In Kenya, probably like most other countries, there are two categories of people. There are those who have the time, the temerity and the wherewithal to scheme and make things happen; then there are those who see things happen and either choose to embrace them, ignore or merely continue to live as if nothing ever happened.
In wildlife conservation, the former is an aggressive lot. Most are in their late afternoons of life (though some are in the twilights); people who do not have to struggle to put buttered bread on the table. They are men and women who have so much ‘old’ and ‘new’ money that a good number hop from one corner of the country to another on their own light aircrafts.
But this is not about their money.
This is about the schemes they have put in place to ensure that the very last of the wild herds and packs are subjected to what the Wildlife Conservation & Management Bill, 2013 calls “cropping.” Those who drafted the Bill define it as “harvesting of wildlife for their products”.
Words are sometimes used to sanitize what is obviously a despicable form of behaviour. In a world where violence against other creatures is an acceptable, sometimes glorified form of behaviour, all you need to do to is use harmless and appealing words that nevertheless have the same impact on the victims if applied. No one puts this better than the American philosopher, activist and literary giant, Noam Chomsky, who says; “you never need an argument against the use of violence, you need an argument for it.”
The inclusion and justification of “cropping” in the Bill is the culmination of a long-running under-the-radar scheme to prime Kenya’s wildlife for joyous killing by those who are still in love with the blood sport (an anachronism!). Those who can’t believe this simply need to remember that no buffalo will stand there and wait for you to ‘harvest’ it; you have to kill it. Now, what will stop people who fully supported the Bill brought to parliament by a former Laikipia West legislator, Godfrey Gitahi Kariuki, in 2004 from organizing hunting parties for the rich and the famous?
For those unaware (or those who might have forgotten), the GG Bill (as it was known then) had been passed on as an attempt to correct anomalies in Kenya’s conservation effort by saying nice, welcome and sweet-sounding things on how to rationalize appointments at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and raise the compensation for victims of human-wildlife conflict from Ksh30, 000 ($384.6) to Ksh10 million ($128,205) –welcome news indeed to people who had for so long suffered the brunt of conservation!
But as the cliché goes, hiding anything from Africans is easy if you put it in writing.
For indeed, the GG Bill received lots of support from people who did not know that a clause had been surreptitiously included which removed the presidential directive issued by Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, outlawing all hunting activities in the country.
“Legal Notice No. 120 of 1977 (officially) Repealed”, so read the terse statement.
The pro-hunting arguments in the GG Bill went something like this; that it made no sense to continue outlawing hunting while KWS and its predecessor, the Wildlife Conservation & Management Department (WMCD), had all along been engaged in some form of hunting through animal culling to protect crops, livestock and property. It also claimed that by allowing game cropping, game capture and translocation, KWS had indeed condoned, if not encouraged, hunting. Further, the Bill had accused the two institutions of having “consistently contravened the ban by hunting widely and for many reasons since 1977.” All the GG Bill had done, its proponents said, was “to regularize hunting that had been routinely undertaken by, or through KWS.”
Now, those against all forms of cruelty to animals had fought really hard to defeat the GG Bill. But they were against powerful, moneyed and influential people who had affiliated themselves to an alien hunting lobby, Safari Club International, and probably the biggest bilateral agency in the world, USAID.
What many Kenyans found somewhat unsettling was the fact that though the United States government had rendered overt support to the Bill-making process, it was not entirely a disinterested benefactor. USAID had pumped some Ksh41 million (over US$500,000); hand-picked four consultants to draft the accompanying policy and caused the latter to be appointed to a Committee managing the process besides. Equally significant was that Safari Club International (SCI) was working fervently behind-the-scenes to influence the outcome of the process. For one, SCI had bankrolled a fully-paid trip taken by a number of Kenyan legislators, public officials and some journalists to several Southern African countries –Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa- ostensibly to enable them get first-hand information on how sport hunting was organized there.
Just like in the process of formulating the new 2013 Bill when culling and “cropping” was justified as been good for the animals, large-scale game ranchers in the period running to the enactment of the GG Bill, waxed lyrical on how animals stood to benefit from being killed for fun! Some, like a former colonial game warden, Ian Parker, could not bring themselves to accept that the animals targeted for fun-killing were themselves sentient beings with intrinsic value. Others in the pro-hunting lobby accused the NGOs that had organised anti-hunting campaigns of rendering “80 per cent of the land in Kenya’s wildlife areas unusable.”
However, on December 31st 2004, former President Mwai Kibaki was to give animals a lifeline when he refused to assent to the Bill. In his statement then, Kibaki insisted that Kenyans needed to have a say on how wildlife –as a national heritage- was managed and that such a role could not be relegated to a few interest groups. He then directed a former Tourism and Wildlife Minister, Raphael Tuju, to initiate “a consultative process” that would culminate in a comprehensive sessional paper and accompanying legislation to be debated by Parliament.
When all was said and done, it was evident that both the US government and Safari Club International had misjudged the resolve of Kenyans and particularly local communities and animal welfare groups who were out to ensure that Kenya’s wild animals were not sacrificed at the altar of rich-hunters’ hunger for blood sport. USAID might have learned a lesson because it appeared not keen to fund the process that led to the new bill.
But this has not meant that the intrigues stopped with USAID’s withdrawal. Those who know accuse the same local hunting lobby of ganging up with a powerful international NGO -which bankrolled the process- to defeat what most Kenyans would have wished – that cropping in particular and consumptive “use” in general be stricken from the bill.
Yet again, we are presented a scenario where the need for stiffer penalties and higher compensation is paramount. Yet again, loopholes that will lead to decimation of our wildlife are being introduced. Yet again, we must insist on a Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill that will be palatable to every Kenyan.