Global conservation policy and governance has undergone significant changes since the publication of World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development. The strategy sought to integrate conservation and development deviating from the practice under fortress conservation, which considers the two concepts incompatible. What has this significant shift in approach meant for conservation governance at lower levels (i.e., national and sub-national) of governance? This article explores this question in the context of wildlife conservation in Kenya. The article is premised on field data collected in the country during the months of June, July, and August 2016 using mixed methods: key informant interview, household survey, and document review. It documents transformation, change, and continuity in conservation governance in Kenya during 1980–2016. The article also identifies three emerging concerns that hinder sustainable wildlife conservation in Kenya: elitism, green grabbing, and donor-dependency.

INTRODUCTION

Fortress conservation is a protectionist and state-centric conservation model, which considers creation of protected areas (PAs) as the best means of conserving biodiversity because PAs allow ecosystems to function in isolation from human disturbance [1]. It assumes that communities near and around conservation areas “use natural resources in irrational and destructive ways, and as a result cause biodiversity loss and environmental degradation” [2]. While fortress conservation is still being practiced across the globe [3], its dominance has waned over the years with the rise of alternative conservation strategies. The decline in fortress conservation’s dominance can be attributed, in part, to the international conservation community’s recognition of the failures of fortress conservation and the community’s willingness to explore alternative strategies [4]. The problem of fortress conservation can be considered from, at least, two perspectives. First, its evident inability to curb and/or reverse global biodiversity loss attributable, in part, to the fact that in places like Kenya “most (about 65–70%) of the national terrestrial wildlife populations occur in the human modified rangelands outside the protected areas” [5]. Second, its exclusionary nature produces negative socio-economic and political impacts such as loss of ancestral land, displacement, evictions, extra judicial killings, and marginalization in conservation policy and/or governance decision-making process, which disproportionately affect indigenous peoples and/or native conservation area communities [611].

These realities of fortress conservation informed the development and publication of World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development hereafter referred to as first world conservation strategy [12]. The strategy sought to guide conservation theory and practice onto a “new” and sustainable path. It identifies the main obstacles to achieving conservation as being “the belief that living resource conservation is a limited sector,” “the consequent failure to integrate conservation with development,” “a development process that is often inflexible and needlessly destructive,” and “the failure to deliver conservation-based development where it is most needed, notably rural areas of developing countries” [12]. Since the strategy’s publication in 1980, change and continuity have been central features of global conservation policy and governance [13, 14]. Global conservation policy and governance literature points to changing trends, which can be grouped into four broad categories: integrated conservation and development [15, 16], human rights-based conservation [3, 17, 18], militarized conservation [1923], and market-oriented conservation [2428].

This article is an exploration of how these global trends play out at a local level and their implications for how wildlife conservation is governed at that level. It is a case study of wildlife conservation in Kenya since the first world conservation strategy. A case study is an investigation of real-life phenomenon/phenomena “through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions, and their relationship” [29]. Being the host of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters, Kenya was purposefully chosen because of her global significance in environmental governance [30].

CASE EXAMINATION

Background Information on Wildlife Conservation in Kenya

Kenya is a former British colony [31]. Conservation as a global concern can be traced back at least to the colonial era. As Adams and Mulligan [32] point out, “by the 19th century, ideas about nature, whether as an economic resource that needed conserving and exploiting, or as a precious reservoir of unchanged wilderness, were an important element in colonial ideology, at home and abroad” (p. 1). Therefore, it follows that conservation as a national concern in Kenya has roots in British imperialism [6]. However, conservation as a local concern in the country predates European colonialism [33]. Prior to colonization, relations between society and environment varied significantly from region to region depending upon the socio-economic and political system(s) of the ethnic group that occupied a particular region of what is today Kenya. Wamicha and Mwanje [33] note that, “during the pre-colonial era, resource management in the interior of Kenya depended very much on whether a group was agrarian or pastoral . . . Both the agrarian and pastoral societies left large tracts of land for resource management purposes, whose disruption constituted a major environmental problem in Kenya” (p. 20).

The country’s first wildlife laws, institutions, and game reserves/parks were created during the colonial period. For example, a Game Department was established in 1907 to enforce wildlife laws and manage the reserves/parks. But the colonial government also oversaw massive appropriation of indigenous peoples’ lands and destruction of native wildlife. As Waithaka [34] points out, “in the years leading to World War I, large tracts of land were allocated to European settlers who began to decimate wildlife populations in order to create room for crop and livestock farming” (p. 25). While the colonists grabbed land in agriculturally high potential areas, their colonial government forced natives into reserves that were primarily located in agriculturally low potential areas. This completely distorted the natives’ pre-colonial natural resources governance regimes with far-reaching implications both for people and the environment. Moreover, a vermin policy imposed by the colonial government had such a devastating effect on Kenya’s wildlife. In this regard, others have argued that the Game Department of the colonial government spent most of its “time killing wildlife than protecting it” ([34] p. 26). The colonial era essentially alienated the natives from the lands and wildlife resources they had depended on for generations. And as some have shown, alienation of natives, particularly those who share land with wildlife persisted well into the 2000s [6].

Following independence, wildlife management fell under several different administrative units: Game Department in charge of wildlife found outside PAs; National Parks Board in charge of running the National Parks; and County Councils—under Ministry of Local Government—in charge of national reserves [35]. A game warden seconded by the Game Department administered National Reserves. In 1975, through sessional paper no. 3 of 1975 entitled Statement on Future Wildlife Management Policy in Kenya, the government sought to further centralize the management of the country’s wildlife under a Wildlife Service. The sessional paper states, in part, “this centralization of responsibility will permit more flexible management of wildlife, particularly in those extensive areas, which are integral components of the ecological units, which contain National Parks and County Council Game Reserves” [36]. In 1976, the creation of Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (WCMD) resulted in the merger of Kenya National Parks Trustees with Game Department, thereby effectively entrenching centralized management of wildlife conservation in Kenya as noted below:

The merging of two departments into one government department had the effect of increasing centralization, especially since the reporting structure was vertical rather than horizontal, and control lay effectively with the minister and the permanent secretary [35].

Shortcomings of centralization notwithstanding, it was not until 1989 when Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was established that decentralization became a reality in the country’s wildlife sector [37]. Furthermore, the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010 introduced a devolved system of government [38], which has significantly altered how the country governs its natural resources including wildlife.

It is against such a backdrop that I set out here to document transformation, change, and continuity in conservation governance in Kenya. The case analysis is part of a larger study focused on understanding transformations in conservation governance and implications for human security [13]. It is guided by the following broad question: How has conservation governance changed in Kenya since 1980? The article also briefly explores implications of change and continuity for conservation and security aspect of human well-being [39].1

Conceptual/Analytical Framework

Conceptualizing Conservation Governance

Governance is distinct from management. Management is concerned with “what is done in pursuit of given objectives” as well as “the means and actions to achieve such objectives,” while governance is about “who decides what the objectives are, what to do to pursue them and with what means, how those decisions are taken, who holds power, authority and responsibility, and who is (or should be) held accountable” ([40] p. 171). In the context of this article, conservation is understood as a socio-political process. Therefore, conservation governance refers to the many ways that conservation actors go about establishing norms, rules, regulation, and institutions that determine how wildlife is safeguarded for ecological integrity and human well-being [13, 40].

Governance literature points to at least three governance types: non-collaborative, collaborative, and networked [4042]. As its name suggests, non-collaborative governance is an individual actor affair. Collaborative and networked governance involve at least two actors governing together. The main distinction between networked and collaborative forms of governance is that the latter must involve state and non-state actors [42] while either one or both actor types can suffice under the former. In other words, networked governance may involve a single actor type, whereas collaborative governance must at least involve the two main actor types—state and non-state.

Two important assumptions underpin this case analysis with respect to governance: there exists both interconnectedness and interdependence between actors at the international level [43] and norms diffuse within the international system [44, 45]. In other words, Kenya is predisposed to the influence of international norms.

Conceptualizing Transformation, Change, and Continuity

The following four points are true about fortress conservation: state is the primary governance decision-making authority, state-sanctioned PAs are the primary means of wildlife conservation, people—particularly indigenous people—are considered a threat to biodiversity, and science is the primary source of conservation knowledge. From these truths, I deduce three characteristics of fortress conservation: state-centric; scientific; and exclusionary. Borrowing from Rosenau’s conceptualization of change and continuity [46], these characteristics form the basis of this case analysis and are framed as actor, knowledge, and approach parameters, respectively. Change is understood as a shift—qualitative or quantitative or both—that modifies a parameter but does not alter it significantly. For instance, a shift from PA management by national government to local government constitutes a change in the actor parameter. Transformation is the change that overhauls a parameter. For instance, a shift from institutionalized exclusion of indigenous people in conservation governance to institutionalized inclusion of the same in conservation governance constitutes transformation of both actor and approach parameters. Continuity simply means absence of change and/or transformation (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1.

Transformation, change, and continuity conceptual model.

FIGURE 1.

Transformation, change, and continuity conceptual model.

Methods

Data Collection

Data were collected using a mix of methods: key informant interviews, household survey, and document review. I mixed methods using a concurrent embedded strategy to gain a broader perspective [47]. Key informant interview and document review served as primary methods, whereas household survey served as secondary method. Key informants were purposively selected from people inside and outside government at national and local levels. A total of 29 key informants were interviewed. I collected a total of 27 documents for review from governmental and non-governmental entities at national and local levels.

Household survey was conducted in Kalama area of Samburu County, Kenya. Kalama is part of Gir Gir Group Ranch, which covers a total area of 46, 129 hectares and is home to about 2,000 people. It is also home to Kalama community wildlife conservancy. Participants were selected using random sampling [48]. A group ranch membership list2 served as the sampling frame. Each name on the list was taken to represent a single household. I used research randomizer tool (www.randomizer.org) to get a random sample of 30 households from a total number of 679. First, I randomly generated 30 unique numbers within the range of 1–679 sorted from least to greatest. Then, I used those 30 unique numbers to select corresponding households from the list of 679. In all, 19 households responded to the survey (n = 30).

Data Analyses

Qualitative analysis involved four stages: initial coding, which mainly entailed assigning interviewees a coded name (key informant #) in accordance with the study’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) and National Commission for Science, Technology, and Innovation (NACOSTI)3 approval guidelines; researcher familiarization with the content of each dataset, that is, interviews, documents, and field notes; first cycle of analytical coding involved using a priori codes (e.g., actor, approach, knowledge, transformation, change, and continuity) to thematically code the data [49]; finally, second cycle of coding involved uncovering common patterns within the data either through re-coding using existing codes, grouping and/or regrouping existing codes, and/or coding the data afresh using completely new codes (including in vivo coding). Nvivo 11 helped with transcription of audio-recorded interviews as well as grouping and regrouping of codes. Quantitative analysis involved three steps. First, I manually coded the data using three numeric codes: 0 (agree), 1 (disagree), and 2 (not applicable). Second, I manually entered the coded data into an Excel spreadsheet. Third, I used Excel to calculate and visualize percentages for each response category.

Findings and Discussion

Actor Parameter

  • a)

    Transformation in actor parameter

    There are at least two transformations in the actor parameter: First, community is now recognized as one of the non-state actors in the country’s evolving conservation governance architecture. For example, Kalama community has governance decision-making authority over Kalama conservancy; and Second, emergence and rise of networked actors. Examples of networked actors include the following: Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) established in 2013 as a network of all community and individual (private) actors, County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committee (CWCCC) established under the Wildlife Act of 2013 as a network of state and non-state actors, and Conservation Alliance of Kenya (CAK) that initially started as a network of conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Kenya.

  • b)

    Change in actor parameter

    Change in actor parameter has two dimensions: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative change is reflected in the shift from WCMD to KWS. Quantitative change is reflected in the proliferation of actors particularly non-state actors (Table 1).

  • c)

    Continuity in actor parameter

    From Table 1, it is evident that state and private actors are representative of continuity throughout the study period. The article further establishes that NGOs [50] 4 have a history of influencing conservation practice in Kenya, but not necessarily as conservation governance actors (at least not prior to the 1990s onwards) as noted below:

    Past experience of wildlife extension in Kenya is mainly from NGO projects. These have demonstrated approaches, and by drawing on this expertise, KWS has been able to develop its own approach to wildlife extension appropriate for different land categories—Annex 6 of KWS’s 1991–1996 strategic plan.

TABLE 1.

Change in actors over time

Period1980s1990s2000s
Actor category State State State 
Private (entities and/or individuals) Private (entities and/or individuals) Private (entities and/or individuals) 
Community Community 
NGOs NGOs 
Networks 
Period1980s1990s2000s
Actor category State State State 
Private (entities and/or individuals) Private (entities and/or individuals) Private (entities and/or individuals) 
Community Community 
NGOs NGOs 
Networks 

Approach Parameter

  • a)

    Transformation in approach parameter

    Transformation in approach parameter is primarily reflected in the emergence of collaborative governance initiatives. For example, the CWCCC is a collaborative governance mechanism involving state and non-state actors as the following key informant observes,

    The actual work of managing wildlife has been devolved to the county through the county wildlife conservation and compensation committees, which is interesting because it is sort of a partnership between the community, county government and national government. And then the Act [wildlife law] allows the committee to invite others. That’s where the NGOs can come in.—Key informant 28, August 10, 2016.

  • b)

    Change in approach parameter

    Change in the approach parameter is reflected in two aspects. First, shift from centralization to decentralization/devolution of wildlife management in the country. Second, a shift from non-militarized to militarized community-based conservation. Analyses of field data establish that some community conservancies employ military-like tactics to provide wildlife security. The country’s wildlife law permits community conservancies to establish community-scouting units (not armed ranger force) for purposes of wildlife surveillance and control. In part, article 112 of the law states that “the President may, through the Inspector-General of the National Police Service, make available to the uniformed and disciplined officers of [Kenya Wildlife] Service such firearms as may be necessary for it to carry out its functions” [51]. The law further states that KWS “shall coordinate and control all wildlife security issues in all national parks, national reserves, wildlife conservancies and sanctuaries in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, counties and community wildlife scouts” ([51] p. 1313). Nevertheless, Kalama conservancy—much like other conservancies in the country’s northern rangelands—has effectively militarized by establishing an armed ranger force in collaboration with National Police Service as noted below:

    . . . the conservancy recruits national police reservists into its ranger force. But the reservists remain part of the police service. Authority is one. There’s no alternative chain of command. The guns are the same ones the police use. The police use G3 rifles and that’s the same one we use.—Key informant 17, June 28, 2016.

  • c)

    Continuity in approach parameter

    Continuity in approach parameter is reflected in PAs. Even community conservancies have adopted the PA concept with implications for people and wildlife as noted below:

    The community conservancy land-zoning scheme is skewed towards developing tourism. People can only settle in certain areas. And this is what creates the difficult imbalance situation we see now [in reference to resource-related conflict in the northern rangelands]—Key informant 23, July 26, 2016.

Analysis of household survey responses corroborates the foregoing (Figure 2). Survey participants were asked to agree or disagree to the following statement: we can no longer graze our livestock in certain parts of our land because of conservancy livestock grazing restrictions. A significant percentage (84%) of them reported having lost access to grazing land.

FIGURE 2.

Effect of PAs on access to community grazing land. “Agree” denotes the proportion of livestock-owning households that reported loss of access to their grazing land occasioned by the introduction of conservancy livestock grazing restrictions, “disagree” denotes the proportion of livestock-owning households that reported no loss of access to grazing land under similar conditions, and “N/A” represents the proportion of households to which the conservancy livestock grazing restrictions do not apply because they do not own livestock.

FIGURE 2.

Effect of PAs on access to community grazing land. “Agree” denotes the proportion of livestock-owning households that reported loss of access to their grazing land occasioned by the introduction of conservancy livestock grazing restrictions, “disagree” denotes the proportion of livestock-owning households that reported no loss of access to grazing land under similar conditions, and “N/A” represents the proportion of households to which the conservancy livestock grazing restrictions do not apply because they do not own livestock.

Knowledge Parameter

Globally, scientific knowledge continues to dominate as the system of knowledge upon which mainstream wildlife conservation theory and practice is based. Analyses of field data establish that the same is true for Kenya. For example, throughout the fieldwork period, it was apparent that community conservancies are serving as conduits through which international conservation NGOs (e.g., IUCN and the Nature Conservancy) promote conservation practices that are deeply rooted in Western science. In other words, indigenous knowledge continues to play a subordinate role, if any, relative to scientific knowledge in the governance and/or management of wildlife conservation in Kenya.

Emerging Concerns Hindering Sustainable Wildlife Conservation in Kenya

  • Elitism

    This applies across board (i.e., nationally), but because of page limitation this discussion is limited to community-based conservation in Kenya. Elitism is a reality in community-based conservation. At the community level, elite comprise of a select group of elders and professionals. During fieldwork, I got to learn—from observation and conversation (both formal and informal)—that the main driving force of the community-based conservation agenda is not the community per se contrary to popular belief that community-based conservation is community-driven. Rather it is the elite (or a section of elite) within a given community. The rest of the community simply follows cue from elites. In the case of Kalama conservancy, Samburu gerontocracy coupled with low literacy levels among Samburu people has made it possible for elitism to thrive. But Samburu society is changing rapidly and an elite-driven community-based conservation agenda is essentially doomed in a future where majority are educated and empowered enough to effectively engage in the management of their local resources. The issue with elitism is that it erodes community buy-in especially where elite minority deprive non-elite majority of opportunity to effectively engage in governance decision-making.

  • Green grabbing

    In the context of this article, green grabbing refers to the appropriation of community land for wildlife conservation purposes dispossessing communities of their ancestral and livestock grazing land or restricting community access to the same. As shown in the previous section on findings, community-based conservation in Kenya has embraced the PA concept effectively making community conservancy a mini-PA. This has implications for livelihood security of pastoralists (e.g., Samburu) whose survival is dependent on an all year round unrestricted access to pasture land and water. In Kenya’s northern rangelands where the case study’s sub-national level analysis is situated, elitism arguably facilitates green grabbing. Because of this, the region has witnessed a steady rise in violent conflicts between herders and conservationists since the advent of community-based conservation. In the recent past, such conflicts have led to several human deaths and injuries, destruction of property, and massive killing of both livestock and wildlife [52]. The future of wildlife conservation is bleak under such circumstances.

  • Donor-dependency

    Sustainability of wildlife conservation is a function of several factors including finance among others. Wildlife conservation by its very nature is an expensive venture. Document review and key informant interviews reveal that Kenya’s wildlife sector is part public-funded and part donor-funded with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the lead donor. While KWS receives funding from both government and donors, communities engaging in wildlife conservation receive no public funding making them almost exclusively dependent on donors usually foreigners and/or foreign-based entities. For instance, field data analysis reveals that about 90% of Kalama conservancy budget is donor-funded. Considering that Kalama conservancy is a microcosm of the larger picture, the foregoing does not reflect positively on the sustainability of community-based conservation in the country. In other words, donor-dependency stands to jeopardize the financial sustainability of Kenya’s wildlife sector with far-reaching implications for people and wildlife.

CONCLUSION

That biodiversity is essential for human well-being is now well established. This article adds to growing knowledge on biodiversity and human well-being nexus. It documents transformations, changes, and continuities in conservation governance in Kenya and highlights implications of the same for human well-being especially in the country’s northern rangelands. For instance, it shows how community conservancies’ adoption of PA model of wildlife conservation is depriving Samburu pastoralists’ of access to their grazing land and contributing not only to livelihood insecurity but also resource-based violent conflict in the region. Finally, the article identifies and discusses elitism, green grabbing, and donor-dependency as three factors that hinder sustainable wildlife conservation in Kenya.

CASE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. Distinguish between management and governance in the context of biodiversity conservation.

  2. Why might change and/or transformation in conservation governance not necessarily be a good thing?

  3. Explore the link between the transformations, changes, and continuities in conservation governance documented in the article and resource-based violent conflict in Kenya’s northern rangelands?

  4. Discuss actual and potential socio-ecological implications of militarization of community-based conservation in Kenya.

  5. Working in groups of no more than five students, discuss the challenges to sustainable wildlife conservation in Kenya and suggest possible ways out of donor-dependency particularly with regards to community-based conservation in the country.

  6. Over 60% of wildlife in Kenya is found outside PAs. Do you think expanding PAs into community land is the best approach to address declining wildlife numbers in the country? Why or why not?

  7. Given what you know about the history of conservation governance in Kenya, what would you suggest?

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

This article is an original contribution. The author is solely responsible for any error(s) and/or omission(s).

The author is grateful to Joseph Lempagani and Daniel Lenkaina for their assistance during fieldwork, and the two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback.

FUNDING

Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) fellowship grant number DGE 1249946.

COMPETING INTERESTS

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

1.

For a detailed discussion on aspects of human well-being, refer to 39.

2.

The membership list is updated periodically, but not frequently. The list used for this case study was last updated on March 21, 2006.

3.

NACOSTI is Kenya’s IRB equivalent. This study has both IRB and NACOSTI approvals.

4.

For in-depth analysis of State-NGO relations in Kenya, refer to 50.

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