Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Before we do something stupid

The vast majority of Kenyans are not emotionally attached to wild animals. That we keep seeing them as "wild animals" is a partial explanation. The more germane one is that wildlife has always been the preserve of the wealthy, especially kaburus from the colonial era. Game Parks, National Reserves and conservancies are merely the newest devices for depriving poor Kenyans of land for their families and their livelihoods. We do not have a stake in the conservation of elephants or rhinos; the fewer of them near our farms, the greater the guarantee of good harvests. Even intellectually we do not care about the fate of wild animals. Because of the skewed ownership of the profits from wildlife, we are not even part-owners of the heritage. The few of us who have been "trained" to see things this way only see the cheque at the end of the month. We do not buy the argument that what happens to elephants will affect us in the long run. We are happy enough to see kaburus suffering slightly. Schadenfreude, the Germans call it. (We don't care about elephant murders)
Be honest, how many of you wake up in the morning and look over the devastated detritus of your lives and wish to go live among the buffalo, zebra, giraffe or gazelle? Is the first thing that runs through your mind the loneliness of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhinoceros? Do you weep bitter tears about the cruel ending of the life of Satao, the last great tusker in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park? If you do, congratulations. You're a member of the One Per Cent and you live a life filled with beauty and wonder. You are also living in a world of fantasy.

Ever since my fellowman has been described as a bandit, incapable of living in a modern, twenty-first economy, clinging to bygone traditions and incapable of appreciating the value and importance of sale agreements or title deeds, I have come across the claim, over and over, that wildlife conservation, and the conservancies that engage in them, are the panacea for what ails our land-use practices that have led to soil destruction, drought (and the famines that follow), hunger and land clashes.

The vast majority of Kenyans -- indeed the vast majority of young Kenyans -- might think of the Maasai Mara or the Amboseli in abstract terms -- as places where, someday, they might visit for a holiday. But ask any of them and the same vision of these places comes to mind -- they are there for the pleasure of foreign, mostly caucasian, tourists and the dollars they bring with them. The Chinese, Indians, Arabs and other Black Africans who visit these Parks are no match for the dollar-bearing caucasian.

More insanely, however, the Maasai Mara and the Amboseli are not seen as the apotheosis in our failure of imagination. When the Endorois were moved en masse from the shores of Lake Bogoria because their land had been converted into a Game Reserve and were paid a pittance for their trouble, it confirmed that Establishment Kenyans were bereft of any useful ideas when it comes to land and the fraught politics surrounding it. The conservancy movement of the last twenty-five years is proof that since the fate of the Endorois was sealed in the mid-1970s, our education hasn't moved forward one single inch.

The "banditry" in Nanyuki is proof that not only have we not learnt anything, we are willing to double down on stupidity in the face of all known wisdom. So too the resource curse that seems to be stalking us in Turkana and off the shores of Lamu. We venerate the caucasian and his "wisdom" and follow him down rabbit holes without thinking about our fate: first we listened to them about our land now we are listening to them about other valuable stuff. Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique. Few people get the chance to see warning playing out before they do something stupid. We do. Or at least we should.

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