Comprehensive Response To Nation Media Group Article - “Herders protest as wildlife conservancies drive them out”


The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) Council of Elders, Board and Senior staff are alarmed by a news feature which appeared in The Nation newspaper’s Sunday edition on August 18th, 2019. The feature penned by Paul Letiwa presents huge factual inaccuracies, and is fundamentally flawed.

As such, NRT would like to exercise its right to reply to this feature but before doing so, would like to express its gratitude to the Nation Group for supporting NRT with various media platforms in order to share the inspirational work being carries out by the communities of northern Kenya. 

NRT would like to confirm that Mr. Letiwa was offered in-depth answers to the questions he posed to NRT’s CEO Tom Lalampaa during the course of writing this article, but that none of the facts presented to him were represented in his final piece, which was unbalanced. 

In response to specific misrepresentations made in the article that:

1.   “Most of the land where they grazed their stock during dry periods has been taken over by conservancies”

2.   “Like elsewhere in the semi-arid areas of the North, pastoralists in Isiolo county are losing access to their traditional lands and their movements in search of pasture are increasingly getting restricted.”

3.   “Conservationists favour the preservation of wildlife at the expense of pastoralists” 

i) A community conservancy is a community-based organization created to support the management of community-owned land for the benefit of livelihoods. This includes, and is indeed predominantly, pastoralism, and both NRT and the community conservancies have a strong focus on sustainable rangelands management for the benefit of pastoralism. 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 land, and fenced it, for the protection of endangered species (black rhino in Sera and hirola and Ishaqbini).

ii) The entire Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy area, mentioned in the article, is managed by the 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, NRT support livestock, agriculture and other businesses in conservancies that helps to improve livelihoods alongside wildlife.   

4“NRT has managed to set up 39 conservancies across Northern and Coastal regions that cover 51,000 square kilometres or over 10 million hectares, about eight per cent of Kenya’s total land surface.”

i) It must be made clear that 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 tools, training and funding. The organisation is also on hand to provide land management support should it be requested by the communities. The Community Land Act helps provide the framework for communities to protect their land from fraudulent sale or dispossession. 

ii) All the vital information about NRT, publically available on our website clearly outlines that the Northern Rangelands Trust is a community conservancy membership organisation. There are currently 39 member conservancies covering 42,000 square kilometresof northern and coastal Kenya, home to approximately 320,000 people belonging to 18 different ethnic groups.

5. “The county has eight conservancies that include Biliqo Bulesa, Nakuprat-Gotu, Nasuulu, Leparua, Oldonyiro Narupa, Oldonyiro Nanapicho, Oldonyiro Naapu and Oldonyiro Nannapa, all under the management of NRT.

i) NRT does not manage community conservancies – it is a membership organisationfor community conservancies. Each community conservancy is governed by a locally-elected board of directors, and run by a local management team. Boards and management teams have access to leadership and management training through NRT, amongst other training opportunities, that support the marriage of traditional knowledge and structures with new ways of working for a more sustainable future in a rapidly changing landscape. 

6. “NRT give people guns”

i) NRT does not have the authority to arm rangers. 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. Conservancy rangers are employed by the conservancy for which they work, not NRT.  

7.   “Insecurity in the region has been compounded by the entry of NRT” 

i) The number of cattle rustling incidents in NRT member conservancies dropped from 90 in 2017 to 66 in 2018. 

ii) There was a 74% drop in the number of lives lost in security incidents in 2018

iii) Road banditry has also decreased, from 22 reported cases in the landscape in 2017, to 15 in 2018. 

iv) Elephant poaching for ivory has dropped 97% in community conservancies since 2012

8. “NRT has altered the power and traditional governance structures of the local communities by appointing conservancy managers, security scouts and members of the conservancy boards who have effectively taken over the traditional decision-making roles of the community elders.”

9. “NRT has imposed its influence on the management of resources by reducing the grazing area of pastoralists. And a good example is the Biliqo-Conservancy where herders mostly from the Borana community were moved out and they no longer have access to their traditional grazing land.”

i) 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 traditional Borana D’eeda grazing system, working with and not against it. This applies to all other community conservancies where traditional structures exist. 

ii) NRT does not have the authority or ability to appoint or sack community conservancy staff or boards. It is the responsibility of the community conservancies. 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 leadership and management training to those that want it, to build capability in conservancies to promote effective governance which complements traditional structures.   

10. “The communities interviewed claimed that they were not fully aware of the implications of setting up conservancies in the vast area and they were also not consulted before it was established.” 

11. “Most of those interviewed said they had neither seen the agreement nor are they aware of its provisions”.

i) A Memorandum Of Understanding (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 Headquarters, or upon request to the board and/or manager. It is a three year renewable partnership MOU that helps to manage expectations and explain the role of partners. MOUs are not legally binding. MOUs have termination clauses in it that allow any partner to terminate the partnership. It is simply a professional instrument used in these relationships aimed at building transparency and managing expectations in the partnerships.    

12. “Recently, the dominant Borana community protested after the NRT identified and embarked on constructing five tourist camps in resource-rich areas of the Chari Rangeland.”

i) This is another wild allegation with no basis in evidence. 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.

13. “The conflicts have occasionally resulted in herders being shot and injured by security teams guarding the conservancies for grazing their animals inside the restricted areas.Those interviewed accuse the NRT anti-poaching unit called 9-2 for the killings and injuries.”

i) 9-2 is a team of rapid-response rangers that operate on a regional level under the mandate and chain of command of the Kenya Police, and in strict adherence to the laws of Kenya. This means that no operation occurs without the knowledge and approval of the Police, and these are frequently joint operations with the government security teams. These rapid response rangers have been granted National Police Reservist status by the Kenya Police, which means that they are provided with government weapons by the police, which they are authorised to carry whilst on duty. These rangers have the authority to make arrests in strict adherence to the law. The mandate of both the conservancy rangers and the rapid response rangers is to ensure the safety of people and wildlife.  

Sophie Harrison