NEWS 2005


First they oppress indigenous hunters by taking away their ancestral rights to hunt.
Then they offer to substitute the economic loss by bring wealthy killers from overseas.
That is neo-colonial oppression and par excellance!

Sport hunting will transform the north

Publication Date: 10/8/2005


If you have travelled by bus from Mombasa to Lamu, one of the sights that may have startled you as you traversed Tana River District, is that of passengers alighting at some point and walking off into one of the most desolate landscapes in the country.

On every side, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but empty dry plains, with hardly any trees; no road or even a footpath in the direction in which the passenger is heading; and indeed no sign of human habitation. 

When such a passenger gets off, you cannot help wondering: How did they know the right stop, seeing as there are no distinguishing features to mark out this place from the miles of similar landscape we have been travelling through for the past hours? Where are they going, and how many kilometres away is the village?

If you have been to Tana River District, then you are unlikely to feel sympathy for anyone from Western or Nyanza province, complaining that their area has been neglected by the Government, and that roads so poorly maintained, that transport is a problem. That matatu owners have withdrawn their vehicles, and when they travel home by public transport, they suffer the indignity of being transported for the last few kilometres by "boda boda" cyclists.

In all this, there seems to be a consensus that the failure to create infrastructure is one of the biggest failings of the Kibaki administration – second only to the failure to end grand corruption. It is common to read references in the media of the need for the Government to "provide infrastructure so as to encourage new investment."

But there is a fundamental question here: Does infrastructure lead to new investment? Or does the potential for new investment guarantee the creation of adequate infrastructure?

To understand this clearly, consider the proposed mining of titanium in Kwale District by the Canadian company, Tiomin Resources.

It was not the presence of infrastructure that led Tiomin to decide to mine titanium in Kwale. Indeed the interior of Kwale hardly has any infrastructure to speak of. 

Rather, it is the presence of titanium – a valuable natural resource – that will lead to the creation of infrastructure in due course, once the mining begins.

And many other examples can be given to prove that sometimes the creation of infrastructure is a consequence of investment, rather than the existence of infrastructure being a precondition for investment.

This leads me to the central point I seek to make, about the potential for regulated sport hunting to transform the remote and desolate places like Tana River, Marsabit, and other parts of northern Kenya. But first let me give a little background.

During the recent massacres in Marsabit, I raised the point that a revival of recreational hunting within the tourism sector, offered one of the few possibilities for generating tax income for the Government in that part of the country. 

And that once the Government starts to collect money annually from sport hunting in the area, it would have no excuse not to provide essential services to the local people, who, it is generally acknowledged, have a different lifestyle from those in other parts of the country.

These revenues would serve to fund wildlife conservation in that region as well, for the aim in sport hunting is not to deplete wildlife populations, but rather to sustain them so that the resource can be utilised indefinitely. 

In response to this column, I received a letter from the army of European and American "animal welfare" activists, who rarely fail to respond harshly to any suggestion that sport hunting might be re-introduced in Kenya. 

Indeed until you have written on this subject, it is impossible to appreciate the extent to which many foreigners see us Kenyans as mere custodians of the animals found within our borders which – as far as these foreigners are concerned – belong to all mankind, and should not be utilised by any Kenyan communities for economic gain.

This particular reader wanted to know how I proposed to ensure that the rich hunters who visited northern Kenya would be safe in "that most inhospitable and dangerous place." His remarks suggested he knew Kenya quite well.

Well, the answer is that it is actually the regular presence of wealthy hunters in that area, which will necessarily lead to far-reaching improvements in security. Those investors who had the good fortune to successfully bid for concessions to hunting blocks created in that area would be the first to work (and spend money) towards this end.

However distasteful this may be to those who value animal life more than the lives and the welfare of human beings, the fact is that opportunity to invest in sport hunting tourism in northern Kenya, would guarantee that infrastructure, services and security would follow. 

And a strong case can be made that this is probably the only way in which security and infrastructure could be brought to that part of the country.

So, irrespective of the political calculus that lies behind the Government’s recent populist decisions in relation to various communities in the Rift Valley, this might be the time for the residents of northern Kenya to push the case for the one solution to their problems that can be effected by the mere stroke of a presidential or ministerial pen.

With the Government seemingly dedicated to appeasing every single minority group that had previously been neglected, this is the time for the leaders from that vast arid zone to demand a repeal of the ban on sport hunting in Kenya.