On Friday a car carrying two tourists was shot at near Shaba national park, just north of Isiolo. The Kenyan driver was killed and the two tourists injured.
This is an appalling incident that will do a lot of damage to the tourism industry in Kenya. One friend of mine expressed the feelings of many when she made an angry post on Twitter.
“Thanks to the useless brainless thug who attacked the tour van in Shaba. U have single handedly under-minded all good efforts in this area.”
I feel the same frustration she does. DARE Foundation spends so much time with groups of people desperate to make a living in northern Kenya, many of them through tourism, and this incident will be a severe blow to their fragile enterprises. However, I also know that the ‘useless brainless thug’ (or ‘thugs’) who did this would not understand my friends words, whatever local language there were spoken in.
The north of Kenya is not just the poor relative of the south, it is practically another country. There is a severe shortage of essentials such as food, water, electricity, hospitals, doctors, schools, teachers and roads. It lacks the fundamental infrastructure to enable people to live any but the most basic kind of lives or do any but the most basic kind of business. In the main what infrastructure there is here is of such poor quality, or so old and decrepit, that it is worst than useless. Because of this very few tourists travel independently here; tourism in the north is almost entirely run by big tour operators and exclusive, expensive, tourist lodges. Only a very small percentage of the local population benefit from this kind of tourism in any way. Often they are actually penalised by it as the wildlife reserves have taken over the best grazing land and the best water sources (the springs in Shaba are a good example). The north of Kenya has just been through one of the worst droughts in living memory. Large numbers of the livestock that people depend upon have died; many are left without a single animal. The young men who used to look after the animals now have nothing to do, except watch as the women of the family wait in line for hours for food aid from a foreign charity.
For many people living near Shaba the only active interventions by the government in the last two years of drought have been the security operations carried out in the area. On the ground these translate as squads of armed police arriving in villages looking for illegal guns and there are regular reports from local communities of beatings, rape and even extra judicial killings. Despite all this there has been no end to violent livestock theft and many have had their last few surviving animals stolen from them by armed raiders.
I don’t think that the men involved in the shooting will have any comprehension or concern about the damage they have done to an industry that has no noticeable benefit to them or their community. It has often been said (but it is rarely successfully implemented) that if you want people to support wildlife conservation and tourism in northern Kenya it is essential that they benefit from it in some way. It is not enough that one or two people from a community get employed in the local tourist lodge, or that occasionally visitors to the national park donate money to a local school. This has negligible impact on most peoples lives. The north needs the kind of basic infrastructure that most Kenyans take for granted so that the people here can start to develop businesses and industries of their own. Only then will they feel any concern about what such incidents will have on the economy of the country.