One of the beauties you find in Kenya among the numerous natural resources is the wildlife. There is plenty of it in many places though numbers for some of them have been reducing to what experts feel is alarming. The number of elephants and rhinos are not what used to be many years back and so are lions. From what I have read some of it is due to some little bit of natural selection due to reduction in food in their habitat as incase of lions and part of it is due to human activities which include poaching as in the case of elephants and rhinos. Moreover, other human activities such as strain in grazing land and use of chemicals in farming have also adversely affected them. But obviously we need to strike a balance as we must provide for human needs as well as conserve some portions of land where the wildlife can thrive without conflicts with human.
Still in the context of wildlife and conservation, one has to take cognizance of the wider land issues and to be more forthright the problems that bedevil Kenya. The land issue is still unresolved and is one of the problems we seem to bequeath generations. For keen students of history the problems of land did just begin. It has been generation and political. Before colonial times there were diverse issues on land and the transactions with outside parties with African societies were never fair. The colonial regime made it worse. Post-independence we created more problems with land. Still as population grew, we never saw the dangers ahead in terms of land pressures. So I would not imagine the invasions on conservancies will solve anything. Nor will I pretend that this is not driven by problems elsewhere. The ecosystem of relations between land and economy is part of the big picture fuelling some of the problems we are experiencing. When all these pressures find their obvious openings in politics it becomes worse.
Besides, we still need to look at the overall land use and economy. Unless our dear country moves to more scientific, rational production and enrichment of the people in a sober way we will continue to court problems. Land is finite in size. Agriculture land available for individual can only get smaller per person. The agriculture land here includes that available for livestock keeping by whatever means including nomadic pastoralism. With changes in global weather patterns with its negative impacts to countries (whereby we as Kenya are not spared) the problems can only get worse unless we come up with modalities that are foresighted in good time. This land pressure is incidentally part of the problem that has adverse impacts on wildlife, conservation and the overall ability to grow the tourism industry. Do we as a country need tourism industry? Of course yes and in a big way. In a country suffering dearth of jobs and slow growth of many of the industries there are opportunities we need to tap in a big way to ensure we can sustainably hold our economy.
With global warming, land pressure and a growing population with need for more resources part of the immediate casualties is wildlife. The threat to conservancies is already quite high as we have seen land invasions happening in Laikipia. This cannot be a viable solution and we have a role to fix the overall economy as this is where the challenge is. The economy of the future for majority as happens in the Western world has to be in urban areas. Land is finite and we have to approach agriculture (of crops and livestock) in a more scientific and economic sound way. But for this to succeed we must create adequate decent jobs to also stop the growth of slums and rapid growth in urban poverty. We can’t afford transferring poverty from rural to urban. Yet urbanization is a must. Yet still we have to take cognizance one of the industries we can build more competitive advantage as we strive to build a balanced economy (that includes other sectors like manufacturing, ICT services, Financial Services etc.) is tourism. One of the key advantages in our tourism is we have wildlife in proportions that is an attraction to many visitors. This is not even a key attraction in key tourism destinations in places like Europe in countries like France and Spain who reap a lot in numbers and revenue. So we can’t afford to let wildlife continue disappearing. What we need as a country is better land management and better still fix our economy. The mess we have regarding land tenure cannot be solved emotionally. Unfortunately when pressures of needs and poverty come into the fore, politics of hostility come in. Yes, we have a problem but let’s solve it soberly and be forward looking. The future needs all of us to play a part in it.
Harrison Mwirigi Ikunda
The Writer is a Researcher and Consultant.