Cablegate: Gifting Amboseli for Votes - a Bad Environmental,

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


Sensitive but unclassified. Not for release outside USG

1. (SBU) Summary: Hoping to create support among the
Maasai community for Kenya's draft constitution, on
September 28, Kenya's Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife
degazetted (declassified) Kenya's renowned Amboseli
National Park and handed over administrative control to the
local county council. This blatant political ploy was done
without consultation and did not follow proper legal
procedures. To curry votes, President Kibaki and his pro-
draft constitution advisors have jeopardized the Kenya
Wildlife Service's revenue base and its momentum for
effective reform. Further, it is unclear whether this
"gift" to the Maasai will actually deliver their vote.
What is certain is that the move sets a dangerous precedent
and has encouraged other ethnic groups to call for local
control of other national parks. End Summary.

2. (U) As noted in ref A, one of the President Kibaki's
inducements for a "yes" vote from Kenya's Maasai community
for the November 21 referendum on a new constitution was
the September 28 degazetting (declassification) of Amboseli
National Park to a locally-controlled National Reserve,
handing over the management, and, presumably, much or all
of the revenue, from one of Africa's best known wildlife
preserves to the Ol Kejuado County Council. While the near-
and-long-term consequences of this move are not yet known,
there real alarm among conservation groups, donors, the
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and others about the likely
negative impact on Amboseli's flora and fauna. In the
opinion of am umbrella conservation group focused on this
action, "Amboseli National Park is a UNESCO `Man and the
Biosphere Reserve' which should mean that it is accorded
the highest possible national priority in terms of its
conservation . . . downgrading the Park's status to that of
a National Reserve is inconsistent with that obligation."

3. (U) Last year Amboseli National Park generated
approximately 240 million Kenyan Shillings (approximately
US$ 3.5 million) in revenue. Prior to September 28, these
funds were collected by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
and used, in part, to meet the revenue sharing requirements
for the seven community group ranches neighboring the park
and to support other national parks in the KWS system that
are less well known and less able to generate revenue. It
is almost certain that KWS' other parks, reserves, and
conservation programs will suffer following this loss of a
key income source.

A Tangled Historical Grievance
4. (U) At the same time, however, the Ol Kejuado Maasai
contend, and there is ample evidence to support their claim
that Amboseli National Park was illegally carved out of
their titled land - the larger Amboseli Game Reserve - and
as a community, they have not benefited much from
Amboseli's status as one of the most visited game parks in
East Africa. In 1974, Amboseli was declared "State Land,"
and a national park was created by Presidential decree
against a backdrop of protest by local Maasai communities
and the Ol Kejuado county council. To appease the
community and the county council, the GOK agreed to a five-
point benefit-sharing scheme: i) provision and maintenance
of water for livestock outside the park, ii) an annual
payment to the community from gate receipts, iii) payment
of all revenue accrued from hunting, iv) building a park
headquarters at edge of the park to double as a community
centre and v) a grant of 400 acres in the park to the
county council that could be developed to earn revenue;
e.g., from tourist lodges.

5. (SBU) This scheme worked from 1976-1981 when it began
to break down. Today, only a partial sharing of revenue is
practiced. Because of the GOK's failure to honor its part
of the bargain, the community filed a case in court to have
ownership of Amboseli returned to them. The presidential
decree downgrading Amboseli's status was not, however, part
of any negotiated agreement to settle the case. It simply
came out of the blue as a transparent political attempt to
buy the Maasai vote.

6. (U) One of the most pressing worries, now that the Park
is under local control, is whether the Council will be able
to enforce the current practice of minimal livestock
grazing within the park. Currently, Maasai cattle and
goats are permitted limited access to the park for water
and when forage outside is in short supply. If controls
are removed from stock entry, there will be increased
competition with wildlife for pasture and the incidence
of human-wildlife conflict will likely mount. Currently,
KWS is still manning the gates at Amboseli without a clear
mandate or revenue-sharing agreement. Should there be a
push for greater livestock use of the park, it is unlikely
that KWS will push back.

7. (U) Dr. David Western, one of Kenya's most renowned
conservationists, was intimately involved with designing
the five-point plan in favor of the Maasai in 1974 when he
served as Director of KWS. He was a key speaker at an
October 19 meeting of environmental donors at which he
explained the history and range of issues that form the
backdrop for Amboseli's management and for the moves on the
part of the Maasai to recover it. While never contesting
the right of the Maasai to seek redress for Government's
abrogating much of the five-point agreement, he has been
outspoken in his opposition to the manner in which the
recent degazettement took place. "Amboseli was illegally
degazetted, and puts all other national parks in jeopardy;
virtually every other national park in Kenya has now come
under renewed pressure for degazettement by local

8. (U) The donors were also informed of a civil suit that
four conservation NGOs and one private citizen have filed
with the High Court of Kenya challenging the procedures and
legality of the degazettment vis--vis the provisions of
the Wildlife Management and Conservation Act and the
Environmental Management and Coordination Act. [Note: on
October 28 a Kenya High Court Justice acted on this suit
and ordered a temporary halt to the transfer. However, a
previous court ruled that the suit "lacked merit," and it
is not yet clear which ruling will be upheld. End note.]
The environment donors resolved to develop a joint
statement that will be forwarded to their respective Chiefs
of Missions and Directors with the aim that these
ambassadors and high commissioners will present a joint
position to President Kibaki.

9. (U) There is broad agreement that the change of
Amboseli's status was done improperly. Specifically,
Kenyan law requires consultations with relevant
stakeholders (including KWS), a 60 day public comment
period, and ratification by the National Assembly - none
which took place. The apparent illegality of the move has
done nothing to faze the GOK. The Ministry of Tourism and
Wildlife, which took the administrative action to change
Amboseli's status, claims it is resolving a historic
injustice, and has simply unilaterally asserted that it has
the authority to do so.

10. (SBU) For KWS, the move on Amboseli not only threatens
its revenue base (22 percent of its annual income, by one
estimate), but also its current efforts to secure Cabinet
commitments and international partnerships for upgrading
Kenya's National Parks and reserves. Three days before its
degazettment, KWS Director Julius Kipng'etich was reveling
in Amboseli's new label as a "World Class Park". KWS' new
approach to enhance the global visibility and attractions
of its Protected Areas, termed "Branding of Parks," focuses
on scientific management of park ecosystems, engaging local
communities to keep wildlife dispersal areas and movement
corridors open, rehabilitating park infrastructure and
emphasizing interpretive services to enhance a positive
visitor experience.

11. (SBU) Such an approach, however, hinges on KWS control
of these areas. During an October 21 meeting with the
Ambassador, KWS Director Julius Kipng'etich confided that
the President's "gift" of Amboseli to the County Council
made him "distraught." Kipng'etich believed that his
Presidential appointment to KWS was done with a clear
understanding that he could pursue a reform mandate based
on sound management practices, long-term planning, and
broad participation among stakeholders. He views the
degazettement action as a reversion to the political
patronage of previous administrations that clearly
undercuts KWS' ability to reform itself. Kipng'etich
confessed that the Amboseli situation, and the precedent it
sets, has him considering resigning.

12. (SBU) In addition to asserting its historic claim on
the Amboseli land, the Ol Kejuado County Council argues
that it can manage the Park effectively. It cites the
"Mara Triangle" in the Maasai Mara National Reserve as an
example of effective local management. However, Joyce
Engoke, Senior Programmes Officer, Kenya Organization for
Environmental Education (EOEE), an organization dedicated
to community-based conservation, told Econoff that "giving
Amboseli to the county council is a shame. The Ol Kejuado
Council does not have the expertise, capacity, or ability
to properly manage the park; it is not like the Maasai Mara
where there is an established local conservancy to manage
the park on behalf of the community". In addition to
managing the park with sound practices, the County Council
is challenged to equitably and transparently share the
benefits accruing from Amboseli with the Maasai group
ranches that surround it.

13. (U) Ironically, an article of the draft constitution
states that lands held by district governments are `public
lands' and, as such, will be administered on behalf of
local people by a National Land Commission. If the draft
constitution passes, it is quite possible that the Ol
Kejuado County Council could be forced to relinquish its
newly-gained control over Amboseli.

14. (SBU) Even following other controversial vote-seeking
moves, including Kibaki's gift of land title deeds in
direct contradiction to a standing court order (ref B), and
promises of significant pay raises to county councilors
(septel), the move on Amboseli is shocking. It was done
without the consent of the Ministry of Environment and
Natural Resources and KWS. And yet, most observers believe
the Maasai will still vote overwhelmingly against the

15. (SBU) Giving this amazing asset to a county council
with no track record of effective management or fiscal
accountability is no guarantee of improved livelihoods for
the local communities. At the same time, the Amboseli move
is a terrible precedent, possibly clearing the way for more
of the kind of land grabbing and gifting that characterized
the economically disastrous Moi era. If the Ministry of
Tourism and Wildlife can unilaterally degazette a park, it,
or other ministries, could claim the authority to create
new public land designations without the input of local
communities or wider stakeholders and without observing the
rule of law.


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