By MUCHIRA GACHENGE of Nation Media Group
Recently, there was a massive uproar on the internet in protest to an announcement by the Ministry of Tourism, which notified the public that British Supermodel, Naomi Campbell, had “…agreed to be Magical Kenya International Tourism Ambassador.” Many Kenyans wondered about the credentials that Ms Campbell has, which our very own Actress Lupita Nyong’o lacks to represent Kenya on the international arena adequately. The announcement further noted that the move would “…promote the marketing of Kenya as an ideal tourism and travel destination to the world.” This, in essence, suggests that the premise on which the ambassadorial post was offered to Campbell was to attract foreign exchange to Kenya through tourism.
Integral to their research in the book is how the conservation policies are designed to exclude the local African communities that have coexisted with the biodiversity and particularly the wild animals for centuries.
However, most ordinary Kenyans, who aired their views to challenge the move, seem not to be aware that the culture of white saviour complex and neo-colonial attitudes in the Kenyan wildlife sector have been entrenched for aeons now. This is widely detailed in John Mbaria and Mordecai Ogada’s book, The Big Conservation Lie. The authors take the trouble to candidly exposing the rot and exploitation in the conservation sector, by scratching beneath the surface to blow a whistle on the underground activities that have gone on unabated since before independence.
Integral to their research in the book is how the conservation policies are designed to exclude the local African communities that have coexisted with the biodiversity and particularly the wild animals for centuries. Ogada, a former employee at Kenya Wildlife Trust, an organisation that, on paper, has an obligation of conserving the animals, details how his experience revealed the aim of the conservationists was to manipulate the authorities and the locals, take control of the animal parks and make top dollar from it.
The assumption that is usually held, and which many people like to console themselves with, is that the local communities benefit from the existence of the luxurious lodges and animal parks owned and managed by the white conservationists and business people. The absolute truth, and an unsettling one for that matter, which Mbaria and Ogada reveal, is that the local communities continue to suffer. From relocation from their lands to drier areas without water for their use and their animals’ use, to being shot at the spot by Kenya Wildlife Service guards on allegations of poaching.
Ogada, a former employee at Kenya Wildlife Trust, an organisation that, on paper, has an obligation of conserving the animals, details how his experience revealed the aim of the conservationists was to manipulate the authorities and the locals, take control of the animal parks and make top dollar from it.
The well-researched text puts the government, and rightly so, at the centre of the problems bedevilling the conservation sector. From their practical observations, Mbaria and Ogada reveal corruption and racism continue to thrive in the conservation sector. Unfortunate as it may sound, the person with a European accent and deep pockets call the shots. The wildlife conservation sector is still a colonial enterprise; only involving the locals legitimises its existence and operations.
In my reading, the paragraph that I found to represent the attitude of the truths in the book is: “The wildlife conservation narrative in Kenya, as well as much of Africa, is thoroughly intertwined with colonialism, virulent racism, deliberate exclusion of the natives, veiled bribery, unsurpassed deceit, a conservation cult subscribed to by huge numbers of people in the West, and severe exploitation of the same wilderness conservationists have constantly claimed they are out to protect.”
Clearly, you will have to read the book to get angry enough by the bare truths that have been hidden from the ordinary man for long. The realisation that our native brothers and sisters in the communities living near parks continue to suffer, and their welfare undermined, will trigger you to relook the ordinary tales. And maybe demand change.
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