Personal Observation of Kenyan Ecotourism and Local Communities

On the University of Georgia Kenya Study Abroad Program (KSAP) led by Dr. Norm Thomson and Dr. Rose Jepkorir Chepyator-Thomson during Maymester 2003, we visited a Maasai homestead (boma) within Amboseli National Park on May 17, 2003. The boma contains one large extended family from the Loitokitok clan, and the head elder’s name is Olonguyana. We paid US$10 to receive cultural information, tour the boma, and buy jewelry and crafts from the people. Our tour guide was Wilson, the son of the chief. The people gave us a traditional Maasai greeting dance and song to welcome us into their boma. As we entered, the guide explained to us that their buildings were made of cow dung. He said they are pastoralist people, who herd goats and cattle for a living. The men herd and the women make jewelry for sale. Wilson led us into one of the huts and showed us the room where the husband and wife sleep and the room where the children sleep. Outside, some members of the boma created fire for us, and showed us some medicinal plants.

Case Study: Kerio Valley Ecotourism and Relationship to Local Communities

This section includes public, private, and expert opinions of the Kerio Valley region, which contains Rimoi NR and Lake Kamnarock NR. The interviewed people offer their perceptions of the possibility of tourism to the region and the impacts it would have upon the people who live within the valley. These discussions are offered by Joseph Nyongesa, a KWS Warden of Rimoi NR (public organization representative), John Williams, hotel operator (a private operator), and Tricia Colagiovanni, academic expert of Lake Kamnarock NR (scholar).

KWS Management of a National Reserve

The Rimoi National Reserve is situated in the western half of the Kerio Valley, on the side of the Keiyo District in Kenya. The Kerio River divides the Rimoi NR and the Lake Kamnarock NR. People inhabit both reserves. Joseph M. Nyongesa, (personal communication, May 27, 2003) the Warden of Rimoi NR, represents the Kenya Wildlife Service as a wildlife manager and administrator of the Uasin Gishu, Keiyo, and West Pokot districts, but focuses most of his time on managing the natural resources found in Rimoi NR. Nyongesa operates from Iten, Kenya, overlooking the Kerio Valley and Rimoi Reserve below and to the East.

As a KWS representative, Nyongesa says that his sole purpose is to provide maximum security to the animals and plants of the reserve. He manages animals, and maintains that he has no tie to the people of the area because that is the management job of the Keiyo County Council. However, if the people hurt the animals, then he will send the people to jail. Nyongesa believes that the human-wildlife conflict is the fault of humans. He says that there are 500 elephants in the reserve, and they do not bother the people. Elephants will trample people, however, when the people stab the animals with spears. Nyongesa says that the people poach elephants for meat and also kill them due to a competition for resources.

Nyongesa wants tourism to come to Rimoi NR, and the warden has several ideas about ways to exploit the area for tourism. However, according to Nyongesa, tourism to the reserve has been prevented by a lack of marketing, problems with government’s inaction, and the current community way of life. However, once marketing and the government allow for tourism to arrive to Rimoi, the KWS will educate the people about conservation and the benefits of tourism.

In order to initiate tourism to Rimoi NR, the region must attract investors who wish to develop the area and include the area in an established tourism circuit, according to Nyongesa. Hotels will only be possible by outside investors, the Warden claims. The Warden says he blames former leaders for not exploiting the area’s natural resources. He claims that it is the County Council’s responsibility to develop, advertise, and promote tourism. He is waiting for the Council to act, and once this occurs, the KWS will step in and work with the Council to bring in tourism. However, the County Council must decide first when to market tourism, because that is not the KWS’s job. Right now the KWS’s job is only to enforce the security of the animals, according to Nyongesa.

Where progress is concerned, the people who inhabit Rimoi NR fall behind, explains Nyongesa. He says that if they are not burning charcoal, they are just sitting idle. Although they struggle to survive and a new tarmac road allows access to other places, these people will still insist on living the way that they do. However, if you go to Maasai Mara or Samburu, the people live quite differently because of tourism. They have uplifted their lives, Nyongesa observes. Nyongesa says if the County Council starts building, then the KWS education of the local people will start too. The KWS will go to schools, go to homes, talk to students, talk to chiefs, and show people what others in Maasai Mara and Samburu are doing. Nyongesa wants to market the culture of the people in the reserve as in Amboseli NP. He says their villages are marketed so the people perform for tourists and collect money from them.

For now, Nyongesa hopes that tourism will come to the area. The local leaders have recently been gathering in Eldoret, a large town about an hour west from the valley, to discuss the issues of tourism and how to exploit the area. The only people from the valley who attend the meetings are those who have had schooling, but organizers leave out the non-schooled people. The educated people are positive about tourism, because they have seen it outside of this region, observes the Warden. But those who have not seen it are the people who start problems with the wildlife, and these people are why the warden has to enforce conservation laws to protect the wildlife.

Kerio View Restaurant and Hotel

John Williams (personal communication, May 22, 2003) is a native from the United Kingdom; however, he is a businessman who lives in Kenya. Williams runs a hotel, bar, and restaurant called Kerio View, which overlooks the Kerio Valley on the Keiyo side. Kerio View works mostly as a place where local business people and leaders can come to talk and relax; however, Williams is interested in bringing tourism to Kerio View by marketing the resources of the valley. John Williams and his Belgian friend Jean Paul created the idea of Kerio Valley. They had a deliberate policy to use people in the area for employment, because there could be a negative reaction from the population about white people drawing outside attention to the area. Williams always uses the locals so that they feel involved. Williams has hosted meetings at Kerio View with people from the Baringo district, Nairobi, and European investors to discuss proposals for preservation in the valley. Preservation and tourism need money, he claims, and he hopes that funds could come from the Europeans.

Williams spoke of how the people down in Kerio Valley feel about tourism, and suggested that their way of life at this time is not compatible with the business of tourism. However, he thinks that this attitude will change with the advent of tourism. He says that the educated people want tourism, but the people by the lake who have been asked to move out are very negative about it. He says these people were told long ago that they were losing their lands to reserves and tourism would compensate them, but they have not seen any advantages. Williams insists that the people have to see tourism as positive. According to Williams, local people in the valley will supply the materials and employment that are necessary for visitor demands. They will provide vegetables and meat to hotel operators, and they will be employed as tour guides. For now, however, the people do not have a business mindset.

Academic Scholar of the Area

Tricia Colagiovanni (personal communication, May 14, 2003) works for the United Nations’ Environment Program (UNEP) in the UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. As mentioned in the literature review, she wrote her master’s thesis about the relationships among the people, environment, and government in Lake Kamnarock NR in Kerio Valley.

After spending three months living with the local communities of Lake Kamnarock NR in 2001, Colagiovanni mentions that tourism changes the dynamics of a community. For example, in Maasai Mara, everyone tries to sell curios to tourists. In Kerio Valley, the people simply try to take care of visitors and do not see them as a way to make money. The scholar says that the people in the valley suffer greatly from the human-wildlife conflict. Four people were killed while she was there because the elephants were under environmental stress. They would come in the night and rip off people’s roofs, ruining their homes and property. The KWS does not do anything about this problem because it says that the people are not their responsibility. However, the Baringo District County Council has no contact with the local people, and Colagiovanni refers to them as politicians who are only concerned about money. They get all of their funding from revenues generated by other protected areas in their district such as Lake Bogoria NR. The people of the valley seek compensation for the government taking the lands in 1982 without their consent, but the County Council neglects that responsibility.

Personal Observation of Kerio Valley

On the KSAP program, the students hiked to the bottom of Kerio Valley on the Keiyo side and visited Kaptubei Primary School. Here the entire school came out to greet us, and we gave them books for their library and pens and pencils for their classrooms. The administration informed us that these children were working on their Keiyo tribe’s indigenous performances for a competition with other schools. The students performed their cultural dances and songs for us. The people thanked us for coming, and we informed them that we were very grateful for them to let us visit and also watch their performance.

Australian Ecotourism and Local Community Benefits

A look at ecotourism in Australia and its relationship to local community benefits forms the final component of the Findings section. This information includes a summary of government ecotourism policies that aim to benefit local communities, an illustration of the range of ecotourism opportunities for indigenous people, and a case example of an indigenous operated tour company named Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Tours.

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