December 18th 2017

Society / Environment

Activists raise alarm as firm puts Mara Conservancy plots up for sale

The company, called Afrique Properties Limited, claims ownership of the plots it has put up for sale, but its relationship with the community that originally owned the land is unclear. "The title deed is clean and ready for transfers," the company says in the advertisement calling for interest from

By Jack Otwalanewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 23 Dec 2016 15:41 EAT

Wildebeest herds cross the Mara River during their annual migration.

A private company has called for bids for five-acre plots in the Mara North Conservancy, triggering concerns among environmental and land justice activists that the Maasai Mara ecosystem, reeling under pressure from increased human habitation and declining water resources, is about to be destroyed by further human settlement - worse this time around as the settlers would put up homes within the conserved area itself.

The company called Afrique Properties Limited claims ownership of the plots it has put up for sale, but its relationship with the community that originally owned the land is unclear. "The title deed is clean and ready for transfers," the company says in the advertisement calling for interest from purchasers. The ownership of the plots being sold for at least Sh20 million apiece is not settled, even though the conservancy claims substantial community participation.

Land ownership aside, environmental activists are concerned that opening up the land for human settlement will destroy the Mara ecosystem, which has faced challenges of water scarcity following the destruction of the Mau Forest Complex. While it is becoming the norm for big foundations and charities supporting wildlife conservation in Africa to establish human settlement and exclusive resort homes in conservancies, the Mara region faces grave environmental challenges that such settlements would only exacerbate rather than address, the activists say.

"The land has a total area of 134 acres. It has been subdivided into 7 equal parcels of 21.9 acres each," says an advert by the company that has been circulated in Kenya and internationally. The advertisement attaches an outline map of the total land on offer showing each parcel to be sold. The selling price is Sh4 million ($40,000) per acre and the minimum acreage for sale is five acres, meaning that buyers should be individuals capable of parting with at least Sh20 million.

The company says "The land is suitable for any tourist facilities and without any restriction. Resident animals include lions, zebra, buffalo, elephant, antelope, giraffe and there is a season river that runs across the land. It is a good area to conduct walking safaris and private game drives." This, in the opinion of activists, would open the area to settlement and negate the purpose of conservation.

Two activists, Timothy Nyarera Ongubo, an experienced teacher with an interest in environmentalism, and Tsominyazi wa Nganga, a writer, are planning a petition to stop the sale of the land. "Dividing and selling a big junk of land in the Conservancy to private developers who have have been allowed to do whatever they want on the land? Oh, NO!!. Those who care about our environment, our wildlife, our internationally known wildebeests migrations which is the mainstay of our tourism industry should resist this. The Narok County government also should not allow it," Mr Ongubo said in a Facebook post.

Like the more recognised Mara Conservancy, the Mara North Conservancy operates without state control. The two entities were created following an outcry from locals and environmental groups over the mismanagement of the Mara Triangle of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve by the Narok County Council and Trans Mara County Council. In the year 2000, the Mara Conservancy was established as a not-for-profit management company to manage the Triangle in collaboration with the Trans Mara County Council, which had been formed following the creation of the Trans Mara District from the giant Narok District.

A five-year management agreement was signed on May 25, 2001 and the Mara Conservancy started operations on June 12, 2001 as a public private sector partnership. Likewise, the 30,000 hectares Mara North Conservancy, another non-profit company, was created in January 2009 as a partnership between eleven member camps and over 800 Maasai landowners. "The aim is to create a best practice, world-class conservancy with long-term commitments to the environment, wildlife, and local communities," the organisation says on its website.

"To form the conservancy Mara North leased land from individual Maasai landowners. This marks the first time that these Maasai landowners have received substantial and direct income from wildlife. Together, MNC and the Maasai community are implementing sound land management policies including, controlled grazing, holistic management practices, low volume and low impact tourism, and community land-use plans", the organisation says.

The Conservancy says it is managed by a board of directors elected by the camp owners. Whether sub-dividing the land into five acre plots meets the criteria for the conservation is a point of contention for the activists. A local Maasai land rights activist told the Kenya Free Press: "These Conservancies were the product of mismanagement. Now that we have a county government, constitutionally mandated to manage community land in conjuction with the National Land Commission and serving the interests of Narok community, the land should revert to the community through the county government," said the activist.

Our efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful as the telephone contact in their advertisement was switched off. The Mara North Conservancy, however, denied that they were putting up plots for sale. "We do not know this company. May be they are on the edge of the conservancy but we don't know about their plots," said a spokesperson for the conservancy.

Jack is a business and society writer at the Kenya Free Press

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