The Animal Farm

KWS, the theatre of power and the greed, By IAN RAMAS

To a casual eye, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is a mere custodian of the country’s rich heritage

– flora and fauna. It secures the Elephant and the Rhino by hunting down heavily-armed nature thieves who prowl game sanctuaries for a living. Yet this custodian of a sector that earns the Exchequer Sh60 billion a year is gradually becoming the satirical “Animal Farm”, a convergence of selfish interests.

Indeed, analysts are drawing parallels between the battle in the Agriculture Ministry (over the control of AFFA) and the scramble for the KWS soul.  Indeed, the corporation expected from the proposed merger of KWS, Kenya Forest Services, Nyayo Tea Zone, and Water Towers Authority has attracted power barons who have scented huge donor funding.

“The (merger) process is on course and we hope to complete it as soon as possible”, Principal Secretary for Environment Richard Lesiyampe, confirmed recently.

The envisaged State corporation is likely to control a Sh20 billion budget, according to analysts.  And its flagship agency will be the 4,200-staff KWS, which is among few parastatals that don’t operate at a loss. The State allocates it Sh3 billion a year, donors give it Sh5 billion, and it makes Sh4 billion in revenue.

A corporation established to earn the crucial foreign exchange is now in the crosshairs of a cabal of powerbrokers and international wildlife lobbyists. Indeed, the sundry interests of State, donors and international conservation agencies converge at Nairobi’s Langata, KWS headquarters.

Yet, the interests are not necessarily for KWS’s good. “They come in different colours but they pursue the same concern – control of KWS, the wildlife sector and the attendant billions (of shillings),” says a senior official at KWS, disgusted with the goings-on at Langata Headquarters”.

It is a case of the “Animal Farm”, the world acclaimed satire in which the author, George Orwell, attempts to dissect a totalitarian government in its many guises. In this book, Orwell writes, thus “twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”.

From the time it was created in 1989-90, KWS has been a playground of donors and government owing to a number of reasons. Wildlife is an international resource that attracts plenty of external funding. Undeniably, so much money flowed into Kenya when President Daniel arap Moi torched 12 tonnes of ivory in July1989 to protest the wanton slaughter of elephants.

Two, for a long while, until the creation of Kenya Forest Services in 2007, KWS was the only “independent” quasi-statutory body that operated outside the provisions of the State Corporations Act. It had a paramilitary wing, and was free to seek external funding. It thus used this privilege to build itself into the largest – and certainly most effective—wildlife guardian in Africa.

Three, the Leakey name is pedigree in the global conservation order. As its director, Dr Leakey gave KWS – and the Kenya wildlife conservation fraternity – the clout. No wonder he used his position to single-handedly rally the world round the Elephant and Rhino in 1989; when the world slapped a ban on international trade in ivory and its products.

Ever since, the appointment of all directors (apart from Julius Kip’ngetich and Kiprono) has been influenced by donors and/or international wildlife lobbyists. At one time, the lobbyists were torn between Leakey and his successor David Western.

Now, the stakes are high. The resurgence in poaching has suddenly attracted back donors and international wildlife lobbyists who seek to head the body. Indeed, as the world expresses its outrage at the game killings, the powerbrokers scent big money. “In the war against poaching, KWS is going to be big”, says a senior official, Ministry of Environment.

“Donors are concerned that Mombasa Port is the leading exit for Ivory out of Africa, so Nairobi is going to be the hub of the international onslaught against poaching.”

Unconfirmed reports by KWS officials claim that plans are afoot to privatize sections of game sanctuaries and/or services. If this is true, then the wildlife sector will be a cash cow.

Now the government, on one hand, and donors and international lobbyists, on the other, are in a fierce battle for KWS soul. It is therefore hardly surprising the government is hesitant in confirming Kiprono (or hiring a substantive director) since his appointment last October.

A number of names – incidentally, all of them former employees of KWS now working with the Minnistry of Environment– are being bandied around for the position of executive director. Even within the government, there are two parallel forces fronting preferred names. But the envisioned appointments have hit pockets of turbulence, according to sources.

There’s wide schism between State interests and those of international wildlife lobbies backed by key donors. KWS finds itself town between the two powerful forces.

Donors, through the international lobbyists, want to pour money into a basket they control. Powerful people in the government know that they can only control KWS funds if they place their cronies in key positions in the the institution.

It is Catch 22 for both interests.

According to insiders, donors want Dr Richard Leakey as the chairman of the Board and his protégé Paula Kahumba as the chief executive of the KWS (and subsequently, the proposed corporation that will be in charge of wildlife, forests, water and the Nyayo tea zones). But they are not opposed to a trade-off: A new position, Executive Chairman, be created for Dr Leakey, then the State can appoint its own choice for director.

But the Leakey/Kahumbu proposal doesn’t appear to excite the Presidency. In fact, an earlier attempt by international lobbyists to have former chief executive of Safaricom Michael Hoseph replace William Kibet Kiprono failed when powerbrokers declined, last January. Joseph would later be appointed chancellor, Maseno University.

The impasse has stalled changes at KWS. In fact it explains why Kiprono was spared when his deputies were sent packing. The government is cautious not to antagonize donors and the global conservation lobby.

However, insiders claim the government is set to take over the running of the institution by early mid-July. It has set in motion of measures that will culminate in

First it has been hesitant to appoint Board, and this is hardly surprising. It wants to make unilateral decisions on matters that affect the institution. Ideally, a Board would run its affairs. PS Lesiyampe skirted this question when this writer confronted him at a news conference.

Then it formed a taskforce on wildlife security headed by KWS former director Nehemiah Rotich.

The government then constituted an inter-ministerial committee to “scrutinize and oversee” KWS operations, according to Lesiyampe. (Ideally, this job should be done by the Board). The Committee draws Treasury, KWS, and the ministries of Interior and National Co-ordination, Planning and Devolution, and Environment, Water and Natural Resources. It is to identify challenges facing the institution and undertake “remedial measures”.

Even before the task force and inter-ministerial committee embarked on their tasks, the government inexplicably sent home KWs deputy directors Julius Kimani (Security), Patrick Omondi (Wildlife Conservation), William Waweru (Corporate services), and head of Finance Isanda,  and Christopher Oludhe, acting head, Supply Chain Management. Only the chief executive was spared. It wasn’t clear whether they had been retired or suspended.

The government then formed an anti-poaching committee. Just last month, it (not KWS, as it should be) recruited 600 rangers.

More telling is the government’s move to review membership of KWS’s procurement and tendering committees. “The government is investigating any misappropriation of public resources and will take appropriate action against the culprits once this is established”, says Dr Lesiyampe.

As if this is hardly enough, the State plans to second a senior National Intelligence Service (NIS) officer to KWS, to head the security section. Incidentally, all this is happening despite reports indicating that State officials are involved in poaching.

(In a report released a week ago, Born Free – an global wildlife protection agency – claimed poachers were enjoying the protection of State officials)

Asked whether KWS officials are involved in poaching, Dr Lesiyampe who once worked at the KWS as a Finance officer, responded, thus “there are reports of collusion”.

On whether the government is micro-managing an institution that is supposed to be free of state intervention, “the Government has the responsibility of securing the safety of our visitors. The buck stops with the Ministry (of Environment and Forestry). If things are not going the way they should, we have to intervene,” the PS told this writer at KWS where he addressed a news conference on the raft of measures he plans to instate at Langata Headquarters.

KWS, he said, had failed. “We want to intervene. We are talking about a new political dispensation. We have to execute our duties”.

Critics disagree. “Poaching is being used as pretext to take over the management of KWS, as we prepare to establish a monolithic state corporation,” says a senior official of KWS. “In fact, here at KWS headquarters, we all know that some of the poaching is instigated or the reports are exaggerated.”

According to insiders, the government plans to declare poaching a national disaster in the pretext of suspending the present KWS leadership. With such emergency laws, the government can now unilaterally appoint people without having them subjected to vetting. “People are using this thing (poaching) for opportunistic reasons. What we know is that there’s too much lobbying (for the position of executive director and that of the chairman of the Board),” says a KWS official.

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