In a bid to preserve ecosystems and wildlife habitats mostly found on community lands, the introduction of community based conservation in various regions of the country has been highly on the rise since the early 2000’s. This effort, later boosted by the review and enactment of the wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 has seen communities get involved in the national conservation program.
Like other projects involving communities, this conservation model has attracted non-governmental organisations, hugely funded especially to carry out the conservation mandate while observing adherence to human and land rights of communities, peace and improvement of livelihoods.
For several pastoralists groups in Isiolo county, this has however not been entirely the case. Residents under the Billiqo-Buulessa and Gootu-Nakurpat conservancies have in the recent days raised complaints relating to human and land rights violation, inter-community conflict and land use restrictions alleged to be fueled by the Northern Rangelands Trust, an organisation that has set up over 35 conservancies across the country, mostly found in the Northern and coastal regions of Kenya.
To establish the claims by the communities, the Natural Resources Alliance of Kenya (KeNRA) and Inform Action facilitated a Fact finding mission that would be conducted in conjunction with the Errant Natives, Boran Council of Elders, Waaso Professional Forum and the Sisi kwa Sisi student organization of the Kenyatta University. Representatives from the various organisations and individuals made extensive visits to various areas in Isiolo since the beginning of the year, recording information given by a large number of people in both Billiqo-Buulessa and Gootu-Nakurpat conservancies, mostly inhabited by the Borana community.
The “Fact Finding Report on the Northern Rangelands Trust’s operations in Community Conservancies in Isiolo County’’ by the Waaso Professional Forum and the Borana Council of Elders was hence released in April 2019 as a result of the fact finding mission. The report captures in detail the plight of a community that has allegedly suffered in the hands of the people it entrusted their livelihood to, while the county and national governments watched in silence.
Among claims made by the community during interviews by the fact finding team include loss of grazing areas following a move by NRT to set up tourist camps in the region; threatening the livelihood of the locals which is largely dependent on livestock production, fueling escalation of cattle rustling and deadly conflicts between the Samburu and the Borana resulting to human killings and looting of large numbers of livestock. The locals alleged that since the establishment of the Conservancy, there has been an increase in human-wildlife conflict resulting from a large number of wildlife using grazing areas and water resources in the conservancy as well as introduction of non-resident lions. They further accused NRT of compromising elected leaders, security personnel and local administration in the area, facilitating disappreances of people from the two conservancies and denying members of the community information regarding management of the conservancies, and the right of assembly and expression as enshrined in the Constitution as well as a number of other pieces of legislation.
According to the report findings, apart from giving the Biliqo-Bulesa conservancy a vehicle, constructing two sub-standard classrooms, a mud-walled nursery school and teacher’s houses, the NRT has reneged on most of the promises it made to the community prior to the formation of the conservancies. The report further points to a well-orchestrated scheme to weaken and destroy traditional institutions and facilities in protected areas of Isiolo to pave way for their handover either to NRT or to foreign entities and an alteration of the power and traditional governance structures of the communities in the North, among other findings.
Upon release of the report, NRT has since responded dismissing the allegations as wild and lacking evidence. The organisation says it was not involved in the interviews by the fact finding team terming the report as biased. NRT has further threatened to take action against their accusers over defamation.
As the community awaits a solid response from the County and National governments regarding recommendations on the report, some local leaders led by the county speaker Hussein Halakhe have said they want the conservancies to remain, terming the accusations against NRT as false.
Majority of locals however have the opinion that NRT’s activities in Isiolo County should be outlawed, and that legal action should be taken against the organisation over the killing of more than seventy people and loss of thousands of heads of livestock in Billiqo-Buulessa Conservancy. Other recommendations by the fact finding team include; Adoption of mixed use conservation model, formation of an interim committee, effective protection, planning and management of the land, promotion of the D’eeda system, community registration as trusts and associates to ensure benefits from the land and promotion of intra-community and intercommunity peace and cohesion, all in line with the Community Land Act regulations.
The recent regulations implement provisions of the Community Land Act, 2016 with respect to, among other things, recognition, protection and registration of community land rights, community land management committees, registration of communities, conversion of community land, settlement of disputes relating to community land, conversion of group representatives, a national programme for public education and awareness on provisions of the Act.