Is the Freedom of Speech in Kenya being trampled upon by Kenya Wildlife Service’s Director General?


(Posted 20th February 2020)

Paula Kahumbu speaks out on her ordeal:

Some of you may have noticed that robot accounts are attacking me on my page – please do not respond to them. I am deleting and blocking them.

Listening to Richard Leakey last night he reminded the packed audience that freedom of speech is a basic right in Kenya. For this we should be grateful. He was not reminding me in particular, when he recalled days when he was beaten, whipped, burned, and thrown into cells for challenging the government as Kenya struggled with accepting democracy. Had we not spoken out and fought, Kenya would be quite different. We have democracy but things are far from perfect. He blamed the locust invasion on the collapse of the institution that should have been monitoring and addressing the emergence of locusts hoppers. The result is that millions of poor Kenyans are losing everything and vast areas are being sprayed with deadly chemicals with potential long term impacts to the health of people. He spoke of how corruption is killing Kenya and he called on the audience to let go of their fears, to speak up about the urgent need to address climate change and species extinctions. He said we should not be fearful of retaliation and intimidation. He is right, if more people spoke out, things could improve.

Many of you have privately messaged me asking if I am ok. I want to assure you all that I am fine and thank you all for your concern and generous offers of support.

The KWS letter that has been published online – wow! That was a surprise! It’s odd that I got it 17 years after it was apparently written. Very odd. I am looking into the claims and will address them. It has nothing to do with the issues that I raised regarding Hells Gate or being barred from Nairobi Park

The way that a state agency is handling the difference of views about how we use our parks – this is unfortunate and it is of great concern to many.

I have a belief that integrity matters. I live my life by it. Not everyone can abide by it. Integrity to me has nothing to do with morals, or right and wrong, good or bad. It’s about how things work, or don’t. A broken bicycle without a front wheel has no integrity. It simply cannot work properly. It is not bad, evil or mean. It just cannot work the way it’s supposed to, to it’s full potential, until it is completely fixed.

If you try to ride a broken bicycle it will be very very difficult, painful and slow. The chain will fall off, so might the rider.

Even a working bicycle breaks down from time to time. It could get a puncture. That’s normal. It can be fixed. Just like any problem we encounter we hit bumps, we fix them.

I feel like the way we are managing things in many sectors in Kenya are like our broken bicycle. It’s clattering along very slowly. I challenged the decision about hosting a music festival in a park on grounds of our norms and standards in Kenya and the reaction is quite eye opening. The powers that be do not want to hear the concerns nor address them. We could drop the issue or pursue it to save our parks. One does not need to be a genius to see how our collective failure to stand up for parks and wildlife has gone. Our protected areas are being used for purposes that they were not established for including roads, railways, dams, power generation, power transmission, and now music festivals.

You don’t need to look far to see how much damage these developments are causing. Our own statistics show how wildlife and people are directly affected.

I know it’s risky to stand up but I’m glad that so many people have urged me to do so. I used the mechanisms available to citizens, to challenge the Koroga Festival. A judge ruled against me (by the way, contrary to what the press are saying, his ruling does not mean he is right, he just disagreed with my argument). Most people do not want our parks turned into night clubs, rally tracks, theme parks or development zones. That’s normal and expected.

The impact of threats to wildlife is blindingly evident, Kenya’s wildlife is declining. Many species and habitats are not doing well which has been published widely in state reports and publications. Threats to wildlife affect our economy, reputation, jobs and national aspirations.

Efforts to address the view that our core areas, our parks should be fiercely protected, are being aggressively challenged in a surprising way. This is what we should all be concerned about.

I have dedicated the last 5 years of my life to educating the public through television series Wildlife Warriors the first of their kind in Africa (51% of Kenyans have watched it and it’s now running in 26 countries around Africa), and through regular articles in the press, as well as through education programs in schools, internships, and mentoring dozens of young Kenyans and Africans. The need for environmental literacy and consciousness, pride in our parks, wildlife and heritage is massive. I am just one of many others now entering this field. At WildlifeDirect we are inundated with requests for help to address challenges like pollution, deforestation, sand harvesting, poaching, illegal construction and so on. We have a team who man an Environmental Justice Desk and we advise and assist wherever possible.

It’s an exciting time for Kenya as we aspire to become the world super power of wildlife. The economic and job opportunities, for our communities, and our youth will be fabulous. I’m excited and very hopeful.

Why? Because I believe in people and I know that nature has powers to recover. Degraded areas can be rehabilitated, species can be reintroduced and rewilding is how wilderness is being reclaimed all around the world it’s expensive yes, we should not have to go that route if we just made the right decisions now. And our amazing children, in Wildlife Warrior Kids Clubs In schools across the nation get it. This is why I believe we can save our wildlife.

I hope that this dark issue and what looks like character assassination does not discourage anyone, but rather energizes and reinforces your and our convictions.

As I’ve said before, please do not use this issue to vent against individuals. This is not, and has never been, about individuals or personalities. This is about how we defend the integrity of our parks, our wildlife, our beloved nation and our heritage.

Every citizen of Kenya has a right and a duty to protect wildlife. Please visit the parks, support the national parks, reserves and the community managed Conservancies. Let them know when they are doing good work. They need you now more than ever.

Regardless of what trash is thrown against me, please be mature, focused and above all, have integrity. Only engage on relevant issues.

Years ago, a good friend and valued mentor warned me about how dirty attacks would become. Thank you HG for your solid counsel and continued guidance.

Thank you again to everyone who had stood by me in solidarity. This is our country, and it’s our wildlife. Let’s keep fighting for it.

I’d love to hear what you think and how you can help.


The story was covered by ATCNews with two past articles, the links of which are shown below for ease of access.

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