By Anyang' Nyong'o
Wednesday, August 13 was the World Elephant Day. Not many Kenyans were aware, nor did they care. Perhaps the majority are so busy with their daily problems to remember that Kenyan elephants are disappearing everyday. It is rather remote to them as a problem worth worrying about.
But at least two Kenyans remembered this day was important. One was Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr William Kiprono, and the other was Inspector General of Police, Mr David Kimaiyo. William and David: thank you very much—but you disappointed Kenyans in the manner in which you observed this great day.
The KWS official event in Voi that drew attention to this great day was eagerly awaited by conservationists locally and internationally. There is a group in California USA which has dedicated its mission to the preservation of elephants and they no doubt have their counterparts here in Kenya. They were awaiting for some shot in the arm in terms of policy initiatives from the KWS to stem the tide of the killing of elephants by poachers in our game reserves. This did not happen.
Surprisingly, in his long-awaited speech, Mr Kiprono dwelt at length in blaming those who speak carelessly about problems in the wildlife sector. To Mr Kiprono, our concern that local and international cartels of poachers, drug traffickers, money launderers and terrorists should be dealt with effectively is a rather remote subject that need not be paid attention on a day like that. Our hope to save and preserve our wildlife, particularly rhinos and elephants, is pegged on dealing with these cartels, and Kiprono should be our ally and not our adversary.
It is quite okay to have contracts with Chinese companies to build our infrastructure. But when some evil characters from the Orient uses our newly-found partnership to undertake their deadly activities then we must wake up and develop strong oversight mechanisms that weed off the evil characters. This, surely, should be a message worth delivering on a day like Wednesday when Kiprono had an opportunity to do so.
As for my good friend David Kimaiyo, I only have this to say. Surely David, World Elephant Day comes only once a year. And I hope you are aware how long it takes to replace one elephant that loses its life to a poacher. I also hope you have done the arithmetic of how much one tourist spends in Kenya per day when he comes to see our wildlife in the Mara or Amboseli. That money could be used to fuel police vehicles used to fight crime in our country.
With that information at hand, why did you choose not to pay ample attention to Kenyans who came to your office to deliver a humble petition to you on the World Elephant Day? Just to show them how busy you are, you kept them waiting for nine hours! What an elephant wait? Remember David: It is your responsibility to apprehend the kingpins of poaching in this country. Anybody coming to your office with a plea, a piece of information or even a tip to some lead should be accorded ample time and attention by you and your officers. After all your motto is clear: “utumishi kwa wote”. Who are the “wote”?
I am aware these kingpins are very powerful and very well connected. But when you keep citizens with information waiting and you don’t give them much time to discuss with you, the fear goes around that you have perhaps been netted into this evil network or you have developed cold feet to confront the network. That is the damn truth regarding the information you can easily gather from the streets of Nairobi; and in the streets walk the “wote” you are supposed to be serving.
Look guys, the issue of our wildlife and environmental conservation is a serious matter; it should not just be left to some philanthropists and do gooders. We definitely thank these kind-hearted people and their service to our dear motherland. But then we have government agencies with budgets and personnel to do the work of conservation. Where the hell are these people? What the hell are they doing?
When my friend Julius Kipng’etich was at the helm of the KWS, we saw great improvements in conservation. The number of both rhinos and elephants increased tremendously. In fact we started getting worried that we may be having too many elephants. But that worry did not mean that we start cohabiting with poachers and gangsters the way we are now. What the hell is going on? We need answers not empty homilies.
These days there are highly sophisticated methods of tracking our animals in the game reserves. I, therefore, believe that for a poacher to get close to an elephant and kill it for its tusks that poacher must have collaborated with KWS game rangers or must have compromised the KWS security system. If this is not the case then we can as well conclude that we really do not have a KWS worth that name.
But that is where Kimaiyo and his team come in. These poachers and gangsters live under the jurisdiction of the Kenyan police and security system before they invade the game parks. Since we depend so much on our wildlife heritage for our tourism and international fame, I would except the Kenyan police to have profiles of poachers in its data base. I would also except some early warning system on poaching called “fanya fujo uone.” If these are not there then the KWS must really have a difficult task. That, perhaps, may be why David Kimaiyo was not very eager to be accountable to part of the “wote” who presented him with a petition in his office last Wednesday.
Nonetheless, postponing to confront a problem is never a solution to that problem. The World Elephant Day provided a big opportunity for both Kimaiyo and Kiprono to hold a joint event in Voi and showcase what Kenya is doing—not simply saying— on the preservation of the Kenyan elephant. A major pronouncement by the President would have even been greatly welcome.
But it looks as if we are always falling behind by looking at such days as mere rituals and not as opportunities for making great decisions and showcasing our achievements. Sooner rather than later we may hear of the transfer of some personnel to intensify the fight against poaching, but no significant progress will be made. It is sad. Plus ca change plus ca reste le meme!