Why Kenya’s proposal to execute convicted poachers is a bad idea

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Kenya Wildlife Service rangers on patrol at the Meru National Park.
Flickr/IFAW

Jeremiah Ogonda Asaka, Middle Tennessee State University

Wildlife poaching in Kenya may soon be a capital offence, punishable by death. The proposal has surfaced because people believe existing penalties aren’t stringent enough, and because of the huge burden that poaching places on the country.

Poaching threatens wildlife populations – most worryingly elephants and rhinos. The loss of wildlife threatens one of the pillars of Kenya’s tourism industry, and therefore its economy, as well as the survival of some species.

Poaching is also a security risk as it presents challenges to the military and police, which can be outgunned by poachers and their criminal allies.

Currently, a conviction of wildlife crime in Kenya, involving endangered and threatened species, attracts the country’s severest punishment: a life sentence or fine of not less than 20 million shillings, about USD$200,000.

But the death penalty proposal is informed by a quick fix mentality that’s not equipped to solve the complex problem of wildlife poaching. It’s ill-advised for at least three reasons. First, it goes against the global trend away from using the death penalty. Second, poachers are already willing to risk their lives, so it won’t work as a deterrent. And finally, rather than putting in new laws, the government should address what’s wrong with the current laws which offer sufficient penalties.

A bad idea

The reliance on the death penalty is declining both globally and locally. It’s seen as undermining human dignity and is an obstacle to protecting human rights.

There’s also been a shift in thinking in Kenya. While the death penalty is still on the books, there hasn’t been an execution in nearly 30 years. There have also been cases where Kenya’s court of appeal has ruled that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional and presidents have commuted death sentences to life imprisonment.

Secondly, Kenya has a shoot to kill policy for tackling poaching which dates back to 1989. This has been largely ineffective. If poachers are already willing to take risks, then the death penalty won’t deter them.

Finally, the 2013 Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which increased penalties for wildlife crime, has only been in force for about five years. This isn’t enough time to gauge its effectiveness.

The real focus should be on existing laws. Rather than putting in new laws, the government should address what may be wrong with them, including the penalties they carry.

Several factors could explain why they may not be successful. These include: lax enforcement, under resourced government agencies such as the Kenya Wildlife Service, corruption and prolonged election periods which used wildlife rangers for security in parts of the country.

Way forward

It is only prudent that the Kenyan government reconsider the death penalty proposal. In seeking a solution it should consider the following suggestions.

Firstly, the economic empowerment of conservation area communities by ensuring that wildlife conservation works for them. While tourism contributes significantly to the country’s economy, communities who share their lands with wildlife often continue to live in poverty. They also bear the brunt of human-wildlife conflict including the loss of life, injuries from attacks and loss of property. Poaching will become undesirable if tourism delivers benefits.

Secondly, ensure that relevant government agencies, such as the Kenya Wildlife Services and Kenya Police, are well resourced and accountable. With a financially struggling Wildlife Service and corrupt police service, it is foolhardy to expect that the country’s wildlife laws will be enforced properly.

Thirdly, new national institutions, like the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, should be given more decision-making authority to ensure community voices aren’t silenced. Their effective involvement would mean real empowerment for communities and would ensure community buy-in on policies. This is an integral step in ensuring wildlife security.

Lastly, relevant government agencies should also try and collaborate with global actors in building a wildlife crime busting network. Past experience shows this is an effective strategy in addressing poaching. For example, the collaboration between the Kenya Wildlife Service and the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) led to the arrest of a suspected poaching boss, Feizal Ali Mohammed, accused of trafficking large quantities of ivory.

The ConversationUltimately, tackling Kenya’s poaching problem requires a multi-layered, comprehensive approach which involves all stakeholders including government, non-governmental organisations, local and global communities and ensures the protection of human rights and dignity. An approach that involves the death penalty as a quick fix for convicted poachers doesn’t fit this bill.

Jeremiah Ogonda Asaka, Lecturer in Global Studies, Middle Tennessee State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why proposed death penalty for Kenya’s convicted poachers is ill advised

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Tourism and Wildlife last week announced plans to change the country’s wildlife law to make wildlife crime a capital offense punishable by death. Currently, a conviction of wildlife crime involving endangered and threatened species in Kenya attracts the severest punishment, which is life sentence or fine of not less than twenty million shillings or both.

Controversial endorsement by CITES

Contrary to United Nations’ position on death penalty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – a United Nations (UN) convention – appeared to endorse the move by Kenya in a tweet on May 11, 2018 [see photo below].

CITES tweet
CITES tweet supporting Kenya’s death penalty proposal (Source: Twitter @CITES)

CITES is an international agreement – primarily, between governments of UN member countries – whose primary aim is to ensure trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It entered into force in 1975. States and regional economic organizations join and adhere to its conditions voluntarily. Kenya officially joined the convention in 1979.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres much like his predecessor – Ban Ki Moon – is on record for saying that, “the death penalty has no place in the 21st century.” UN General Assembly’s resolution 69/186 of 18 December 2014 on moratorium on the use of the death penalty calls on all UN member countries including Kenya to among other things reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed and establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Therefore, it is ill advised for CITES to urge Kenya along the path of the proposed plan to introduce death penalty for wildlife crime.

Why the death penalty is ill advised

Evidently, Kenya’s plan to introduce death penalty for wildlife crimes is ill advised for at least three reasons. First, reliance on the death penalty is declining both globally and locally. The last time Kenya executed a death row convict was 1987. On July 30, 2010, the Court of Appeal in Kenya ruled that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional. On October 24, 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted all the country’s death sentences to life imprisonment. In a nutshell, reality does not only render the death penalty undesirable but also ineffective.

 
Second, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013 that is now under consideration for amendment has only been in force for about five years. Obviously, not enough time to gauge efficacy particularly considering the complexity of wildlife conservation and management in Kenya. Besides, considering Kenya’s experience with shoot to kill policy in the wildlife sector and the corresponding persistence of the poaching menace, I can guarantee that the death penalty – if introduced – will not deter poachers. Research from neighbouring Tanzania shows that poachers continue to engage in poaching despite the dangers associated with it because “poaching pays”.

Third, proponents of the death penalty are at best escapist. The real concern should not be that existing law is not working. Rather the concern should be on why the existing law is not working as expected and then finding sustainable and ethical solutions. Several factors may explain why the existing wildlife law has not worked as expected. Some of these factors include laxity in enforcement, under resourced relevant government agencies (e.g. KWS), corruption, prolonged electioneering period, and the racially divided politics of wildlife conservation in Kenya. The death penalty proposal is informed by a quick fix mentality that is ill equipped to solve the complex problem of wildlife poaching.

Way forward
Considering the foregoing facts, it is only prudent that the Kenyan government reconsiders the death penalty proposal. In seeking a solution to the poaching problem, which threatens the country’s economy, security and wildlife, the government should consider the following suggestions.

 
Economic empowerment of conservation area communities by ensuring that wildlife conservation works for them. Often, the benefits of wildlife conservation accrue disproportionately to the global community while the costs of the same accrue disproportionately to the local community. To this end, there is a need to acknowledge the reality of racial, class and gender disparities in wildlife conservation in Kenya as a necessary step in understanding the power dynamics that shape the country’s wildlife sector.

Ensure that relevant government agencies such as KWS and Kenya Police Service are well resourced and accountable. With a financially struggling KWS and corrupt police service, it is foolhardy to expect satisfactory enforcement of the country’s wildlife law. Moreover, new national institutions such as the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) should be accorded more decision-making authority on matters wildlife conservation to ensure community voice is not silenced.

 
The Kenyan government and its relevant agencies should strive to collaborate with global and regional State and non-State actors with the sole aim of building a wildlife crime buster network. Past experience with this strategy shows that it can be quite effective in addressing the poaching menace. For instance, the 2014 collaboration between Kenya Wildlife Service and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) led to the the arrest of a suspected poaching boss, Feizal Ali Mohammed, accused of trafficking large quantities of ivory. In 2016, Feizal was convicted of illegal possession of ivory worth 44 million shillings and sentenced to 20 years in jail with a 20 million shillings fine.

Ultimately, tackling Kenya’s poaching problem requires a multipronged, multi-actor and multi-scalar approach that upholds human rights and dignity while guaranteeing the survival of wildlife species for posterity. An approach that involves death penalty for convicted poachers does not fit this bill. Moreover, the nature of wildlife conservation in Kenya is such that the death penalty will disproportionately affect the capability deprived men and/or women who largely engage in poaching for survival while leaving the real culprits – organized crime, corruption and global demand – unscathed.

 

Why Kenya’s new wildlife task force is a step in the right direction


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Pastoralist communities, like the Maasai, and their animals live in “bomas” which protect them from wild animals.
Shutterstock/Papa Bravo

Jeremiah Ogonda Asaka, Middle Tennessee State University

Loss of biodiversity is one of the major global concerns of our time. According to four recently released scientific reports biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – is declining in every region of the world.

Kenya is one of the countries grappling with this problem. Over the past 30 years wildlife tourism has been a major way in which Kenyans have “used” their wildlife to fund conservation and development. But while tourism contributes significantly to the country’s economy, communities who share their lands with wildlife continue to live in poverty. They also bear the brunt of human-wildlife conflict including the loss of life, injuries from attacks and loss of property.

It’s against this backdrop that Kenya’s Minister for Tourism and Wildlife recently established a task force to look into how wildlife can be used in a way that works for both people and wildlife.

The task force will, among other things, evaluate options like game farming and game ranching in community and private lands. It will also evaluate how these approaches could contribute to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), food security, job creation and livelihood support, with a view of creating co-existence between communities and wildlife.

In a significant deviation from past practice, Kenya’s current wildlife law places wildlife conservation on equal footing with other land use types, like crop and livestock farming. This means it provides for both consumptive and non-consumptive use rights.

Consumptive uses are generally considered to be those in which wildlife is killed for commercial use and sale or for food. An example is the slaughter and sale of game meat at local restaurants. Following concerns from conservation circles, however, the government announced that it doesn’t intend to reintroduce game hunting in Kenya.

Non-consumptive use generally refers to the wildlife being watched, studied or recorded. Examples include tourism or the production and sale of wildlife documentaries.

The task force could change conservation strategies in Kenya for the better. It promises the involvement of all stakeholders – including communities that live with wildlife – in deciding how wildlife can be used. About 65% of Kenya’s wildlife lives in community and private lands yet, historically, the involvement of communities has been limited. This is especially true when it comes to making decisions on wildlife. When they are included it has largely been representational and top-down.

Community voice

Wildlife conservation in Kenya is currently based on a variety of conservation models which involve the state, non-state actors and in some cases a mix of both. The models include, but are not limited to, state run national parks and reserves, community conservancies and privately owned wildlife ranches or conservancies.

Most of these conservation models draw revenue from tourism. However, community conservancies in Kenya are largely donor funded. This puts their sustainability into question.

Private ranches are privately run while national parks are run by the state. Communities have no authority to make decisions in either model.

In the case of community oriented conservation, there are at least 119 conservancies – comprising community, group and private conservancies – in Kenya. While some of these have benefits for communities, like rent payments for use of their land, research shows that patronage is a real concern. Though they are intended to decentralise decision making, reforms often occur only on paper and instead the top-down approach to conservation remains dominant. This undercuts the very essence of community participation.

And yet communities who live with wildlife face continuous threats to their lives, property and livelihoods. If they incur losses to wildlife they are rarely compensated by the government. It’s obvious that they should play a key role when it comes to decisions on wildlife and conservation.

Task force opportunities

The establishment of the task force could make this happen. It provides Kenyans with an important opportunity to take part in making decisions about the country’s conservation policies.

For better results, I would advise against representational participation in which representatives of communities are chosen and transported to a city hotel and community views solicited from them by experts. Instead, there should be direct participation and engagement with community members through interviews or focus group discussions held at the grassroots level. This would afford communities a fair shot at genuinely participating in the process of making decisions about what works for them and the wildlife.

This approach could also create jobs, for example field assistants or translator positions, for young and educated members of the respective communities. These would be a great benefit, even if the jobs are short-term because the task force won’t be in place forever.

At a higher level, the task force offers Kenyans the opportunity to have a national conversation about how to make wildlife conservation work for both people and wildlife. Significantly, it offers Kenyans a chance to engage in what I consider a difficult but long overdue conversation.

The ConversationAcross the world, getting the conservation development balance right is still largely a work in progress. Ultimately, the best way to rein in biodiversity loss is to make conservation work for both people and wildlife. Kenya’s new wildlife task force is a step in the right direction.

Jeremiah Ogonda Asaka, Lecturer in Global Studies, Middle Tennessee State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya’s fresh election ruling: just another instalment in a highly contested process

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Kenya’s Supreme Court judges preside before delivering the judgment that nullified last month’s presidential election Baz Ratner/Reuters

Jeremiah Ogonda Asaka, Middle Tennessee State University

Kenya’s 2017 general election has been one of the most litigated general elections since the country’s first multiparty poll in 1992.

Just weeks before Election Day the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was still embroiled in court battles. In fact, days before the vote, it appeared in court at least twice.

In the first instance Kenya’s main opposition coalition – the National Super Alliance – alongside the Thirdway Alliance Party of Kenya challenged IEBC’s award of a ballot printing tender to Al Ghurair – a Dubai based firm.

The High Court of Kenya ruled for the plaintiffs effectively barring Al-Ghurair from printing the presidential ballot papers.

In its second appearance IEBC appealed the High Court ruling. This time the decision went its way. The Court of Appeal reversed the the lower court’s decision arguing that the election commission didn’t have time to find a new printer. The appeal’s court also ruled that the lower court should have barred Al-Ghurair from printing ballot papers for all elective seats and not just the presidential one.

After the second ruling, IEBC had the green light to print the ballot papers and conduct the general elections. Infamously, the presidential result was then invalidated by the Supreme Court triggering a fresh election slated for October 17, 2017.

The Supreme Court ruling was not just a victory for Kenyan democracy but for democracy everywhere. It underscored the independence of the judiciary, strength of public institutions, and Kenya’s deepening commitment to the rule of law. These lessons go well beyond Africa.

But despite the court’s decision, there are those who still maintain that President Uhuru Kenyatta won the election. The president himself was confident that he had garnered the most votes and he blasted the court for usurping the will of the Kenyan people, swearing to fix the problem in the Judiciary if he won the fresh election. His words were broadly interpreted as a direct attack on the judiciary.

Role of election observers questioned

Kenyatta’s remarks are at worst a direct attack on the judiciary and at best an indication that the Executive will interfere with judicial independence. That is a threat that Kenyan will have to contend with at home.

On the international stage, election observers are also facing a threat to their continued existence. The role and effectiveness of international election observation has been called into question after more than 400 observers gave the Kenyan election a clean bill of health. The Supreme Court decision has put them in a tight spot.

The Carter Center which sponsored the John Kerry-led observation team has praised the court decision as “both important and encouraging, because it highlights the independence of the Kenyan judiciary”, while trying to distance itself from any wrongdoing.

Media pundits across the continent and beyond have weighed in on the future of international election observation, some of them calling observer missions out for their formulaic rubber stamping of results. Whichever way one looks at it, the Supreme Court judgment is a stinging indictment on the international election observation enterprise.

Moving forward, election observer missions should address themselves to two key issues if they are to regain credibility. First, they must approach elections as a process rather than an event. In this way observer missions will be able to stagger their reporting to reflect the various phases of the electoral process.

In the Kenyan case for instance, observer mission would be expected to report separately on their findings. They would start by observing voter registration, voting, vote counting and tallying, before reporting on results transmission and verification process, and the announcement of results. A comprehensive report of findings would be made available once the election was over.

Second, observers must contend with the new African election reality that includes a strong information, communication and technology component. It is foolish to observe an electronic electoral process using the same approaches that were used to observe manual election.

Further compounding this issue for the observation industry is the fact that a number of African elections are now hybrids that integrate electronic and manual aspects. This is something that election observer missions must quickly come to terms with in order to update their mode of operation.

Next steps for Kenya

Kenya’s 2017 general election court rulings are significant in two ways. First, they highlight the functioning nature of Kenya’s democracy, which includes checks and balances. In this respect, the Judiciary has emerged as a strong, independent democratic institution. Second, the Supreme Court has to a large extent restored Kenyans’ confidence in their country’s judicial system.

Interesting times lie ahead for Kenya as it prepares for a fresh presidential poll now slated for October 17, 2017. The opposition alliance led by Raila Odinga has already demanded for the reconstitution of IEBC before the October poll.

On their part, Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and their Jubilee Party have vowed to ensure that the IEBC conducts the fresh poll as presently constituted. As things stand, Kenya still has a long road to travel before the current election dispute is resolved.

Read the rest of the article here.

Livestock-wildlife trade-offs for pastoral livelihoods in the conservancies of the Masai Mara — ILRI news

A new research paper, Trade-offs for climate-resilient pastoral livelihoods in wildlife conservancies in the Mara ecosystem, Kenya, was recently published in Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice, May 2017. The paper is co-authored by Claire Bedelian, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and University College London (UCL), and Joseph Ogutu, of ILRI and the University of Hohenheim.

via Livestock-wildlife trade-offs for pastoral livelihoods in the conservancies of the Masai Mara — ILRI news

what’s with the name doctoral ‘student’?

patter

One of the things I’ve been trying really hard to get over is the notion of the doctoral ‘student’. This is by far the most common way to refer to people doing a PhD, and it’s pretty hard not to use the ‘s’ word when it’s all around you. I think of myself as a recovering ‘s’ word user. I lapse occasionally, but I’m trying hard not to.

I want to use the term doctoral researcher instead – or dr for short. So, dr – not yet Dr but on the way. Just insert title (case) and the transition is complete.

Now, there are good reasons why the ‘s’ word persists. There is a fee for doctoral study, and yes, doctoral researchers are enrolled at a university. So this makes them students, just like any other students, right?

Well yes. But on the other hand…

One reason I dislike the…

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