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Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya

Oakland Institute

November 2021

 

“They have put fear in our hearts. . .”

 

– Mohammed Kampicha Bilalo, Biliqo, Chari Ward, June 2019

 

Source: AEON

Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — reveals the devastating impact of privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism on Indigenous pastoralist communities. Although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used, the report exposes how the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), have allegedly dispossessed pastoralist communities of their ancestral lands, through corruption, cooptation, and sometimes through intimidation and violence, to create wildlife conservancies for conservation dollars.

Since its founding in 2004, NRT has set up 39 conservancies on over 42,000 square kilometers of land in Northern and Coastal Kenya — nearly eight percent of the country’s total land area. While NRT claims that its goal is to “transform people’s lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources,” the Oakland Institute’s report elevates voices of communities — predominantly pastoralists — who allege NRT dispossesses them of their land and deploys armed security units involved in serious human rights abuses. NRT is also involved in security, management of pasture land, and livestock marketing, which according to the impacted communities, gives it a level of control that surpasses even that of the Kenyan government.

Based on extensive field research, Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya, is the first independent report to provide a comprehensive review of the evolution of Kenya’s land and wildlife conservation laws; the history, structure, and functioning of “community” conservancy model of NRT; as well as land and human rights issues surrounding the privatized model of conservation in Kenya.

Created by Ian Craig, whose family was part of an elite white minority during British colonialism, NRT’s origins date back to the 1980s when Craig’s family-owned, 62,000-acre cattle ranch was transformed into its first conservancy. Today, NRT receives millions in funding from donors such as USAID, the European Union, Danish and French development agencies and large environmental NGOs, including The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Space for Giants.

In recent years, impacted communities have held protests, signed petitions, and initiated legal action against the presence of NRT on their lands. Community members have repeatedly asked for justice after years of being ignored by the Kenyan government and by the police when reporting killings of family members and other human rights abuses. The findings of Stealth Game call for an urgent independent investigation into land and human rights related grievances around NRT’s community conservancies — including allegations of involvement of NRT’s rapid response units in inter-ethnic conflict, and of abuses and extrajudicial killings.

The report’s release comes as the international community is considering adopting the “30×30 initiative” under the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for 30 percent of the planet to be placed in protected areas or other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030. Stealth Game makes it clear that fortress conservation must be replaced by truly Indigenous-led conservation efforts to preserve the remaining biodiversity of the planet while respecting interests, rights, and dignity of the local communities.

 

LISTEN: 5 Key Takeaways from COP26, Glasgow 2021

Long Lost Nature

November 6, 2021

By Arindam Singh

 

Woke colonization, nature for sale, COP26: Tom Goldtooth, a climate activist and executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, presented “Prince” Charles a gift of plaited sweetgrass. Right of Goldtooth is Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. WWF-UK President,”Prince” Charles, is founder of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (2015) – rebranded to CLG Europe – a co-founder of the We Mean Business coalition. On June 3, 2020, the “Prince of Wales’ Sustainable Markets Initiative” (SMI), in partnership with the World Economic Forum launched a major global initiative, “The Great Reset”. [Source] At the launch event, “Prince” Charles, a key, long-time proponent behind the financialization of nature, emphasized the imperative to accelerate carbon pricing. In January 2021, following the launch of the Terra Carta (Earth Charter)/ SMI, Charles unveiled the Natural Capital Investment Alliance. During COP26, on November 3, 2021, Forbes published the article “Amazon, Salesforce, Among 45 Companies Awarded Terra Carta Seal From Prince Charles”. 

 

Podcast: What is this COP26 everyone’s talking about? Is it really that great as it sounds in the news? Why not?

 

 

[Arindam Singh is a student blogger and podcaster from New Delhi. He studies things related to the environment and what has gone wrong with it. His writing can be found at longlostnature.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @longlostnature.]

 

 

 

 

The Big Green Lie

Survival International

 

 

At the next Convention on Biological Diversity summit [phase one: 11-15 October 2021], world leaders plan to agree turning 30% of the Earth into “Protected Areas” by 2030.

Big conservation NGOs say this will mitigate climate change, reduce wildlife loss, enhance biodiversity and so save our environment. They are wrong.

Protected Areas will not save our planet. On the contrary, they will increase human suffering and so accelerate the destruction of the spaces they claim to protect because local opposition to them will grow. They have no effect on climate change at all, and have been shown to be generally poor at preventing wildlife loss.

It is vital that real solutions are put forward to address these urgent problems and that the real cause – exploitation of natural resources for profit and growing overconsumption, driven by the Global North – is properly acknowledged and discussed. But this is unlikely to happen because there are too many vested interests that depend on existing consumption patterns continuing.

Who will suffer if 30% of Earth is “protected”? It won’t be those who have overwhelmingly caused the climate crisis, but rather indigenous and other local people in the Global South who play little or no part in the environment’s destruction. Kicking them off their land to create Protected Areas won’t help the climate: Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of the natural world and an essential part of human diversity that is a key to protecting biodiversity.

We must stop the push for 30%.

These Khadia men were thrown off their land after it was turned into a protected area. They lived for months under plastic sheets. Millions more face this fate if the 30% plan goes ahead.These Khadia men were thrown off their land after it was turned into a protected area. They lived for months under plastic sheets. Millions more face this fate if the 30% plan goes ahead. © Survival

The truth about Protected areas

In many parts of the world a Protected Area is where the local people who called the land home for generations are no longer allowed to live or use the natural environment to feed their families, gather medicinal plants or visit their sacred sites. This follows the model of the United States’ nineteenth century creation of the world’s first national parks on lands stolen from Native Americans. Many US national parks forced the peoples who had created the wildlife-rich “wilderness” landscapes into landlessness and poverty.

This is still happening to indigenous peoples and other communities in Africa and parts of Asia. Local people are pushed out by force, coercion or bribery. They are beaten, tortured and abused by park rangers when they try to hunt to feed their families or just to access their ancestral lands. The best guardians of the land, once self-sufficient and with the lowest carbon footprint of any of us, are reduced to landless impoverishment and often end up adding to urban overcrowding. Usually these projects are funded and run by big Western conservation NGOs. Once the locals are gone, tourists, extractive industries and others are welcomed in. For these reasons, local opposition to Protected Areas is growing.

“If the jungle is taken away from us, how will we survive?”
Kunni Bai, a Baiga woman, denounces efforts to evict her people in the name of “conservation”.

Why should we oppose it?

Doubling Protected Areas to cover 30% of the globe will ensure these problems become much worse. As the most biodiverse regions are those where indigenous peoples still live, these will be the first areas targeted by the conservation industry. It will be the biggest land grab in world history and it will reduce hundreds of millions of people to landless poverty – all in the name of conservation. Creating Protected Areas has rarely been done with the consent of indigenous communities, or respect for their human rights. There is no sign that it will be any different in the future. More Protected Areas are likely to result in more militarization and human rights abuses.

The idea of “fortress conservation” – that local peoples must be removed from their land in order to protect ‘nature’ – is colonial. It’s environmentally damaging and rooted in racist and ecofascist ideas about which people are worth more, and which are worth less and can be pushed off their land and impoverished, or attacked and killed.

The conservation industry is looking to get $140 billion every year to fund its land grab.

Say NO to 30%

What do we propose?

We must fight against this big green lie and and respect indigenous peoples’ rights.

If we’re serious about putting the brakes on biodiversity loss, the cheapest and best-proven method is to support as much indigenous land as possible. Eighty per cent of the planet’s biodiversity is already found there.

For tribes, for nature, for all humanity. #BigGreenLie

HELP STOP THE BIG GREEN LIE

Stop the push for 30%


More information on the 30% land grab:

Mapping For Rights: The ‘Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’

‘New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind’

#DecolonizeConservation: Tribal Voice videos

Joint statement by NGOs: concerns over the proposed 30% target

The Big Green Lie: an infographic explainer

EU Conference on 2030 Biodiversity Strategy

30% by 2030 and Nature-Based Solutions: the new green colonial rule

 

 

More information on colonial conservation

The World Computer, Derivative Conditions of Racial Capitalism

The World Computer, Derivative Conditions of Racial Capitalism

Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

 

The Message is Murder…

ICA Miami welcomed media theorist and scholar Jonathan Beller to the Knight Foundation Art + Research Center for a free public lecture titled, “From the World Computer to Post-Capitalist Economic Media?” This lecture was presented in conjunction with the Fall 2020 semester, “Recodings and Renewals.”

From Beller: “The colonization of expressivity and semiotics by capital converts nearly everything we can say or do into value for media platforms cybernetically interfaced with our brains. From the art world to social media, qualitative values (even those of protest and dissent) are stripped of their content and converted into capital that is accumulated hierarchically and that reinforces regimes of property founded on dispossession and genocide. Deterritorialized factories (that is media companies) convert the horizontal expression of values into the hierarchical accumulation of value such that, as has been said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. This talk tries to change that dynamic by proposing that cryptocurrency should be understood as the historical emergence of a new medium. If crypto is like photography in 1845 or cinema in 1898, we need to wonder what can anti-racist, feminist, socialist, and communist movements do with it?”

Jonathan Beller is a Professor of Humanities and Media Studies and co-founder of the Graduate Program in Media Studies at Pratt Institute. His books include The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (Dartmouth UP, 2006); Acquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle, and the World-Media System (Ateneo de Manila UP, 2006); The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capital (Pluto Press, 2017) and The World Computer: Derivative Conditions of Racial Capitalism (Duke UP, 2021). He is a member of the Social Text editorial collective. [https://icamiami.org/seminar/jonathan-beller/]

Read:

The World Computer

Derivative Conditions of Racial Capitalism

Published: February 2021

“In The World Computer, Jonathan Beller charts the lineage and lineaments of ‘computational racial capital.’ In the code-based mode of capitalist production now consolidating itself with hegemonic reach, the image replaces the commodity as the fundamental value form, and as it does the meaning of labor mutates. Racism, Beller argues, is not just an incidental effect of ambient bias contaminating this new machinery of extraction. It is written into its DNA. The World Computer is a passionate analysis of how the phase-shift of contemporary capitalism we are currently experiencing carries forward from its colonial past a coefficient of exploitation that intensifies apace with capital’s exponentially increasing powers of abstraction. Beller’s provocative genealogy of contemporary capitalism is an essential contribution to understanding the evolving economy as a formation of power, in symbiosis with systemic racism.”

 

— Brian Massumi, author of 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto

Duke University Press: “In The World Computer Jonathan Beller forcefully demonstrates that the history of commodification generates information itself. Out of the omnipresent calculus imposed by commodification, information emerges historically as a new money form. Investigating its subsequent financialization of daily life and colonization of semiotics, Beller situates the development of myriad systems for quantifying the value of people, objects, and affects as endemic to racial capitalism and computation. Built on oppression and genocide, capital and its technical result as computation manifest as racial formations, as do the machines and software of social mediation that feed racial capitalism and run on social difference. Algorithms, derived from for-profit management strategies, conscript all forms of expression—language, image, music, communication—into the calculus of capital such that even protest may turn a profit. Computational media function for the purpose of extraction rather than ameliorating global crises, and financialize every expressive act, converting each utterance into a wager. Repairing this ecology of exploitation, Beller contends, requires decolonizing information and money, and the scripting of futures wagered by the cultural legacies and claims of those in struggle.”

WATCH: COVID-19! Black People Fight Back! Chairman Omali Yeshitela Overview

WATCH: COVID-19! Black People Fight Back! Chairman Omali Yeshitela Overview

Black is Back Coalition

April 19, 2020

 

“The reason this discussion is happening is not because of the numbers of people who are dying – but because who is dying. Because it is something that can also possibly affect white people…”

 

 

“Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the Black is Back Coalitions, sets the tone and sums up the political events such as COVID-19 and upcoming U.S. elections that forces the Coalition to organize the “COVID-19 Pandemic: Black People Fight Back” webinar.” [Running time: 11m:49s]

 

 

[Born in St.Petersburg, Florida, USA Omali Yeshitela is Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party USA and the African Socialist International. Full bio]

Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Ghion Journal

November 4, 2019

By Stephen Boni

 

 

Over the course of six lengthy pieces of investigative journalism, Canadian activist and writer Cory Morningstar forces us into a recognition of how deep social engineering efforts can go, how patient they are—and how effective they can be.

After recording a reading of this final piece of Morningstar’s Volume One, her penetrating gaze into the nonprofit industrial complex (and the huge amounts of capital that sit behind it), I went back and listened to it several times, in part just to see what jumped out.

While listening for the second time, a small snippet grabbed me. At one juncture in the piece, which takes a look at how a variety of interlocking pieces of a manufactured climate movement were assembled over 10 years ago, she mentions briefly how the upper level managers of major NGOs essentially share the same values and priorities of the wealthy government bureaucrats and financiers they work with to advance their organizations.

Essentially, they are all fellow travelers on a “highway of hegemony”, a choice phrase Morningstar drops in the piece.

After taking this aspect of her article in and ruminating on it for a minute, my mind drifted to two things:

  1. Matt Taibbi’s recently published book “Hate, Inc.”, in which he explores the change in the class background of many journalists from a blue-collar orientation to a haute-bourgeoisie orientation—which, as a matter of course, impacts the way the corporate news media covers (or omits) the concerns of everyday citizens and aligns with the concerns of the well-to-do.

And

  1. The frequently embedded video of Noam Chomsky deconstructing the authority subservience of a BBC reporter to his face.

It makes absolute sense to me that this is where my mind went, because woven throughout Morningstar’s series is that, while so much of the patient drive to rescue the current faltering economic system through the financialization of nature is determined by the ideology of finance capital, this imperative is deeply connected to an expression of class.

Whether it’s Al Gore or Ingmar Rentzhog (head of advocacy NGO ‘We Don’t Have Time’) or Jennifer Morgan (head of environmental NGO Greenpeace) or Jean-Claude Junker (head of the European Commission), their respective nationalities, areas of expertise, and even genuine concern for the future of people and planet are not so divergent as to overcome their shared class interest—an interest that leads them to apply a set of market and money-based solutions to a problem that eclipses by many magnitudes, the pursuit of wealth.

Before I go on too long, here’s the reading:

The other place my mind went while re-listening to Morningstar’s piece, is how deeply implicated a colonial mentality is in all of this. Because, all these market-base solutions, whether they be green energy or land use or “natural capital investment vehicles”, will hinge on the expropriation of resources—particularly those that sit in developing nations where the majority of citizens are poor and not white—by elites in powerful, semi post-industrial nations.

All we have to do to understand this fusion of class and ethnicity (race is a construct, but ethnicity at least is real) is to look at what’s been happening in Bolivia over the past few weeks. Coup leaders are generally ethnically different from the indigenous citizenry empowered by socialist leader Evo Morales. They are largely light-skinned descendants of previous western colonialists, just as opposition leaders in Venezuela happen to be. And they’re not only “ethnically” angry about indigenous emancipation, but about how the natural resources of Bolivia under Morales have been used for social uplift rather than profit (their profit of course).

If the coup holds, we will in all likelihood see the expropriation of Bolivia’s massive expanses of lithium for the West’s various “Green New Deals” and the seizing of Bolivia’s natural gas to feed the West’s unending hunger for energy to fuel markets to fuel energy to fuel markets to fuel mansions to fuel private jets to fuel power.

Class, markets, profit, material wealth, ethnic supremacy, colonialism. It really is all one thing and that is why, as Morningstar underlines, the omission of imperialism, militarism and capitalism from the concerns of these environmental NGOs and their partners, is so telling.

In the words of rapper Ice-T: “Ain’t a damn thing changed”.

That is, unless we start supporting a completely different kind of environmentalism.

As always, thanks for reading and listening.

An Indigenous Critique of The Green New Deal

PacificStandard

March 4, 2019

By Malcolm Harris

 

(Photo: Ron Whitaker/Unsplash)

The most common introductory example we use when we teach kids about interdependent ecosystems is insects. They may seem gross and small compared to the charismatic megafauna, we say, but insects play all sorts of important roles: pollinating plants, breaking down organic matter, feeding bigger animals. Without insects the whole web would collapse. I don’t think many of us who have given this lesson actually contemplated the mass death of the world’s insects as a possibility, imminent or otherwise. We should have.

A new study in the journal Biological Conservation takes a look at the global status of entomofauna (insects), and the picture is not good. The topline finding is that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction. That’s a situation hard to describe without sounding like a heavy metal concert billing. (Megadeath, Ecocide, etc.) And the lesson about the ecosystem wasn’t wrong: Without insects, Earth’s environment as we’ve become familiar with it is toast. Even our apocalyptic thought experiments are coming true.

The trouble with combating climate change, we’re often told, is that it’s hard to imagine, hard to see. The philosopher Timothy Morton calls climate change a “hyperobject”: It’s so widely distributed and conceptually sticky that we can’t really perceive it except in partial local instances. “When you feel raindrops falling on your head, you are experiencing climate, in some sense. In particular you are experiencing the climate change known as global warming,” Morton wrote in 2010. “But you are never directly experiencing global warming as such.” Humans don’t have the right sensory faculties.

Maybe it was possible to think that way in 2010, but, less than a decade later, I think many of us have developed the ability to see global warming. We are no longer empiricists who route information through our senses to our brain for analysis; we’re conspiracy theorists, every raindrop or sunbeam encountered as hyperobject. Now the totality hits us first. At the beginning of this essay, I didn’t say the insects were being killed off by global warming—but didn’t you assume it?

To people who don’t feel the omnipresence of global warming, people like me sound off. Not necessarily because they refuse to believe the data, I think, but because some of us are no longer bothering with the scientific method. We’re not analyzing evidence to develop a theory; we are convinced of what’s happening before we hear the particulars. Our question is not whether today’s forecast reflects climate change, but how. And we’re not wrong.

Since global warming is a fact and in one way or another an imminent threat to the well-being of every living thing known to mankind (including us), I think our increased ability to perceive it represents progress. The positivist method is not the only way to produce knowledge, and though “science” gets a lot of credit for sounding the alarm on climate change, it has been comparatively slow on the uptake. If we pay any attention at all, we can see and feel and hear that nature’s cycles are broken, and some peoples have understood for centuries that a society built on extraction and accumulation would burn the whole planet alive. Western science has a lot of nerve showing up just as we’re on the precipice of a biospheric death spiral to brandish some graphs and offer to block out the sun just a little.

“Indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse since the early days of colonial occupation,” says Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist/scholar from the Nishnaabeg nation and author most recently of the book As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. “We should be thinking of climate change as part of a much longer series of ecological catastrophes caused by colonialism and accumulation-based society.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

(Photo: Courtesy of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson)

From this perspective, it’s a mistake to think of global warming in historical isolation, as merely the carbon cycle gone awry thanks to an excess of CO2 emissions. Climate change is the name we’ve given to the constellation of ecological crises that emerge as capitalist modernity runs out of new places to despoil.

For the insects, today’s crisis stems not just from temperature change (which is, of course, a contributing factor) but also from other associated environmental practices: the conversion of land for intensive agriculture, the widespread use of pesticides, and the reckless introduction of invasive species. Matt Shardlow, chief executive officer of the conservation non-profit Buglife, told the Guardian that unconsidered factors like light pollution could be more harmful to insects than we’re imagining. These aren’t problems that can be solved by decarbonization, no matter how many green jobs are attached. Our whole way of life has to change.

Insofar as mainstream American society reckons with indigenous intellectual/scientific practices, it’s as “non-overlapping magisteria,” i.e. if they’re true then they’re not true in a way that would directly challenge our truths. So when Simpson speaks of the need for “ethical systems that promote the diversity of life,” I think most Americans would understand “diversity of life” as an unquantifiable abstraction that we can translate into liberal ideals like interpersonal tolerance and non-conformity. But what if we took it literally instead?

The mass death of insects is an observable and measurable disrespect for the diversity of life on Earth, to which we can and should compare other patterns of human practice.

“Indigenous knowledge systems are rigorous, they pursue excellence, they are critical and comprehensive,” Simpson says. “The global roots of the climatic crisis and the exploitation of natural resources are issues indigenous peoples have been speaking out against for hundreds of years.” The proof is in the pudding: Colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.

The devaluation of indigenous political thought has nothing to do with its predictive ability. The ruling class produced by accumulation society simply will not put its own system up for debate. Thus the climate change policies we discuss—even and perhaps in particular the Green New Deal—take for granted not just the persistence of commodity accumulation, but its continued growth. As the economists Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm complain in their analysis of proposals for “green growth”: “The belief that any of this half-hearted tinkering will lead to drastic cuts in CO2 emissions in the future is plain self-deceit.” Economic output as we understand it, they say, must shrink.

If the indigenous critique sounds like an anti-capitalist one, it should. Drawing on the work of communist Glen Coulthard from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Simpson recognizes the language of Marxism as her own. “There is an assumption that socialism and communism are white and that indigenous peoples don’t have this kind of thinking,” she writes. “To me, the opposite is true.” In As We Have Always Done, Simpson makes a gentle case for non-native comrades to follow this lead. For their part, contemporary Marxist scholars like Silvia Federici and Harry Harootunian have been reassessing doctrinaire ideas about the progressive nature of capitalism and the supposed backwardness of indigenous societies, a line of revision that’s supported by recent changes to anthropological assumptions regarding the sophistication of pre-colonial technology and social organization.

Green growth, even in its social-democratic versions, isn’t going to save the insects. But there exist alternative examples for the left, and for the world. While America’s beehives are bare, Cuba’s are thriving, which led to the tragicomically western Economist headline: “Agricultural backwardness makes for healthy hives.” “We” are just now reactivating the millenia-old Mayan practice of harvesting from wild stingless bees (“meliponiculture”), which used to produce an unimaginably large variety of honeys. These entomological examples support Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani’s audacious claim about the history of African thought: Those who study what has been suppressed can see the future.

As for what is to be done about climate change, there’s no real mystery. “The issue is that accumulation-based societies don’t like the answers we come up with because they are not quick technological fixes, they are not easy,” Simpson says. “Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other. They require critical thinking about our economic and political systems. They require radical systemic change.”

To this end, Simpson has called for a shift in focus from indigenous cultural resurgence to the anti-colonial struggle for territory. That unsurrendered conflict has continued for hundreds of years, and we should view our living history in its firelight. The best environmental policy America can pursue is to start giving back the land.

 

[Malcolm Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia and the author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials.]

LISTEN: Colonialism and Gender Today

kpfa.org

March 27, 2018

Against the Grain

 

 

Can we understand gender relations in today’s neoliberal world without understanding colonialism? As Raka Ray points out, colonialism put in place new understandings about gender and gender relations, many of which continue to affect how people in countries like India think and interact and are governed. Colonialism and its legacies have also influenced how feminists in the Global South and their counterparts in the Global North view and treat each other.

 

 

The Big Conservation Lie Exposes Colonial Dynamic at the Heart of Conservation Policy

Ecologist

August 9, 2017

by Lewis Evans

 

 

Mordecai Ogada was sitting in a luxury safari lodge, admiring the view of Kilimanjaro. He could see many of Africa’s most iconic species -giraffe, water buffalo, even a few elephants far in the distance.

As a professional conservationist, with a PhD in carnivore ecology, the sight was both familiar and pleasing. He was being treated like a tourist. Someone came in and offered him a cocktail. Then, one of his white hosts and sponsors, the people whose largesse he was enjoying, said: “We’re going to have to move that Maasai village. It’s spoiling the view for tourists.”

For Dr. Ogada, this was a decisive moment. “I was a qualified black face, put in place to smooth over fifty years of exploitation.”

The Big Conservation Lie is written by people who are actually from one of big conservation’s key target countries. It dismantles many of the environmental movement’s most troubling myths: the pristine wilderness “untouched by human hands” until European arrival; the supposed lack of interest or expertise in wildlife among native conservationists and communities; the idea that brutal poaching would be endemic without foreign intervention, and so on.

A colonial narrative

Ogada and Mbaria sum up the essence of their argument early on: “The wildlife conservation narrative in Kenya, as well as much of Africa, is thoroughly intertwined with colonialism, virulent racism, deliberate exclusion of the natives, veiled bribery, unsurpassed deceit, a conservation cult subscribed to by huge numbers of people in the West, and severe exploitation of the same wilderness conservationists have constantly claimed they are out to preserve.”

To colonisers, Africa is and always has been a “wild and uncontrollable environment” – home to “charismatic” species that can be admired (or shot) from afar. The conventional narrative has generally suggested that only European and American expertise can tame or protect it. The authors argue that this has given western NGOs such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) enormous power.

It has also created space for white “saviors” (and the “saviors” are always white), such as George Adamson, Jane Goodall, and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, to step in and be seen to make the decisive difference. There’s no place for Africans in the picture.

Damaging myths

Ogada and Mbaria take aim at some of conservation’s most sacred cows. George Adamson, for example, the white British subject of the 1966 film “Born Free” is exposed as a chancer, a failed businessman who accepted  conservation donations, despite being a trophy hunter with next to no conservation expertise.

Much of the authors’ scorn is reserved for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Though it presents itself as a conservation organisation, the true face of this “service” is revealed. It is composed mostly of retired soldiers and mercenaries, heavily armed and organised much like a militia.

Run for many years by Richard Leakey, a wealthy white Kenyan of British descent, it is accused of corruption, violence, and perpetuating the appropriation of some of Kenya’s most fertile areas by the British colonials and their descendants.

As the authors point out, the KWS receives funding, equipment, and training from western powers, including the United States and Great Britain. This doesn’t stop if from profiting from the land it supposedly exists to protect, through tourism, and even ties to big mining and pharmaceutical companies.

It is revealed to have cut deals with the German corporation Bayer, and some of its most senior figures have themselves been implicated in wildlife crime, including ivory trafficking. Despite this, they and the armed operatives they command are considered “above suspicion” by the Kenyan authorities.

A failure to respect indigenous knowledge

Similarly, they expose the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the best-respected of the big conservation organisations, for having supported a project which involved evicting thousands of Maasai people from forests which they’d been dependent on and managed for millennia.

This is despite the fact that the Loita woodland that they were removed from was largely intact at the time, whereas areas of forest which had been in western hands for decades had badly deteriorated. This is typical of the “externally-defined agenda for social development” which the authors critique, and which often doesn’t involve much effective conservation.

Many western conservation charities, it’s argued, exist primarily to secure publicity for their founders. A recent example is “Space for Giants” – an initiative founded by Russian oligarch Evgeny Lebedev.

The organisation has released several high profile op-eds and photos showing “action” in the name of conservation, but has, according to the authors, done little on the ground, beyond charging over $5,000 a head (plus mandatory donation) for luxury safari tours.

What a lot of western-initiated conservation boils down to, according to Ogada and Mbaria, is “surveillance of vast areas with huge mineral potential under the guise of wildlife conservation.”

African solutions to Africa’s problems

In place of this neocolonial approach, they advocate closer partnerships with local and tribal communities, respecting and using the extraordinary, but unacknowledged, expertise about the natural world that already exists in large parts of Kenya and the wider world.

There are plenty of Africans working in conservation, but they get very little recognition for their work. Professionals like Dr. Ogada are not only experts in their field, but also provide a different perspective on the deeply flawed western approach to conservation, an approach which has failed, even on its own terms.

Likewise, there are millions of people across Africa who live largely sustainable lives and have plenty of insights to offer, if only western conservationists would be willing to step aside and put them at the forefront of the environmental movement. Only by listening to Africa’s tribal peoples – the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world – will we stand any chance of protecting the natural environment.

“The Big Conservation Lie” is highly recommended for anyone interested in this struggle, or in debunking the pervasive myths that are holding the environmental movement back. It is a bold and important book that deserves your attention.

 

 

[Lewis Evans is a campaigner at Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. The Big Conservation Lie is available to purchase from Lens & Pens Publications.]

 

Why Are All the Black Faces in Conservation in the Background?

Oyunga Pala

May 3, 2017

 

Nairobi National Park is the only park on earth bordering a capital city. It is the world’s wildlife capital and one afternoon in December 2016, it was celebrating 70 years of existence. Nairobi National park was the first gazetted park in the country, started in 1946. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was throwing an evening party in the park to commemorate the event. The small gathering, comprised conservationists, friends of Nairobi national park, assorted Kenyans who earn a living in the wildlife industry and uniformed KWS staffers who appeared to be attending more out of protocol than choice.

There was an air of resignation about the place. Out at the Impala observation point, a panoramic view of open savanna grassland, guests mingled awaiting the arrival of the dignitaries as the catering unit from the Ole Sereni hotel hurried about setting up.

The Impala viewpoint offers a compelling sight and I trained my eyes, trying to spot some wildlife. A few KWS staffers who were gathered all seemed to be taking a good long look into the horizon. One wildlife photographer, captured the sentiment with a nostalgic comment,

“This used to be the place to take the best pictures. Now instead of shooting animals, we will be shooting the SGR”.

There were few chuckles. Mostly at the inevitability of the Chinese built Standard Gauge Railway line changing the ecosystem of the park forever. I sensed a deep sense of failure among some KWS staffers, many voicing their concern in hushed tones, certain the park would not survive the onslaught of ‘development’.

The ceremony was running fashionably late and I bumped into former KWS director Juluis Kipng’etich, who is now the Uchumi CEO in the parking lot.  Juluis Kipng’etich (Kip) was the poster child of Kenyan conservation during his tenure as director at Kenya Wildlife Service from 2005 to 2012 when he resigned to take up a position at Equity Bank.

Julius Kipngetich in the KWS strong room. Courtesy of Vanity Fair magazine.

Kip was credited with transforming KWS from a malfunctioning organisation into a respected corporate brand. During my stint as the editor of the now defunct Adam magazine, we had Kipng’etich on the cover.

There was a vibrancy to Kip in the midst of the lethargy in public service that we had not witnessed previously. But what made him material for a cover story, was the refreshing face of a competent African, getting the conservation accolades for a change.

I was in attendance, when he unveiled a Heroes statue in memory of KWS officers who had died on the frontier. KWS was on the move then. Today, not so much. Kipng’etich was reflective when I asked him about the anniversary celebrations.

“It feels like we are attending a funeral”.

When the ceremony eventually started, the KWS director Kitili Mbathi anchored his address around a breakfast in the park special visit made by the Togolese president Faure Gnassingb’e and the special place Nairobi holds as the only city in the world with a national park. The guest of honour Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Prof Judy Wakhungu managed to deliver an optimistic speech without making a single reference to the impending railway line construction.

The audience listened, all too aware of the elephant in the room that everyone was pretending not to see.

I was the guest of Jim Justus Nyamu, the founder of the Elephant Neighbors Centre, who had become the face of a campaign dubbed “Ivory belongs To Elephants”. Nyamu was a former KWS elephant scientist and researcher whose primary job was reduced to counting elephants and tracking their movement. He eventually resigned to start his own organisation, once he realised the limitation of the existing conservation model.

The big beasts that had for centuries, roamed the country on dedicated paths were now in constant conflict with ordinary rural folk. The narrative of protecting elephants for tourist dollars was not persuasive among local people suffering loss of property and lives after encounters with elephants. There was a big disconnection with the reality of public in understanding the value of wildlife conservation but conservation could not left solely in the hands of the ‘experts’.

People had to get involved. 70 per cent of the Kenya’s wildlife lie outside KWS parks and the service is stretched in capacity and resource. Jim was seeking to create a different model around the problem.

“The people who can make a real difference are the communities but no one is talking to them. Especially the children. They are the only ones who still have time to make a difference”.

So he decided to walk and talk to local people urging them to take ownership of their wildlife heritage and have a say. Jim has so far covered over 9000kms in Kenya, 900kms in the US, in addition to an epic 3200km foot journey across East Africa.

Jim Nyamu leads the International March For Elephants walk in the US.

When I met him last, in early April 2017, it was at the flag off of his 13th walk (617kms) to Marsabit at the National Museums of Kenya headquarters in Nairobi.  The Museum was the home to the iconic Ahmed of Marsabit, a living monument and the only elephant to be put under protection by a presidential decree. In 1970, President Jomo Kenyatta ordered state security to protect this giant beast against poachers. Ahmed died at age of 65 four years later. A giant fiberglass cast of Ahmed is on display at the National Museums. Jim’s was drawing his inspiration from Ahmed and raising awareness on the dwindling numbers of elephants in the Marsabit eco-system.

The Irish ambassador, Vincent O’Neill was the guest of honour, a lanky man, who set off Jim after reading out an Irish travellers blessing. After walking with the small group of volunteers and supporters, blowing whistles, blaring horns, hogging a lane marshalled by police outriders on BMWs, I bid my farewell to Jim on Thika Road and wished him journey mercies.

Ahmed of Marsabit

Moments before the flag off, I had walked into a bookshop at the Museum in search of a book that had caused a stir in the African conservation world. It was a thought provoking book co-authored by John Mbaria and Dr. Mordecai Ogada titled “The Big Conservation Lie”.

“The Big Conservation Lie” was a book challenging the western paradigms and values that had dominated the management and conservation model since Kenya was declared a British colony. I had heard of John Mbaria by reputation. He was an investigative journalist who had earned his stripes as fury critic of the ‘western’ conservation model and a staunch advocate of a return to an indigenous inspired model.

I had met his co-author Mordecai Ogada, during a panel session at British Institute of Eastern Africa, where he presented a very compelling account of the racial tainted difference between a bush meat hunter and a sports hunter. The man who hunts for his food is ‘bad’ while the other who hunts for trophies is ‘good’. Mordecai Ogada was a carnivore ecologist and a big advocate of community based conservation.

The book is a page turner and revolves around a central argument of historic racial prejudices in the Kenyan conservation industry which alienate indigenous people as important partners in conservation. It goes on an investigative discourse of Kenya’s conservation legacy, showing how the inherited conservation model was intertwined with colonial power structures.

“Many modern wildlife parks were initially hunting grounds and created for recreation for the settler communities”.

The establishment of national parks was a form of land grab that disregarded the local communities’ ancestral claim to the land.

Mbaria and Mordecai confront the conservation crisis head on. They question the unholy alliance of wildlife conservation NGOs and Western funding streams pushing the paradigm that states that resident local communities must earn money from wildlife as motivation for conservation.

Mbaria poignantly asks, “How did wildlife survive for millennia in Kenya rangelands together with people who never earned anything from it?”

They poke large holes into the legacies of conservation stalwarts, Richard Leakey, George Adamson, Douglas-Hamilton, Dr. Daphne Sheldrick and Ian Craig. They accuse single species focused organizations earning substantial incomes as engaging in tourism under the guise of conservation activities.

The Launch party of the book

Dr.Ogada was frank when I asked him about his motivation for writing the book.

“I think it is when I realized that because of the colour of my skin, I was not likely to ever be acknowledged as a significant contributor to our conservation discourse in Kenya”.

Some of Dr.Ogada’s inspirations were the late Samson Ole Sisina, the KWS officer killed by Tom Cholmondeley and Elizabeth Leitoro who used to work for KWS and busted a poaching ring east of Nairobi National park that used to supply game meat to high end Nairobi restaurants. John Mbaria added that KWS has some of the best scientists that no one outside the industry ever gets to hear about.

Mbaria and Ogada are keen to start a national conversation. “Our mission is not an avenue for accolades but for our survival. It is a national security issue”, stresses John Mbaria.

“The big problem with our conservation model is that it is alien, not inspired by traditional culture”.

The conservation crisis in Kenya is real and it can only get worse in the face what Dr. Ogada describes as the perfect storm of climate change, a policy vacuum, ethnic politics and elitist approach to conservation.

But hopefully, there is a quiet uprising of local Kenyans moving from the back of the bus to their rightful place as leaders in conservation. It seems clear in the minds of all these men I have encountered that Kenyans can no longer be bystanders, outsourcing conservation knowledge.

Article first published in the Standard Media Newspaper on April 30th, 2017. This version has been updated.

 

[Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.]