till today, the influence of developed countries on Kenya's wildlife has continued through a loosely connected, mutually supportive web of Western based and funded private businesses, conservation NGOs and international (aid) institutions (Rutten 2004).

An important reason for foreign private businesses still having such a powerful position in the tourism industry and earning so much money in Kenya without the state profiting substantially, is international pressure for free-market practices from donor agencies. Kenya's search for loans and aid makes the country vulnerable for this pressure: In 2005 Kenya's total debt was over US$ 5 billion.175 To service and pay off these debts, Kenya is dependent upon foreign exchange, which arrives in the country as a result of agricultural exports, tourism revenues, but also to an important extent in the form of aid provided by NGOs as well other countries or multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, often being in the form of new loans. This money is usually provided in connection to certain terms, for instance requesting certain behaviour or policies of the country receiving the grant (Payer 1982).176

The World Bank's is an important donor institution pushing for free-market practices and deeply involved in Kenya's wildlife and conservation business. The Bank's first ever tourism related loan was made in 1967 for a hotel in Kenya, which was partly owned by the Inter-Continental Hotel Corporation (Honey 1999: 15). In the 1960s the World Bank's Tourism Projects Department pushed Kenya and other developing countries to invest in tourism to encourage foreign investment and earn foreign exchange (Honey 1999: 15). In the 1980s, the Bank's structural adjustment policies pushed Kenya and other indebted countries to open their economies further to foreign investment and trade, which led to a growth of foreign tourism businesses in Kenya. In the meantime the Bank continued giving out 'multimillion-dollar tourism-linked loans under categories such as infrastructure, environment and biodiversity, rural development and technical assistance ... [financing] tourism and recreation development within protected areas in Kenya (Honey 1999: 16), facilitating the penetration of the tourism industry by foreign investors (Honey 1999: 32). When ecotourism became popular, not much changed, as USAID, probably the most important financier of ecotourism businesses, and largely funding them in Kenya (Honey 1999: 16-17), also put a 'strong emphasis on working with the private sector' (Honey 1999: 17). The donor's push for free-market practices and support for foreign investment continue to contribute to the powerful position of private partners in Kenya's tourism sector today.

The direct power of donors as the World Bank over Kenyan policies should not be underestimated. The 1977 ban on hunting and commercial trade in wildlife trophies and products in Kenya was initially a condition for continued World Bank funding (Honey 1999: 298), and still stands strong today despite arguments from researchers (KWS 1994: v) as well as KWS ex-director David Western for the consumptive use of at least part of Kenya's wildlife to increase national and local revenue. As Kenya currently works on renewing this wildlife policy, there are rumors foreign donors such as USAID, the EU and European development organizations influence the process not only through funding, but also by providing experts to guide the changes.

According to Kenyan lawyer Kibe Mungai, donor countries want to safeguard the entry of major companies and individual investors and are directly involved in drafting and making Kenyan laws related to wildlife (Mbaria 2007: 8). Shikwati, director of Inter Region Economic Network, states that international NGOs continue to pressure Kenyan elites, wanting to 'protect [sic] animal rights while violating human rights by sustaining people in poverty' (Shikwati 2007: 23). Although there are also conservation NGOs and donors which are positive towards utilization by hunting, in the ways local communities generally see fit (KWS 1994: iii-iv, 19), the private sector continues to exert pressure to prevent a change of law (KWS 1994: iii, 6), 'fear[ing] that lifting the ban would hurt Kenya's international image for camera safaris and conservation' (Honey 1999: 305).177 The pressure from donors and the tourism industry is seriously taken into consideration by the government (KWS 1994: 19, Njogu 2003: 207), which continues the violent enforcement of the 1977 law.

The KWS' existence and practices are generally strongly influenced by outside pressure and money for conservation. The very formation of the KWS in 1989 was '[u]nder pressure from international conservation organizations and the U.S. Embassy' (Honey 1999: 299). The Bank has been a major funder of the KWS, lending it US$ 153 million when it started its job, acting as an umbrella organization for national donors (Honey 1999: 301). USAID in combination with other overseas donors such as the EU and ODA in turn have funded the KWS Community Service through the Conservation of Biodiverse Resource Areas (COBRA) program through loans (Honey 1999: 301, KWS 1994: 2, Njogu 2003: 206, 209, Rutten 2004: 12).

When poaching became difficult to control, first director Richard Leakey called for the CITES listing of the African elephant, which was actually not endangered in numbers (Bonner 1994),178 so that all sales of ivory would be banned, and publicly burnt Kenya's national US$ 3 million, 12 tons stock of ivory, which he earlier proposed to sell to invest the money in KWS anti-poaching operations. Doing so repaired Kenya's image as a country of conservation and wildlife tourism, landing foreign aid and support (Honey 1999: 300. Njogu 2003: 212). However, up till today in human-wildlife conflicts '[t]he elephant, the greatest problem animal, poses a dilemma for KWS because of its status as an endangered species governed by International convention' (KWS 1994: 20).

Leadership over the KWS has also been influenced by donors. When Leakey's successor David Western concentrated more on community projects than on conservation and income generation from the parks and reserves, donors, especially the World Bank, voiced concerns and accusations, making funding increasingly difficult, after which Western was removed from office (Honey 1999: 306-307, Njogu 2003: 214). But when 'a group of international conservationists and donors (minus the World Bank) met privately with [Kenyan president] Moi and threatened to withhold millions of dollars if Western were not reinstated' (Honey 1999: 307), the decision was reversed and Western returned to office, even though he was forced to resign again short time later. However, one of the reasons Leakey was the one to be subsequently reinstated was his 'excellent reputation with the donors' (Rutten 2002: 8). After Leakey was promoted in 1999, several people served as KWS director for a short time, one of them the former director of the international conservation NGO International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Nairobi (Njogu 2003: 215).

The Kenyan elite's ambiguous position

The influence of the Kenyan elite on the nation's wildlife conservation is considerable.179 In the first place the elite largely makes out who is put forward to be (elected for) important government positions. In addition, an alliance exists between the Kenyan rich, powerful and politically well connected elite and foreign investors in the industry (Honey 1999: 296). Moreover, the elite influences who leads the semi-autonomous KWS. Generally the president puts someone in position, but sometimes more creative ways are used, at times challenging the will of foreign donors (Honey 1999: 303). First KWS director Leakey actually resigned from his job after he lost both his legs in a mysterious crash of his light plane. He hinted that the plane had been sabotaged and told the press that he resigned because 'the stress and pain of being vilified by senior politicians and others is more than I think is good for my health' (as quoted in Honey 1999: 303, see also Njogu 2003: 213). Western has testified he lost his job due to resisting powerful people in government to allocate themselves pars of Nakuru and Tsavo National Park (Rutten 2002: 8).

Generally the Kenyan elite and international actors work in an alliance to achieve their goals. The international actors provide the funds. In exchange the elite implements certain policies and practices that they would like to see. Unfortunately, the high importance of the international money flow for the well-being of the country as well as its rulers, makes that Third World states – and this has been extensively researched for African governments – are often focussed outward, towards the source of funding. As their position is in large and important ways independent of national support and funding, these governments often insufficiently take care of their people (Bayart 1993, 2000, Leonard and Straus 2003, Mbembe 1992, Siloma & Zaal 2005). The money provided by the international community through trade in agricultural goods, tourism and aid provides members of the Kenyan elite with the funds to reinforce and continue to enjoy their position while compromising on their responsibility to serve the well-being of their own citizens.180 The elite in Kenya roams off the wealth of the nation, with 10% of the people consuming over a third of the county's total income (OECD 2007: 600), while public services are very poor to non-existent, and many Kenyans go hungry.

By facilitating for wildlife protection according to the standards of the international donors, the Kenyan elite ruling the state obtains large amounts of money, relatively quick and easily. Even if agriculture or livestock holding in wildlife areas such as national parks would be more profitable, international donors – which are focussed on conservation or who need to legitimate their investments to the conservation orientated Western public – would be quick to withdraw their money when these lands would be used for these purposes. This would leave the members of the Kenyan elite in a very painful position: Besides their personal patterns of consumption being threatened, they would have difficulty to find money to develop the land until it produces a substantial income. At the same time many already poor citizens would feel the extra pain generated by the difficult adjustments towards nationally based development as well as dwindling tourist numbers, which would threaten the elite's position as well as the overall order in the country.

Community-based tourism initiatives such as (eco)tourism are sometimes regarded as a new form of control by the state, perfecting and extending the earlier violence based control over wildlife resources (Dzingirai 2001, Neumann 2001). Through the (promises of) handing over the control of wildlife to local people and sharing wildlife related revenues, people are invited to stop their illegal uses of wildlife (Dzingirai 2001). In fact however, increase of control and benefits to local communities, even of the most celebrated programs such as CAMPFIRE, are minimal (Dzingirai 2003, Marks 2001), and 'the revenue is used to perfect the means of exclusion which are used to deny locals access to wildlife resources' (Dzingirai 2001: 252), for instance by the creation of local anti-poaching squads or payment of informers within the community. As the tourism industry benefits highly and the state can increase its control over the rural population and its resources, critical studies conclude that although saving nature might be involved, selling nature is the more important goal of these initiatives (Dzingirai 2001, Rutten 2004: 30, Neumann 2001: 324).

It can be concluded that even if the income from tourism is not as high as other uses of the country's land and wildlife resources might have generated for the nation, it is chosen for by the Kenyan state because of the convincing push for it by donors, and the security, control and personal advantages it brings the governing elite. As a result, wildlife protection in Kenya continues to benefit the populations and businesses of developed countries as well as a small Kenyan elite, while generally forming a burden upon the shoulders of the local people.

Preservation and utilitarianism revised

Wildlife conservation as it is organised in Kenya today, is led largely by preservationist principles (Njogu 2003: 127-129). This philosophy sees human beings as standing apart from nature (Kreuter & Simmons 1994: 40). Most conservation is still based upon these preservationist principles, which underline that the earth has a value in itself, more strong than its use-value. This contrasts with the utilitarian idea that mankind has dominion over nature and the earth and its resources are there to serve human kind (Kreuter & Simmons 1994: 40).181 According to Kreuter and Simmons (1994) ‘[u]tilitarianism is the basis for human survival through the conscious use and manipulation of the environment’, while ‘[p]reservation grew out of romantic urbanite desire for untamed nature in response to rapidly changing landscapes and the growth of cities in Europe and North America’ (1994: 40).182

Since colonial times, Kenya has been approached as a Garden of Eden, which' nature had to be protected to remain untouched (Kreuter & Simmons 1994: 40). According to Anderson and Grove
[m]uch of the emotional as distinct form the economic investment which Europe made in Africa has manifested itself in a wish to protect the natural environment as a special kind of 'Eden', for the purposes of the European psyche rather than as a complex and changing environment in which people actually have to live ... (thus) Africa has been portrayed as offering the opportunity to experience a wild and natural environment which was no longer available in the domesticated landscapes of Europe (Anderson and Grove 1987 as quoted in Wells 2002: 56).
The setting aside of land in national parks that could not normally be entered by people and where all consumptive use of resources is prohibited, is build upon preservationist ideas. The essence of the conservation message as still spread inside (Fairhead & Leach 2003) as well as outside Africa (Little 1996) and forms the basis of African policies (Dzingirai 2003: 246, Njogu 2003), is of a 'rural population which is destroying natur[e] and thus requires reform, and of a knowing elite with the expertise to achieve this' (Fairhead & Leach 2005: 382). At the same time 'villagers own perspectives on landscape ... which would question dominant, internationalised perspectives ... tend to be excluded' (Fairhead & Leach: 384).183 Even ecotourism projects today are still based largely upon preservationist principles, besides their goal to make a profit, they focus in the first place on the protection of natural resources, while they approach local people as a threat, largely excluding their experiences and relationships with nature (Marks 2001, Rutten 2002: 19, 2004: 29).

As has been described in chapter two, local people use their wildlife resources in a combination of consumptive and non-consumptive ways. As was argued earlier in this chapter, international (eco)tourism uses wildlife in consumptive and non-consumptive ways as well. These two examples question the strict distinction between utilitarian and preservationist philosophies, as exploitation and protection seem to be intertwined with each other in both cases. This implies that the combination of aggressive protection of charismatic mega-fauna against local use and encouragement of large scale exploitation through tourism, should be questioned.

To many people from developed countries charismatic mega-fauna are 'an important conservation symbol with high aesthetic appeal' (Kreuter & Simmons 1995: 149). The existence of these animals in the wild even has considerable value for them when they never personally have any contact with them (Kreuter & Simmons 1995, Njogu 2003). This exceptional position is partly due to the anthropocentric discourse that is used when speaking of charismatic mega-fauna. Using the words matriarch, babies, family groups, high intelligence and emotions as well as translating the animal conduct into human behavioural terms, implicitly carries the idea that charismatic mega-fauna ‘are worthy of exceptional conservation efforts precisely because they are so like us’ (Peace 2005: 205), According to Peace, this focus on similarity ‘renders impossible the informed comprehension of [these animals’] place in the ecological system’ (ibid. 206),184 which is an ecological system that has included influences of and utilization by human beings for millennia.
People as a component of the ecosystem

It is true that local Africans, including the local people in the Taita and Mara area, are destroying and threatening to destroy the wildlife living around them (Lamprey & Reid 2004, Reid et.al. 2003) However, as becomes clear from their local perspectives and is affirmed by scientific research, local people also have facilitated for and promoted the existence of wildlife (Lamprey & Reid 2004: 998), and continue to do so up till today, something which is actually not very surprising considering the earlier described important material and symbolic functions of wildlife, especially charismatic-mega fauna, have for local people (see also Marks 2001).

Facilitation for and promotion of the existence of wildlife is most clearly visible in the case of pastoralism. Many local Maasai claim that ‘normally wild animals have the tendency to follow people where they live…. you can’t escape them.’185 They argue that grazers make use of the added protection from predators by staying close to the Maasai boma, and like the fresh grass on old boma-sites, while the predators are in turn attracted by the concentration of herbivores. Moving the people means moving the animals: The old Maasai lady Ntiwal Liaram tells that you can create more conservancies, but wild 'animals are still following the people. They don’t like to stay in places where there are no people. The people have been evicted there [at the new conservancy area] but animals follow the cows when they are coming home.'186

These experiences are affirmed by research. David Kaelo, a Maasai local and researcher for International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has studied the compatibility of livestock with wildlife, and found that in community areas more animals are found than in protected areas, because of the livestock. The influence of the domestic animals makes the environment more diverse and useful for wild species than land that is simply left alone. As a result, ‘wildlife is more numerous where livestock is grazing’.187 In the first place this is because wildlife loves the short nutritious grass that grows as a result of grazing by livestock and burning of areas by the Maasai. But wildlife also concentrates itself around Maasai bomas that have recently been deserted. The rare lush green grass that grows as a result of years of accumulation of cowdung attracts a noticeable constant variety of grazers, which in turn attracts predators.188 The fact that wildlife likes to live in the same areas as people is also known within the local tourist industry. When the experienced driver-guides of the Mara tourist camps take their clients for a gamedrive they regularly head into the community areas instead of into the Reserve, even though the entrance fee is already paid for. It is because they now that they can score more and better wildlife viewings there, which will lead to happier customers and higher tips.189

Little explains how '[s]avanna habitats ... are (and have been for millennia) actively shaped by local herders' (Little 1996: 47), and asserts 'pastoralism's positive contribution to maintaining biodiversity' (Little 1996: 50) has been proven. Even the widespread idea that the Maasai have a tendency to overgraze their lands, leaving them eroded and threatening the food supply of wildlife are being challenged (Little 1996: 38, Strom 2007). He explains that 'the savannah ecosystems of East Africa, which support the richest variety and density of large mammals in the world have been strongly shaped by human activity and are not the 'wilderness' areas so often considered by early explorers and naturalists' (Little 1996: 37).

This is supported by a large scale research in the Mara area, which concludes that '[c]onservation policy that excludes low to moderate levels of traditional pastoral use may inadvertently impoverish the very lands it was instituted to protect.' (Reid et al. 2003: 129).190 Even though this large scale research focussed on the Mara area finds that the majority of the wildlife species are more abundant inside the reserve, it also argues that pastoralism, if not to intensive, can enrich biodiversity and have positive effects on wildlife (Reid et.al. 2003: 129).191. The researchers state that wildlife is attracted to people for the same reasons related to grazing, burning and protection from predators, that were mentioned earlier (Reid et.al. 2003: 129). Moreover, 'there appears to be a density of bomas ideal for promoting abundant species-rich wildlife; any increase or reduction in the number of bomas may decrease the number of wildlife' (Reid et.al. 2003: 130). The density of bomas was at an optimum at the time of research in 2002, which suggests that despite population growth, the Maasai living around the Mara have at least up till the early years of the new millennium mostly supported and facilitated the animal population in their vicinity, even when they were using and competing with them.

It is often observed that agriculture, which is the most important livelihood in the Taita areas and of growing importance to the Maasai, is less compatible with wildlife (KWS 1994: ii, Lamprey & Reid 2004: 998, Reid et.al. 2003). However, agriculture can also be compatible with or even beneficial to biodiversity under certain circumstances (Blann 2006, Hoare & Du Toit 1999, Scherr & McNeely 2006). Scherr and McNeely elaborate on the functions agricultural landscapes have for biodiversity, arguing that 'agricultural landscapes can ... host wild biodiversity of many types (though not all), with neutral or even positive effects on agricultural production and livelihoods' (Scherr & McNeely 2006: 1)192 Blann argues that overall half of all species exist outside protected areas and primarily in agricultural landscapes (Blann 2006). As a result '[t]he concept of agriculture as ecological “sacrifice” areas is no longer valid in many regions, because agricultural lands both perform many ecosystem services and provide essential habitat to many species' (Scherr & McNeely 2006: 6).

The presence and exploitation of land by human populations can positively influence the biodiversity of the area. As such, local people with pastoral and agricultural use of land can be integrated and enriching components of 'wild' ecosystems. As is the case with pastoralism, very high settlement densities and intensive agriculture will no doubt diminish wild biodiversity. However, this is also the case for the third main land-use option for Kenyan landscapes, which is tourism. Small scale tourism can enhance and support conservation efforts. However, the negative effects of large scale tourism have left visible negative effects on wildlife and protected areas such as the Masai Mara for a long time.

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