Tribal peoples under siege in the Maasai Rangelands of Africa
Fighting back against systemic oppression only option
The Most Reverend Archbishop Emeritus of Capetown Desmond Tutu once said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
There is a great injustice happening in the Kenyan rangelands. The perpetrator is known. The victim is known. The enabler is known. The reasons are known. The counter strategy is available. The human and capital resources available. The time to act is now.
To the citizens who know nothing about what I am talking about, let me bring you up to speed.
The Kenyan pastoralist draws his livelihood from pastoralism, which means that he makes a living from keeping cattle and goats. He does this in ASALs (Arid and Semi-Arid lands) that can't support any other livelihood source. The pastoralist contributes about 170 billion Kenya shillings to the economy directly. He is also systemically discriminated against. He has no access to basic rights like education, health or protection of life and property, as provided by the constitution. The pastoralist is the victim in this case.
The Kenya Wildlife Service, a paramilitary organization, established under an Act of Parliament Cap 376 of 1989, is the oppressor. This organization has deviated from its core mandate of conservation to a paramilitary terrorist organization whose sole role is disenfranchisement of frontline communities. Today I speak for the Maasai community that I am a member of by heritage. Today I speak as a victim of this vicious pack of corrupt and merciless enforcers of colonial rule in the rangelands.
The enabler of this corruption, and disenfranchisement is mainstream state and non-state actors. Today I will speak about how the judiciary, Parliament and the executive have enabled this to go on for decades. Government should be our protector but it's the foremost cheerleader and turns the other way as these crimes happen. We have brought to the attention of government these atrocities but nothing happens. I know that each one of us in this country suffers under this very same yoke, but as Mahatma Gandhi said, "silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly".
These national parks were established by the colonialist in 1948, as spaces for the amusement of white people. They were carved out of dry season pasture lands without so much as to leave provisions for access by pastoral communities. Tales are told of how my grandfather was the first to be arrested in the Tsavo Ecosystem by white colonial officers for illegally grazing his herds in Tsavo. His sons, my father and uncles, without knowing what had happened to their father unleashed horror unseen on wild game, thinking the Tsavo lions had eaten their father.
In the last 20 years, no fewer than 100 people have lost lives and been maimed in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem due to wildlife attacks. These cases mostly reported have gone for years without any remedial action taken. Livestock worth hundreds of millions have been lost to lion and hyena attacks similarly without compensation.
As I write this, the fines for illegal grazing within the parks are KES 100,000, approximately 740.49 euro, irrespective of the number of times you are arrested and there is a standing fee of KES 40,000 approximately 296 euro levied on any illegal grazers monthly. On top of this, they impound livestock and hold them for as long as 14 days without feeds or water above these illegal fines and extortion rackets. On the off chance that a wild animal is killed, the entire establishment, helicopters, boots on the ground, and terror is visited upon poor disenfranchised citizens. This bias has to and must stop.
Fellow citizens, you all know that 70% of wildlife is found in community rangelands. How is this bias acceptable? How is it right to have 70% of game in community lands, killing and maiming women, children and the elderly and killing our only source of livelihoods while access to historical dry season pasture is criminalized?
As Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete". To my brothers, I say stay the course at whatever cost to your life and health. But as you agitate, remember it's not enough to point out what you don't like. You need a clear idea of what you want instead. To create the change you want to see, you have to make an affirmative case and define exactly what you want to happen. There must be no equivocations.
Finally, to our young people I remind you of the words of Bob Nesta Marley: " Get up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight". Remember it is the KWS that is the oppressor, not wildlife. Keep the elephants safe. Thank you all for listening to me
Powerful words, beautifully written with deep conviction and a burning sense of justice.
Everyone with a conscience, please stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with pastoralists suffering grave injustices because of this form of exclusionary wildlife conservation imposed by colonial powers to subjugate self-sufficient Africans.