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Nature Conservation in Contested Lands: Community Conservancies and Security Dynamics in Isiolo, Northern Kenya

Kennedy Mkutu, United States International University, Nairobi, Kenya

A large number of community conservancies have been established in marginalized areas in Northern Kenya in the last decade – these dry regions are now supposed to become a new frontier for infrastructure developments according to Kenya’s “Vision 2030”. The conservancies serve a number of objectives, including conservation of flora and fauna, employment of local people in eco-tourism and rangeland management. They have also increasingly been seen as a way of providing organized security through the employment of armed scouts, not only to protect wildlife against poaching, but to secure communities and private parties. Lastly, for some, they are becoming a contentious means of securing land claims on what has historically been community-owned land.
The talk will situate the drive towards establishing conservancies in the context of increasing development in the North of Kenya, due to the extractive industry (oil, geothermal) and massive infrastructure projects, which intensify claims to land and make security arrangements more pertinent. Moreover, there is a convergence of factors which make for a worrying future: Firstly, land in the North is communally owned and legal protection for indigenous peoples and local communities is as yet weak. Secondly, pastoralist groups have long been involved in cyclical inter-communal armed conflict, fighting for access to pasture and water, and raiding livestock. Thirdly, Isiolo is the “arms triangle” where arms supply routes converge for black-market sale to the entire country. If conservancies cement land claims, and provide a security model for defending those land claims, then a new layer of armed violent conflict is likely to be introduced. Some early evidence of this is provided.


July 10, 2018


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