What ails Kenya's policy on wildlife?


What ails Kenya's policy on wildlife?


Policy Insight

October, 1998                         Vol. 1 No. 2


ACTS Policy Insights series deals with topical issues concerning climate change, biodiversity, governance and other aspects of the environment as they emerge. Insights is an occasional publication, and the opinions expressed in it belong to the authors.

Early in June as a result of the controversy over the dismissal and then reinstatement of Dr David Western as the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), ACTS organised an informal consultation bringing together 10 persons from the private sector, NGOs and the donor and research communities to discuss the merits and demerits of the wildlife sector. The recording and summary were made by Prof George Krhoda

The first half of the 1990s witnessed both growth and decline in Kenya’s wildlife sector. Growth has mainly been on two fronts, namely, tourism and institutional management capacities. However, the growth has been undermined by a deterioration in institutional, technological and political infrastructures over the past four years or so. The sessions discussed the following topics:

  1. the current development of the wildlife sector in general;

  2. the leadership changes that, fortunately or not, have absorbed
    the government’s energy in the last months;

  3. the causes of financial instability; we suggested scenarios
    for improving the sector’s financial base.

  4. institutional changes that have occurred over the decade.

Two features may be associated with the KWS, which is the main institution charged with the responsibility of wildlife management. These are:

1. Institutional disorder and uncertainty associated with the shifting and unclear mandate of the organization: from managing parks (prior to 1988) as a government department to corporate management organisation (1989–1991), and recently to a body incorporating community involvement (1992–1994) and community participation involving not only parks but also game reserves and sanctuaries. The basis of this shift was partly a philosophical one involving the concept of "parks without borders".

This feature introduced several policy issues to the wildlife management sector:

  1. increased tension between the government and the communities who live adjacent to the parks.

  2. a much increased number of stakeholders, including, but not limited, to conservationists, local authorities, private landowners, communal landowners, private economic firms and river/lake basin development authorities. It is believed that these conflicts and tensions may also have created disloyalty within the organization.

2. The second feature associated with the KWS is the increasing interest and role of donors in funding various sub-sectors in the wildlife sector. For example, the USAID supported community participation, the Netherlands supported wetlands, and the World Bank, which is indeed, the largest donor, supported the institutional shift to corporate status under the Protected Areas and Wildlife Project. In other words, as the number of donors involved in the sector increased, the number of projects increased, but without internal changes to accommodate and co-ordinate these additional projects. The projects recruited their own staff on their own terms of service, sometimes creating internal labour discontent.

In the absence of a clear purpose, lack of a sharp programme of work, as well as the rapidly changing political landscape and diminished legal autonomy and authority, the organization has acquired a high measure of institutional instability. The main focus has been on leadership changes and to secure additional resources, mainly from donors. In this respect, the wildlife sector’s growth and decline are reflected in the tenure of the two consecutive directors.

Between 1989 and 1994 the KWS exercised a large measure of legal authority and political autonomy. The organisation spent considerable resources on scientific research and enjoyed a strong financial base and donor confidence. The programmes put more emphasis on parks management and less community involvement. The management regime was basically top-down and top-heavy. Because financial resources were fairly abundant there was an elaborate programme of work.

Unfortunately, the relations with most communities and the NGOs were poor and there was resentment from some political bigwigs.

During 1994–98 its authority was eroded and the sector became once again a department, first in Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and later in the Ministry of Natural Resources. The mandate was broadened to incorporate the entire biodiversity management. Public participation increased and the organisation’s image improved among the communities and the NGOs.

But the period was also associated with

  • decline in scientific research and loss of the human capital base, thus undermining R&D;

  • a new policy and a draft legal instrument embracing community organisation developed but, it was never sent to Parliament;

  • considerable loss of political support and autonomy;

  • a weakening of the financial base and loss of donor support;

  • an enhanced corporate outlook, and a component dealing with community wildlife parks, research and development.

It was apparent that several policy issues continue to hamper the growth of Kenya’s wildlife management.

At the supra-level are issues outside the control of the wildlife sector management:

  • natural resource tenure and resource accounting is poor;

  • absence of a land use policy;

  • poor governance and physical insecurity.

The policy issues at the wildlife sector management level include:

(1)     Kenya’s wildlife policy needs reforming to accommodate new technological
         imperatives, new groups of stakeholders, international changes in
         conservation views, etc;
(2)    a narrow view of wildlife resources, utilisation and management and its
        interaction with other natural resources and sectors of the national economy.
        This requires that the KWS goals be pursued in keeping with the country’s
        overall economic policies, such as industrialization, forestry, agriculture and
(3)    a review of the institutional set-up to enhance its ability to fulfil its mission
        and satisfy stakeholder interests;
(4)    improvement of the financial base through an appropriate funding mechanism
        and reduction of reliance on any single source;
(5)    an appropriate legal framework to ensure institutional autonomy while
        remaining flexible enough to incorporate a diversity of stakeholder
(6)    introduction of appropriate and achievable programmes of work and targets;
(7)    reorganization of an R&D funding mechanism.


The challenges facing Kenya's wildlife sector in the coming months are formidable. They concern recreating the KWS—giving it new legal personality and clear focus or mandate. Secondly, Kenya needs to review the current wildlife policy and legislation to bring them closer to national and global realities as well as needs. The policy and legislation should clarify resource (wildlife and land) ownership and access structures. They should generate adequate incentives for local and private sector investment in wildlife management. Such reforms would require considerable political will and capacities in policy analysis.

SOURCE: http://www.acts.or.ke/insight2.htm