Location: Marsabit Central District
Postal address: P.O Box 416-60500 Marsabit
Manager: Daniel Lipa Esimbasele
Contact: songa@nrt-kenya.org
Ethnicity: Rendille
Population: 11,000
Land Ownership: Community Land
Core Conservation Area: 1,010 km2
Main Livelihood: Agro-pastoralism
Key Wildlife Species: Elephant, greater kudu, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe, numerous bird species
Year of Registration: 2013
Staff Employed from the Community: 13
Annual Operating Budget: TBC

Background

Songa Community Conservancy is one of three new conservancies in the Marsabit region, along with Jaldesa andShurr Community Conservancies. This triangular shaped Conservancy is bordered by Jaldesa to the north east, Shurr to the south east, and Marsabit National Park to the west. As such, it forms an important puzzle piece for established wildlife migration routes. This harsh region, in the far north of Kenya close to the Ethiopian border, poses multiple challenges for the pastoralist communities that live there. Insecurity, frequent droughts and an increase in the population of livestock has led to desertification in many areas.

Inspiration to become part of the Northern Rangelands Trust came in early 2013, when 12 representatives from the Marsabit communities visited long running NRT community conservancies in Samburu county. They saw first hand how livelihoods were benefitting from wildlife conservation, greener grasslands and healthier cattle. They relayed what they had seen to their constituent communities, and invited discussion in various community forums. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Although still in the initial stages, the communities of Songa have embraced the formation of the Conservancy as an institution, already reporting a reduction in insecurity incidents (such as cattle rustling).

The People

While the fusion of traditional culture with western practices is evident throughout most of Kenya now, this is one of the last areas where ancient tribal traditions are still upheld. The semi-nomadic Rendille, whose livestock consists of both cattle and camels, still uphold many of their ancient beliefs and practices. As well as pastoralism, the Rendille communities in Songa are able to grow maize and beans on the foothills of the lush Mt. Marsabit. 

As populations grow, so do the numbers of livestock and the competition for pasture and water, and inter-ethnic tensions between the Borana, Gabbra and Rendille communities in this area have often lead to deadly clashes in the past. As such, the three Marsabit conservancies of Songa, Shurr and Jaldesa have agreed to conduct an annual, joint, sports for peace event, to promote peace and dialogue between pastoralists. A similar initiative in Biliqo-Bulesa Community Conservancy produced the highly successful annual Kom Peace Marathon, that has brought together rival neighbours who, by their own admittance, would never have been shaking hands with one another a few years ago. Conflict resolution and peace building will be a major focus for Songa over the coming years.

Ecosystem

Songa Conservancy is characterised by diverse landscape with thick grasslands and bushy savannah with numerous acacia trees to the south and thick forest vegetation to the north, close to Marsabit National Park. Bordered on all sides by protected land, Songa acts as an important wildlife corridor. The savannah acts as buffer zone for elephant and buffalo, especially during the rainy season as they move out of the mountainous forest down to the plains. Farming and livestock grazing have been steadily increasing over the past few years, and Songa will now strive to implement natural resource management plans that benefit wildlife and livestock alike.

Twelve conservancy rangers have been employed from the local community, and they will be a key asset for upholding grazing and natural resource management laws within the Conservancy. Already, their regular anti-poaching patrols have reduced poaching incidents here, and they continue to raise awareness in the community.  A Conservancy Headquarters, expected to be completed soon, will allow the rangers to carry out their duties more comfortably and effectively.

Visiting Songa

Being a relatively new NRT conservancy, the communities in Songa are concentrating on improving security operations, infrastructure development and sustainably managing their precious natural resources. As such, there are no tourism operations in the area yet. However, this Conservancy holds great promise, and there is no reason it will not be able to support tourism ventures in the future.

The Future for Songa

With assistance from NRT and partner organisations, Songa aims to achieve the following in the coming years:

  • To convene, along with all other NRT community conservancies, in annual general meetings to share plans and progress 
  • Conduct regular board, finance, staff and grazing meetings 
  • Purchase more ranger security equipment 
  • To develop, implement and enforcement of grazing by-laws. 
  • To purchase field equipment (binoculars, rack sacks and sleeping bags) for rangers to assist in establishing ranger-based monitoring of wildlife (CoMMS) 
  • Establish routine anti-poaching ranger patrols 
  • Establish anti-poaching campaigns 
  • To convene, along with all other NRT community conservancies, in annual general meetings to share plans and progress 
  • To conduct leadership training for relevant staff 
  • To continue the strengthening of wildlife security and monitoring within the conservancy 
  • To sign a partnership memorandum of understanding, along with all other community conservancies, between themselves and NRT 
  • To register as a not-for-profit company 
  • To develop a conservancy management plan endorsed by the constituent community
  • Implement a conservancy constitution, with the aim of building accountability, transparency, equity and effective representation in Songa 
  • To take part in peace building exercises with surrounding communities 
  • Tourism development and development of other revenue generating enterprises to build the self-sufficiency of the conservancy and generate funding to support community development priorities (such as education and health)