Response to the Fact Finding Report on the Northern Rangelands Trust’s Operations in Community Conservancies in Isiolo County, published by the Borana Council of Elders and the Waso Professional Forum
NRT would like to exercise its right to respond to the Fact Finding Report conducted by the Borana Council of Elders and the Waso Professionals Forum (April 2019).
Firstly, we thank the Borana Council of Elders (BCE) and the Waso Professionals Forum (WPF) for their passion and dedication to the human rights of the Isiolo communities, their concern for the state of the rangelands they rely on, and the prosperity of wildlife they live alongside. It would seem that NRT, BCE and WPF have similar organizational values, and it is with that understanding that we have read this report, and wish to address some of the allegations set out in the report findings.
We would like to point out that it is best practice in a fact finding report to conduct interviews from a representative sample of the demographic in question, to minimize the risk of confirmation bias. That is, the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view. At no time during this mission was any member of NRT staff engaged for an interview, nor were interviews conducted with current Biliqo – Bulesa Community conservancy board or committee members. There are two instances in the report where past Conservancy Board officials and former rangers were interviewed and their views expressed, which is not consistent with a report that merely aims to explain the facts, without pushing an alternative agenda.
Allegations set out in the report findings:
1) NRT has been violating the rights of the community and uses the Isiolo County Security apparatus to harass and intimidate people oppressed to its operations.
a) NRT has, on 10 occasions, used its influence within the security and administration establishments of Isiolo County to frustrate the desire by the community to hold any meetings to deliberate on whether to continue with the conservancy or not
NRT and conservancies have no power to prevent any community meetings from happening anywhere at any time. NRT member community conservancies implement a strong human-rights focus to their Standard Operating Procedures, and are working with the Kenya Police to integrate these into ranger trainings. We recognize that it is the right of the community to hold meetings to discuss any matter they wish, and we have no authority or ability to use security apparatus to refrain them from doing so.
b) Prior to the fact finding tour, NRT had sent officials to incite and buy off some members of the community to unleash chaos during the planned community meeting
NRT has no business inciting or buying off members of the community to disrupt meetings, and have a higher respect for the integrity and voice of community members than to believe they can be ‘bought-off’ like that. This would go against our core values. If there is concrete evidence of members of NRT staff paying community members to disrupt citizen’s rights to free speech we would welcome seeing this, as an internal investigation should be conducted.
c) NRT has introduced “white coloured” lions into the conservancy that attack Borana community members.
Allegations of NRT introducing lions into any area are wholly untrue - any animal translocations are the responsibility of the Kenya Wildlife Service, with whom we work closely, and NRT has no authority to move wildlife without the support and lead of the KWS. NRT has never been involved in the translocation of lions anywhere ever. We call on the government to investigate such a wild and misplaced allegation.
d) Many people have been moved by NRT from established settlements, claiming it as corridors for wildlife.
Neither NRT or the community conservancies have the authority to move people or settlements anywhere, or deny any community access to natural resources. In northern Kenya, wildlife, people and livestock continue to be nomadic across the landscape as they have for centuries, and community conservancies will never put up fences to stop nomadism, except for two cases where the community themselves have set aside small land, and fenced it, for the protection of endangered species (black rhino in Sera and hirola in Ishaqbini) which is purely at their own discretion in consultation with their respective County Governments.
2) The very formation of the two conservancies (Biliqo – Bulesa and Nakuprat-Gotu) in Isiolo flouted the law and borders on fraud because neither were the provisions of the defunct Trust Lands Act nor the Community Lands Act adhered to. Although the NRT appears to have merely invoked the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act, this was mischievous in that the organisation’s operations are not grounded in the act itself and ought to have been covered by relevant land legislation too.
a) The report states that due to the lengthy process of developing regulations for the implementation of the Community Land Act, and the time taken for the National Lands Commission and the Isiolo County Governments to initiative a process that would lead to the registration of community land and implementation of the law, NRT has been given room to manipulate communities “for their own ends”.
NRT does not own any land anywhere, nor is it in the business of land acquisition. Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy (being two separate locations) is Community Land, which falls under the Community Land Act and is under the jurisdiction of Isiolo County Government. Anything to do with the ownership of this land is between the Biliqo Bulesa community and the Isiolo County Government. NRT supports eight (8) community conservancies in Isiolo and it’s rather interesting to note that all the negative conservancy politics rotate around one (1) Conservancy (Biliqo – Bulesa Community Conservancy).
b) NRT unilaterally identified and embarked on the construction of five tourist camps in areas of Charri Rangeland (Balballa Camp, Maddo Gurba Huqqa, Sabarwawa, Nyaacisa, Kuro-Bisaan Owwo)
This is another wild allegation with no basis in evidence. There are no tourist camps in the Charri Rangeland or Biliqo –Bulesa Community Conservancy – and in any case, any infrastructure built in Biliqo Bulesa or Chari Rangelands must be approved by the local community and the Isiolo County Government. NRT has no plans in the near future to help the community develop tourist camps here, unless requested to by Isiolo County Government and the community of Biliqo Bulesa. NRT does not own any tourist camps anywhere, and don’t make money from tourism because we don’t own any land.
c) At Kuro-Bisaan Owwo, NRT has come up with a plan to put up a health spa and have fenced off the entire area. They have gone ahead and piped water with the aim of dissuading herders to take water here. NRT allowed tourists to engage in bird shooting in the area, which was against the will of the local people. Even after destroying the fence, the community has been unable to access and use the water at the springs because “NRT has deployed rangers and Samburu raiders there.” “Later, we learned that the raiders deployed by NRT killed an elderly man days after the Boran community declined an invitation to attend a peace meeting with Samburu.”
Yet another here wild allegation. NRT has no plans to construct a health spa here. There are no tourist camps in the Charri Rangeland – and in any case, any infrastructure built in Biliqo Bulesa must be approved by the community and the Isiolo County Government. NRT has no plans in the near future to help the community develop tourist camps here, unless requested to by Isiolo County Government and the community of Biliqo Bulesa. NRT does not own any tourist camps anywhere, and don’t make money from tourism. - The water pipe and fence were put up by World Bank through Arid Lands long before the establishment of Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy and this operation had nothing to do with NRT. As the report outlines, the fence no longer exists and the water pipeline no longer works. - Bird shooting in Biliqo Bulesa used to offer a commercial revenue stream to the community where few other options for tourism were possible. The Conservancy earned Ksh. 522,091 in 2012 from bird shooting, and Ksh. 329,306 in 2013. This operation was conducted by Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy with KWS approval and NRT had no involvement. Working with KWS, the community ensured quotas were adhered to and bird populations remained stable. These operations stopped in 2013, when bird hunting in Kenya was outlawed. - NRT does not employ or deploy Samburu raiders or any other raiders, this is another wild allegation with no basis in truth. There are no conservancy rangers permanently based at Kuro-Bisaan Owwo and we have radio logs and patrol plans to prove this.
3) NRT has altered the power and traditional governance structures of the communities in the north and actively promotes recurrent inter-community conflict in Isiolo County.
NRT, through the community conservancies recognize the traditional structures governing natural resources and conflict mitigation, that have been in place within these communities for decades. The Biliqo Bulesa grazing committee of elders reinforces the Borana D’eeda grazing system, working with and not against it. This applies to all other community conservancies where traditional structures exist. - NRT and community conservancies have never and will never promote inter-community conflict. This is unconstitutional and illegal. At the very core of our mission is a focus on building peace across the landscape, in partnership with County Governments, communities and other stakeholders. As the report itself outlines on page 22, inter-community conflicts in the north have a long history, emanating from cattle raids and competition over water and pasture. The conflicts have been worsened by the proliferation of small arms. The report rightly states that local communities have had in the past, established effective traditional mechanisms to either avoid the conflicts or resolve them when they occur. That is why NRT has invested in a dedicated multi-ethnic peace team, who are deployed around the clock to work with elders, women and youth from all ethnicities to promote peace and harmony, supporting traditional governance structures. NRT support 70 peace ambassadors from 15 community conservancies in conflict-prone areas, including Biliqo Bulesa, and over 700 women participated in peace-building training in 2018. The number of cattle rustling incidents in NRT member community conservancies dropped from 90 in 2017 to 66 in 2018. Road banditry has also decreased, from 22 reported cases in the landscape in 2017, to 15 in 2018. Furthermore, elephant poaching for ivory has dropped 97% since 2012. NRT and community conservancies are committed to work with County and National Governments and communities to eradicate these insecurity incidences, and therefore ensure all our initiatives complement government efforts.
a) Since the formation of Biliqo Bulesa, the community have experience as many as ten raids from Samburu morans, who were assisted by specially trained NRT rangers
Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy employs a team of uniformed community rangers from the local communities, who have been trained by the KWS Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani. - As the report itself outlines on page 22, inter-community conflicts in the north have a long history, emanating from cattle raids and competition over water and pasture. The conflicts have been worsened by the proliferation of small arms. This is a historical problem – and existed long before NRT or community conservancies. - To support conservancy rangers, there are teams of rapid-response rangers, which are multi-ethnic teams that operate on a regional level under the chain of command of Kenya Police. This means that no operation occurs without the knowledge and approval of the Police, and are frequently joint operations with the government security teams. The teams’ diversity represents the communities they serve, and the teams have built an immense amount of trust within these diverse communities. These rapid response rangers have been granted National Police Reservist status by the Kenya Police, which means they are provided with government weapons by the police, can carry these arms while on duty, and can make police arrests. The mandate of both the conservancy rangers and the rapid response rangers is to ensure the safety of people and wildlife.
b) NRT arms the Samburu to loot Boran cattle
Another wild allegation. NRT does not have the authority to arm rangers or Samburu Moran. Those conservancy rangers that are armed have been granted National Police Reservist status by the Kenya Police, and can carry these government-issued arms while on duty. At the center of NRT and the community conservancies’ core values is a drive to be apolitical and neutral. NRT remains fair and neutral to all the local communities and never take sides.
c) NRT prices are the lowest for cattle across the whole of Kenya
NRT Trading uses standard mobile weighing scales for a weight-based pricing system for cattle. This new system is extremely popular, due to its transparency and fair price system. Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy has requested three NRT Trading sales in the past two years, all attended by senior county livestock and trade officers, who approve and appreciate the market sales. This year, 404 steers were bought at the Biliqo market at Ksh. 18,465,470. In fact, one of the best bulls in Biliqo attracted no more than Ksh 60,000 at the Isiolo market, but was sold at the NRT Trading market for more than Ksh. 70,000. The objective of livestock sales is to help pastoralist access markets, generate revenue to community conservancies that goes towards supporting bursaries for needy students. Any profits made from cattle sales is ploughed back to support Community conservancies.
d) ‘Laikipia Beef’ from Ol Pejeta is the most expensive beef in Kenya
Laikipia Beef has no relation to NRT. NRT Trading partners with Ol Pejeta to provide pastoralists in member conservancies with a direct link to high quality markets for their livestock. Alongside this, Ol Pejeta has its own beef business, from Ol Pejeta-owned cattle reared on Ol Pejeta. This is what is marketed as Laikipia Beef, and has no connection to cattle from NRT member conservancies. Markets are about willing seller and willing buyer.
4) That NRT personnel are alleged to have been involved in poaching of elephants and other big game, and are linked to the disappearance of a number of people from the Boran community… this captured the interest of citizens across the county especially after six bodies were found in Tsavo. The team went around and interviewed different people in Isiolo, who expressed suspicions that this is a highly secretive operation involving unnamed NRT and KWS personnel.
This is an extremely serious and libelous allegation that has no evidential backing. The report states that “the killers are known to the community and have been identified and reported to the police” – and NRT will cooperate in any investigations into murder, disappearances, illegal poaching or other crimes. No NRT or community conservancy member of staff has been implicated in the Tsavo case by authorities, and to suggest their involvement with no concrete evidence is defamatory. Part of the mandate of NRT and community conservancies is to promote conservation and security as a means of enhancing livelihoods.
5) There appears to be a well orchestrated scheme to weaken and destroy traditional institutions in Isiolo to pave the way for their handover to NRT or foreign entities.
NRT does not own, control or manage any community land anywhere, and has no interest in or power to do so. We aim to provide communities access to the tools, training and funding, if they request it, to manage their land as they see fit. The Community Land Act helps provide the framework for communities to protect their land from foreign buyers.
a) “The question that came to our minds was why NRT had decided to have the rangers’ quarters close to a protected area (Shaba Gate) that is, by law, under the Isiolo County Government”
The HQ in Nakuprat-Gotu does not belong to NRT, but to Nakuprat-Gotu Community Conservancy. The placement of this HQ was the decision of the Nakuprat-Gotu community and County governement, and occurred after consultations with the Kenya Wildlife Service warden, who at the time welcomed security support for the area around Shaba, which brings in valuable tourism revenue in Isiolo. The outpost was built on an insecurity corridor often famous for cattle rustling and poaching and with ranger’s presence and patrols that corridor has become safe.
6) Former conservancy committee members claim that although an agreement between NRT and a few appointed elders was signed, they have neither seen this agreement nor are they aware of its provisions
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is a mutually agreed document that outlines the details of a working relationship. An MOU has been signed between NRT and Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy (and all community conservancies under the NRT umbrella), which outlines technical and financial support expectations. The MOU is available for any community member to see at Biliqo Bulesa HQ, or upon request to the board and/or manager. It’s a three (3) year renewable partnership MOU that helps to manage expectations and explain the role of partners. MOU’s are not legally binding. MOU’s have termination clauses in it that allows any partner to terminate the partnership. It’s just a professional way doing to build transparency in partnership.
7) NRT has reneged on most of the promises made to the community prior to the establishment of the conservancy. NRT engineered the sacking and replacement of the first board, after they questioned the delivery on these promises. NRT initially refused to appoint a local person as conservancy manager and gave the position to a Samburu.
NRT does not have the authority or ability to appoint or sack community conservancy staff or boards. It is the responsibility of the community conservancy’s boards. Each community conservancy has a board of directors, democratically elected by the community. They oversee elected finance, grazing, and peace committees, as well as the conservancy manager, accountant, head of rangers, and conservancy drivers. NRT has no involvement in these processes, except to provide oversight, leadership and management training to those that want it, to build capability in conservancies to promote effective governance which complements traditional structures.
a) Promises made, according to the report, included
i) That there will be permanent peace between Borana and Samburu communities
Peace must be homegrown, and NRT works with community conservancies to support any and all peace initiatives they want to take. NRT has invested in a dedicated multi-ethnic peace team, who are deployed around the clock to work with elders, women and youth from all ethnicities to promote peace and harmony, supporting traditional governance structures. NRT support 70 peace ambassadors from 15 conservancies in conflict-prone areas, including Biliqo Bulesa, and over 700 women participated in peace-building training in 2018. We will continue to work with communities and government to build lasting peace in the landscape.
ii) There would be a reduction in incidents of insecurity and cattle rustling
The number of cattle rustling incidents in NRT member conservancies dropped from 90 in 2017 to 66 in 2018. Road banditry has also decreased, from 22 reported cases in the landscape in 2017, to 15 in 2018. Furthermore, elephant poaching for ivory has dropped 97% since 2012. We will continue to work with communities and government to further reduce these incidents, taking the lead from government authorities. NRT and Community conservancies are simply complementing government efforts in improving peace and security.
iii) Construction of boarding schools for Samburu, Borana and Rendille pupils
There was an idea to revive a Boarding school in Kom area after it was destroyed and abandoned due to insecurity many years back however insecurity is still prevalent especially during the drought periods.
iv) NRT would employ youths as rangers who would not only bring security to wildlife but also people
Rangers are employed by community conservancies, not NRT. The number of cattle rustling incidents in NRT member conservancies dropped from 90 in 2017 to 66 in 2018. Road banditry has also decreased, from 22 reported cases in the landscape in 2017, to 15 in 2018. Furthermore, elephant poaching for ivory has dropped 97% since 2012. We will continue to work with communities and government to further reduce these incidents, taking the guidance from government authorities.
v) NRT promised to invest KSH 50 million in the conservancy and asked members of the first conservancy board to identify projects of their choice that would benefit the community
To date, NRT has managed to fundraise around Ksh. 154.7 million for Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy, and we have the audited accounts to prove this. It is important to point out that NRT is not a donor organization, we are an umbrella organization that works for community conservancies. We fundraise for the conservancies, for programmes they have identified. We don’t make false promises, and we respect community annual work plans. Community conservancies also raise funds on their own, either through donors or their respective County Governments. From these funds, Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy has invested in a water pipeline at Merti, a borehole at Qilisa, a rangers outpost at Babala, a headquarters at Ntorobo, refurbishing the airstrip at Dima Atho, a community desalination machine, accommodation for teachers at Kom Primary (and training for those teachers), a water pump and solar power at Dima Atho, two vehicles, radios for rangers, a 100 m3 underground water tank at Didewaride and four water troughs there, and two classrooms at Biliqo Secondary.
vi) That each tourist visiting the conservancy would be paying as much as Ksh 1 million into the conservancy kitty
There are no tourist facilities in Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy. If there are to be tourism operations in the future, these would have to be approved by the County Government of Isiolo and the community.
b) Finances meant for the conservancy are banked in an NRT account
Each community conservancy is autonomous with their own bank accounts, managed by the conservancy board. Each community conservancy has an operational account, to support salaries, vehicle fuel etc. They also have a community development account, where they bank funds for community development projects. Any money NRT manages to raise for conservancies goes in to their Community Conservancy accounts. These amounts are in line with annual Conservancy budgets developed by the conservancy board. NRT is not a signatory to any conservancy accounts. All Conservancy accounts are independently audited every year, and are available for anyone to see upon request at the respective conservancy HQ’s.
c) The conservancy has only held two AGMs since inception.
Annual General Meetings, as the name suggests, are held every year to share plans and reports with the larger community and stakeholders. These are open to community, partners, government and anyone else that wishes to attend. Further, AGMS are the responsibility of the conservancy boards and managers, not NRT. Board elections are held every three years, and conservancy boards meet quarterly to review their plans. NRT help to train all newly elected Conservancy boards on Leadership and Management.
d) Past and current board members have no power, and do not even know what income is earned by the conservancy.
This is untrue, and it is clear that the report authors did not interview the current Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy board to establish if this was true. The conservancy board has the power to run own budgets and appoint staff, and as such are always up to date on the latest financials. NRT does not micromanage conservancies.
8) Community members expressed suspicions that NRT is interested in securing mineral rich areas within Isiolo County
Another wild allegation. NRT does not own, control or manage any community land anywhere, and has no interest in or power to do so. Minerals, and their extraction, are the responsibility of the national government and the county governments, in partnership with local communities.
9) NRT have totally disregarded the Boran traditional resource management system
NRT, through the community conservancies recognize the traditional structures governing natural resources and conflict mitigation, that have been in place within these communities for decades. The Biliqo Bulesa grazing committee of elders reinforces the Borana D’eeda grazing system, working with and not against it. This applies to all other community conservancies where traditional structures exist.
Other accusations that we wish to address:
On page 2 the report states that “this report aims to sensitize county and national governments and Kenyan citizens on the illegitimate operations of NRT whose main aim is to take over lands in the thirty five conservancies and thereby eventually disinherit indigenous communities across the counties”.
This is wholly untrue. NRT is a registered organization that operates within the laws of Kenya, and in line with the constitution, Vision 2030 and CIDPs, and so have never and will never engage in any operations that compromise these values. NRT’s mission is to help communities develop resilient community conservancies that transform lives, build peace and conserve their natural resources. NRT, like any legitimate NGO, has no mandate to take over or own any land anywhere. We are in fact an indigenous organization, with the majority of our staff being ‘indigenous’ Kenyans from the local communities where we work. Our very CEO is from northern Kenya. We respect the values, aspirations, and livelihoods of the communities whom we serve.
“The community complained of harassment by NRT - which overflies seven aircrafts that have the organisation’s logo close to Marti Centre as many as 12 times a day. The low flying aircraft scares livestock and people. Community members that approach the aircraft are chased away by BATUK soldiers. “
NRT does not own 12 aircraft, nor do we fly over Marti Centre with the few aircraft we do have in such regularity. The fact that the report states BATUK personnel surround these aircraft suggests these aircraft belong to BATUK, who conduct training across the area and have no relation to NRT.
Some examples detailed in the report have no connection or link to NRT, despite the title of the report giving it a clear mandate to examine the Northern Rangelands Trust’s operations in Isiolo County. These examples include the woman who was fatally shot by 50 armed men five years ago (page 26), the attempted takeover of Shaba National Reserve by Africa Parks, and reports of Chinese operators mining mica in Kula Mawe.
Response to Recommendations made by the Report:
Outsider agencies working with the community cannot, and are not interested in, filling the void once NRT moves out of the area. Rather, they are interested in helping to raise the technical capacity of the local people as well as the partnering institutions in order to return the rights of the community to its land, and other resources and in setting up an outfit that can enable the community to conserve and benefit from the biodiversity in the Charri Rangeland.
This is what NRT does.
Adopt a mixed-use conservation model: “NRT’s conservation model, in which the communities in the north are kept apart from the wildlife that lives in their midst, in an artificial mode of land use that exacerbates rather than harmonise human/wildlife coexistence.” This model ought to be replaced with a mixed use model that will allow humans, livestock and wildlife to use the land concurrently.
The entire Biliqo Bulesa Community Conservancy area is managed by the local community as integrated livestock and wildlife range, there are no areas where livestock grazing is excluded. NRT believes in supporting the integration of livestock and wildlife, and the community conservancy model reflects this. In fact, we support livestock, agriculture and other businesses in conservancies that helps to improve livelihoods alongside wildlife. NRT supports a conservation model of inclusivity and not exclusivity.
The D’eeda Council of Elders has been replaced with an NRT management committee. Member of the Errant Native movement implore the community to form an interim committee that would be in charge of mobilising community members to attend meetings, and for the purposes of registering a community trust or association. The community should register the land under the Community Land Act.
NRT and the community conservancy model strongly recognize and support traditional governance mechanisms, including the D’eeda. We agree with the report writers that the community should register the land under the Community Land Act, in collaboration with the County Government. We firmly believe in the rights of indigenous communities to own and manage their land, this is the very reason NRT was established in the first place.
NRT ought to be taken to court over the killings of more than 70 people and the loss of thousands of livestock in Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy.
These are wild and defamatory allegations which should be investigated by the Government of Kenya. It is libelous to implicate NRT in these incidences with no evidence, and NRT is considering legal advice to take action against the accusers.