Friday, April 15, 2016

The generosity of stray lions

A few weeks ago, if you have been keeping track, I was underwhelmed by the Maasai Ostrich Park. In my angry disappointment, I forgot to look at the Big Picture: the Nairobi national Park is not what it was five or ten years ago. Not even the Kenya Wildlife Service, KWS, can hide that the Nairobi National Park is now, for all intents and purposes, a very large zoo.

The conversion of that unique ecosystem has proceeded unabated since the Kenya Meat Commission became a political plaything, or more particularly, its real estate assets became the equivalent of a billion-shilling post-dated cheque. Once upon a time, if you were one of the lucky few who could afford to travel the ridiculously bad Nairobi-Mombasa Highway, ones eyes were not marred by human development along the Athi-Kapiti Plains, that stretch from the edges of the Tsavo right inside the Nairobi National Park and south-wards towards the Mara.

What was the Athi River Township was nothing but the DC's camp and the KCB branch. Kitengele didn't even exist. Neither did the EPZ, though Bamburi and Portland were thriving. On the other, smellier side of the highway were the industrial-sized Kuku Mfalme coops, Mohan-Maekin's smelly distillery and Tuff-Foam's factory. There were no houses in sight. But that zone was dominated by the KMC abattoir and its holding pens which stretched almost all the way to the Machakos Town turn-off. "Conservationists" had done a very good job of keeping the Athi-Kapiti to themselves, for a few of them owned spreads right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park and to protect their cachet, they were determined to be the only residents in or around the Park, other than the KWS, of course. It didn't work out that way. Not by a long shot.

The 1980s, after the fiddles with settlement schemes had fizzled out, came the rapacious conversion of land-rich parastatals into private fiefdoms of Moi's Boys, and the Athi Kapiti was a major victim. The KMC holding grounds were swiftly and dubiously privatised. To hasten the process along, the KMC was starved of managerial talent and government subsidies; its mounting debts compelled it to sell off its holding grounds and that is how the area is now festooned with new cement factories and steel manufacturers of dubious repute. What was once the fiefdom of the KWS came to fall under the rapacious sway of county council chairmen and successive ministers of lands and what was known as the chief wildlife corridor between the Tsavo and the Mara became home to massive real estate developments.

If you want to understand why lions are increasingly being found outside the Park, the destruction of the lions' ecosystem by a series of policy decisions that have shrunken the original size of not just the Park but of the Athi Kapiti should b a very big clue. This problem will be exacerbated by the relentless human encroachment and development of the Athi-Kapiti; already the subdivision of large settler-era ranches is further worsening the changing fortunes of the Athi-Kapiti. When the Konza Technopolis is finished, that change will be irreversible and not just lions, but leopards, giraffe, antelopes and buffalo will wander more and more outside the Park. All the tranquilizer darts in the world will not prevent it and the calls to relocate the wildlife out of the Park to either the Tsavo or the Mara will grow and the Capital City will have finally lost one of its few precious natural gems that we can all agree is important.

I saw Gideon Moi, Senator of Baringo, extol the virtues of giving in the context of his father's twenty-four year presidency. For sure, the former president gave and gave and gave, though more often than not, what he gave he never possessed in the first place. It is how the Athi Kapiti is filled with Chinese-built flats, steel mills, cement manufacturers and "escaping" lions. When we encounter a stray lion we should remember Baba Moi's spirit of "generosity"; one day that generosity will cost us dearly, if it hasn't yet.

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