Kenya: Reserve At Risk As Investors Eye Lamu

Nairobi — Dodori National Reserve in Lamu is at the centre of a storm over the management of wildlife.

Reserve resources have remained untapped since its creation 40 years ago.

Now the proposed second port in Lamu has added a twist to the debate as the multi-billion project is expected to open up areas that were hitherto protected.

According to the port plans, there is a proposal to put up a tarmac road south of Kiangwe; the road is to run parallel to the coastline formed by the Dodori creek that is part of the reserve.

Kenya Wildlife Service, Lamu County Council and local leaders want the reserve protected and managed while others are calling for its subdivision so residents cultivate what they regard as idle land.

Reeling under a burden of its financial scarcity that affects even salaries, Lamu council wanted a strategic investor to develop tourism related projects.

According to minutes of a full council on September 21, 2010, the council resolved that an investor Silver Sites Limited, sign an agreement to lease Dodori.

The proposal by Kiunga Ward councillor Abdalla Sheikh Baabad and seconded by Councillor Mohamed Shali resolved that the clerk, the finance chairman and the council chairman sign an agreement with the firm at a premium of Sh1.2 million.

“Immediately after signing this agreement, a cheque of Sh1.2 million should be drawn in favour of the council, which amount will be used in paying councillors’ arrears.

“Further, the investor should pay 5 per cent increment as per the agreement, and ensure that the interests of farmers and fishermen are taken care of. The investor should, where possible, help put up roads and schools,” read one of the resolutions.

Former council chairman Hassan Albeity said the issue of getting an investor for the development of the park had preoccupied the council after it realised a huge resource was idle.

But Albeity was quick to add that the issue of getting an investor had not been easy because even with the council resolutions, it had to get approval from the Kenya Wildlife Service, who are the custodians of the reserve and the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

KWS has now unveiled a plan to develop a management plan that will tie with the new Constitution, especially the creation of county governments.

Lamu senior warden Michael Gichure said a programme for the management plan had already been drawn and the process was set to start in a month. It would bring together residents neighbouring the reserve, conservation organisations, government officials (ministries of lands, fisheries, tourism and environment) and the council.

“The proposed developments will be determined through a consultative process culminating in a 5-year management plan to be approved by KWS.

“The plan will identify sites suitable for accommodation infrastructure, such as lodges, wilderness tracks, hotels, tented camps, offices and staff housing, revenue gates, access roads and internal circuit roads,” Mr Gichure said.

He said the proposals by the council to bring in investors had not been communicated to the KWS and called on the interested companies to get in touch with them for proper advice.

“It is important to establish whether or not the investors are local to determine the maximum allowed lease period. It would be illegal for the company to attempt to get into agreement with the council since the council is not the competent authority as per the law.

“Once the management plan is ready, KWS will invite expressions of interest in public advertisement from potential hoteliers and tourism operators and successful proposals will then be subjected to environmental impact assessment,” Mr Gichure said.

But the storm surrounding the reserve started a while ago. At the height of famine in the larger Lamu East last year, nominated MP Shakila Abdalla sparked off a controversy by calling on the government to de-gazette the park so that residents can start farming.

Ms Abdalla still believes that after failing to achieve its set objective of conserving the wildlife and generating incomes from park, the government should give the land to the community.

“Dodori was originally farming grounds for the Bajuni community who used to produce a lot of food for local consumption and even for export to the Middle East and Somalia. Famine was never an issue in these parts of Kenya, but the situation changed when the government gazetted it and outlawed farming in the area.

“So many years on, all the expectations that people had about employment and incomes from the park have not been realised. The park has remained idle because not even a single visitor has been there,” she said in an interview.

Ms Abdalla said she has raised the issue of de-gazetting the park with the Ministry of Wildlife and Forestry in Parliament.

She said the biggest fear the local people had now was the planned development of the port, noting that land grabbers had started encroaching on the park’s buffer zone and putting themselves in strategic positions.

“The talk of investors eyeing the park to develop tourism-related projects is a ploy, and if we are not careful, everything will be taken away by private developers because this area has now become prime land,” she said.

But the Kenya Marine Forum (KMF) zonal coordinator in charge of Kiunga where Dodori reserve and Kiunga Marine Park are, Ali Shebwana, said subdividing the land will not solve the perennial food problem in the area.

“There is vast idle land good for cultivation which the leaders should be looking at and not the park because allowing people in there would interfere with biodiversity.

“We should in fact support the KWS to start the management plan that will ensure all the development in and outside the park is controlled,” Mr Shebwana said, adding, the park should be left intact to await the KWS management plan is in place.

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