Transformations, Changes, and Continuities in Conservation Governance:
A Case Study of Wildlife Conservation in Kenya, 1980–2016
JEREMIAH O. ASAKA
Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, United States
ABSTRACT Global conservation policy and governance has undergone signiﬁcant changes since the publication of
World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development. The strategy sought to integrate
conservation and development deviating from the practice under fortress conservation, which considers the two con-
cepts incompatible. What has this signiﬁcant shift in approach meant for conservation governance at lower levels (i.e.,
national and sub-national) of governance? This article explores this question in the context of wildlife conservation in
Kenya. The article is premised on ﬁeld data collected in the country during the months of June, July, and August 2016
using mixed methods: key informant interview, household survey, and document review. It documents transformation,
change, and continuity in conservation governance in Kenya during 1980–2016. The article also identiﬁes three emerg-
ing concerns that hinder sustainable wildlife conservation in Kenya: elitism, green grabbing, and donor-dependency.
Fortress conservation is a protectionist and state-centric
conservation model, which considers creation of pro-
tected areas (PAs) as the best means of conserving biodi-
versity because PAs allow ecosystems to function in iso-
lation from human disturbance . It assumes that com-
munities near and around conservation areas “use natural
resources in irrational and destructive ways, and as a result
cause biodiversity loss and environmental degradation”
. While fortress conservation is still being practiced
across the globe , its dominance has waned over the
years with the rise of alternative conservation strategies.
The decline in fortress conservation’s dominance can be
attributed, in part, to the international conservation com-
munity’s recognition of the failures of fortress conserva-
tion and the community’s willingness to explore alterna-
tive strategies . The problem of fortress conservation
can be considered from, at least, two perspectives. First,
its evident inability to curb and/or reverse global biodi-
versity loss attributable, in part, to the fact that in places
like Kenya “most (about –) of the national terres-
trial wildlife populations occur in the human modified
rangelands outside the protected areas” . Second, its
exclusionary nature produces negative socio-economic
and political impacts such as loss of ancestral land, dis-
placement, evictions, extra judicial killings, and margin-
alization in conservation policy and/or governance
decision-making process, which disproportionately affect
indigenous peoples and/or native conservation area com-
These realities of fortress conservation informed the
development and publication of World Conservation
Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable
Development hereafter referred to as first world conserva-
tion strategy . The strategy sought to guide conser-
vation theory and practice onto a “new” and sustainable
path. It identifies the main obstacles to achieving conser-
vation as being “the belief that living resource conserva-
tion is a limited sector,” “the consequent failure to inte-
grate conservation with development,” “a development
process that is often inflexible and needlessly destructive,”
and “the failure to deliver conservation-based develop-
ment where it is most needed, notably rural areas of devel-
oping countries” . Since the strategy’s publication in
, change and continuity have been central features
of global conservation policy and governance [, ].
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Global conservation policy and governance literature
points to changing trends, which can be grouped into four
broad categories: integrated conservation and develop-
ment [, ], human rights-based conservation [, ,
], militarized conservation [–], and market-
oriented conservation [–].
This article is an exploration of how these global trends
play out at a local level and their implications for how
wildlife conservation is governed at that level. It is a case
study of wildlife conservation in Kenya since the first
world conservation strategy. A case study is an investi-
gation of real-life phenomenon/phenomena “through
detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events
or conditions, and their relationship” . Being the host
of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
headquarters, Kenya was purposefully chosen because of
her global significance in environmental governance .
Background Information on Wildlife Conservation
Kenya is a former British colony . Conservation as a
global concern can be traced back at least to the colonial
era. As Adams and Mulligan  point out, “by the th
century, ideas about nature, whether as an economic
resource that needed conserving and exploiting, or as a
precious reservoir of unchanged wilderness, were an
important element in colonial ideology, at home and
abroad” (p. ). Therefore, it follows that conservation as
ism . However, conservation as a local concern in the
country predates European colonialism . Prior to col-
onization, relations between society and environment var-
ied significantly from region to region depending upon
the socio-economic and political system(s) of the ethnic
group that occupied a particular region of what is today
Kenya. Wamicha and Mwanje  note that, “during the
pre-colonial era, resource management in the interior of
Kenya depended very much on whether a group was agrar-
left large tracts of land for resource management purposes,
whose disruption constituted a major environmental
problem in Kenya” (p. ).
The country’s first wildlife laws, institutions, and game
reserves/parks were created during the colonial period.
For example, a Game Department was established in
to enforce wildlife laws and manage the reserves/parks.
But the colonial government also oversaw massive appro-
priation of indigenous peoples’ lands and destruction of
native wildlife. As Waithaka  points out, “in the years
leading to World War I, large tracts of land were allocated
to European settlers who began to decimate wildlife pop-
farming” (p. ). While the colonists grabbed land in agri-
culturally high potential areas, their colonial government
forced natives into reserves that were primarily located
in agriculturally low potential areas. This completely dis-
torted the natives’ pre-colonial natural resources gover-
nance regimes with far-reaching implications both for
people and the environment. Moreover, a vermin policy
imposed by the colonial government had such a devastat-
ing effect on Kenya’s wildlife. In this regard, others have
argued that the Game Department of the colonial govern-
ment spent most of its “time killing wildlife than protect-
ing it” ( p. ). The colonial era essentially alienated
the natives from the lands and wildlife resources they had
depended on for generations. And as some have shown,
alienation of natives, particularly those who share land
with wildlife persisted well into the s .
Following independence, wildlife management fell
under several different administrative units: Game
Department in charge of wildlife found outside PAs;
National Parks Board in charge of running the National
Parks; and County Councils—under Ministry of Local
Government—in charge of national reserves . A game
warden seconded by the Game Department administered
National Reserves. In , through sessional paper no.
of entitled Statement on Future Wildlife Manage-
ment Policy in Kenya, the government sought to further
centralize the management of the country’s wildlife under
a Wildlife Service. The sessional paper states, in part, “this
centralization of responsibility will permit more flexible
management of wildlife, particularly in those extensive
areas, which are integral components of the ecological
units, which contain National Parks and County Council
Game Reserves” . In , the creation of Wildlife
Conservation and Management Department (WCMD)
with Game Department, thereby effectively entrenching
centralized management of wildlife conservation in Kenya
as noted below:
The merging of two departments into one government
department had the effect of increasing centralization,
2CASE STUDIES IN THE ENVIRONMENT 2019
especially since the reporting structure was vertical
rather than horizontal, and control lay effectively with
the minister and the permanent secretary .
Shortcomings of centralization notwithstanding, it was
not until when Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) was
established that decentralization became a reality in the
country’s wildlife sector . Furthermore, the promulga-
tion of a new constitution in introduced a devolved
system of government , which has significantly altered
how the country governs its natural resources including
It is against such a backdrop that I set out here to doc-
ument transformation, change, and continuity in conser-
vation governance in Kenya. The case analysis is part of
a larger study focused on understanding transformations
in conservation governance and implications for human
security . It is guided by the following broad question:
How has conservation governance changed in Kenya since
? The article also briefly explores implications of
change and continuity for conservation and security
aspect of human well-being .1
CONCEPTUALIZING CONSERVATION GOVERNANCE.Gover-
nance is distinct from management. Management is con-
well as “the means and actions to achieve such objectives,”
while governance is about “who decides what the objec-
how those decisions are taken, who holds power, authority
and responsibility, and who is (or should be) held account-
able” ( p. ). In the context of this article, conserva-
tion is understood as a socio-political process. Therefore,
conservation governance refers to the many ways that con-
servation actors go about establishing norms, rules, reg-
ulation, and institutions that determine how wildlife is
safeguarded for ecological integrity and human well-being
Governance literature points to at least three gover-
nance types: non-collaborative, collaborative, and net-
worked [–]. As its name suggests, non-collaborative
governance is an individual actor affair. Collaborative and
networked governance involve at least two actors govern-
ing together. The main distinction between networked
. For a detailed discussion on aspects of human well-being, refer to .
and collaborative forms of governance is that the latter
must involve state and non-state actors  while either
one or both actor types can suffice under the former. In
other words, networked governance may involve a single
actor type, whereas collaborative governance must at least
involve the two main actor types—state and non-state.
Two important assumptions underpin this case analysis
with respect to governance: there exists both intercon-
nectedness and interdependence between actors at the
international level  and norms diffuse within the
international system [, ]. In other words, Kenya is pre-
disposed to the influence of international norms.
CONTINUITY.The following four points are true about
fortress conservation: state is the primary governance
decision-making authority, state-sanctioned PAs are the
primary means of wildlife conservation, peo-
ple—particularly indigenous people—are considered a
threat to biodiversity, and science is the primary source
of conservation knowledge. From these truths, I deduce
three characteristics of fortress conservation: state-centric;
scientific; and exclusionary. Borrowing from Rosenau’s
conceptualization of change and continuity , these
characteristics form the basis of this case analysis and are
framed as actor, knowledge, and approach parameters,
respectively. Change is understood as a shift—qualitative
or quantitative or both—that modifies a parameter but
does not alter it significantly. For instance, a shift from PA
management by national government to local government
constitutes a change in the actor parameter. Transforma-
a shift from institutionalized exclusion of indigenous peo-
ple in conservation governance to institutionalized inclu-
sion of the same in conservation governance constitutes
transformation of both actor and approach parameters.
Continuity simply means absence of change and/or trans-
formation (Figure ).
methods: key informant interviews, household survey, and
document review. I mixed methods using a concurrent
embedded strategy to gain a broader perspective . Key
informant interview and document review served as pri-
mary methods, whereas household survey served as sec-
ondary method. Key informants were purposively selected
from people inside and outside government at national
Change and Continuity in Conservation Governance 3
FIGURE 1. Transformation, change, and continuity conceptual
and local levels. A total of key informants were inter-
viewed. I collected a total of documents for review
from governmental and non-governmental entities at
national and local levels.
Household survey was conducted in Kalama area of
Samburu County, Kenya. Kalama is part of Gir Gir Group
Ranch, which covers a total area of , hectares and
is home to about , people. It is also home to Kalama
community wildlife conservancy. Participants were
selected using random sampling . A group ranch
membership list2served as the sampling frame. Each name
on the list was taken to represent a single household. I
used research randomizer tool (www.randomizer.org) to
get a random sample of households from a total num-
ber of . First, I randomly generated unique numbers
within the range of – sorted from least to greatest.
Then, I used those unique numbers to select corre-
sponding households from the list of . In all, house-
holds responded to the survey (n = ).
DATA ANALYSES.Qualitative analysis involved four
stages: initial coding, which mainly entailed assigning
interviewees a coded name (key informant ) in accor-
dance with the study’s Institutional Review Board (IRB)
and National Commission for Science, Technology, and
Innovation (NACOSTI)3approval guidelines;
researcher familiarization with the content of each
dataset, that is, interviews, documents, and field notes;
first cycle of analytical coding involved using a priori
. The membership list is updated periodically, but not frequently. The
list used for this case study was last updated on March , .
. NACOSTI is Kenya’s IRB equivalent. This study has both IRB and
codes (e.g., actor, approach, knowledge, transformation,
change, and continuity) to thematically code the data
; finally, second cycle of coding involved uncovering
common patterns within the data either through re-
coding using existing codes, grouping and/or regrouping
existing codes, and/or coding the data afresh using com-
pletely new codes (including in vivo coding). Nvivo
helped with transcription of audio-recorded interviews
as well as grouping and regrouping of codes. Quantita-
tive analysis involved three steps. First, I manually coded
the data using three numeric codes: (agree), (dis-
agree), and (not applicable). Second, I manually
entered the coded data into an Excel spreadsheet. Third,
I used Excel to calculate and visualize percentages for
each response category.
Findings and Discussion
a) Transformation in actor parameter
There are at least two transformations in the
actor parameter: First, community is now rec-
ognized as one of the non-state actors in the
country’s evolving conservation governance
architecture. For example, Kalama community
has governance decision-making authority
over Kalama conservancy; and Second, emer-
gence and rise of networked actors. Examples
of networked actors include the following:
Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association
(KWCA) established in as a network of
all community and individual (private) actors,
County Wildlife Conservation and Compen-
sation Committee (CWCCC) established
under the Wildlife Act of as a network
of state and non-state actors, and Conserva-
tion Alliance of Kenya (CAK) that initially
started as a network of conservation non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) in
b) Change in actor parameter
Change in actor parameter has two dimensions:
qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative change
is reflected in the shift from WCMD to KWS.
Quantitative change is reflected in the prolif-
eration of actors particularly non-state actors
4CASE STUDIES IN THE ENVIRONMENT 2019
TABLE 1. Change in actors over time
Period 1980s 1990s 2000s
State State State
Private (entities and/or individuals) Private (entities and/or
Private (entities and/or individuals)
c) Continuity in actor parameter
actors are representative of continuity through-
out the study period. The article further estab-
lishes that NGOs  4have a history of influ-
encing conservation practice in Kenya, but not
necessarily as conservation governance actors
(at least not prior to the s onwards) as
Past experience of wildlife extension in
Kenya is mainly from NGO projects. These
have demonstrated approaches, and by
drawing on this expertise, KWS has been
able to develop its own approach to wildlife
extension appropriate for different land cat-
egories—Annex of KWS’s –
a) Transformation in approach parameter
Transformation in approach parameter is pri-
marily reflected in the emergence of collabora-
tive governance initiatives. For example, the
CWCCC is a collaborative governance mecha-
nism involving state and non-state actors as the
following key informant observes,
The actual work of managing wildlife has
been devolved to the county through the
county wildlife conservation and compensa-
tion committees, which is interesting because
it is sort of a partnership between the commu-
nity, county government and national govern-
ment. And then the Act [wildlife law] allows
the committee to invite others. That’s where
. For in-depth analysis of State-NGO relations in Kenya, refer to .
the NGOs can come in.—Key informant ,
August , .
b) Change in approach parameter
Change in the approach parameter is reflected
to decentralization/devolution of wildlife man-
agement in the country. Second, a shift from
non-militarized to militarized community-
based conservation. Analyses of field data estab-
lish that some community conservancies
employ military-like tactics to provide wildlife
security. The country’s wildlife law permits
community conservancies to establish
community-scouting units (not armed ranger
force) for purposes of wildlife surveillance and
control. In part, article of the law states
that “the President may, through the Inspector-
General of the National Police Service, make
available to the uniformed and disciplined offi-
cers of [Kenya Wildlife] Service such firearms
as may be necessary for it to carry out its func-
tions” . The law further states that KWS
“shall coordinate and control all wildlife secu-
rity issues in all national parks, national
reserves, wildlife conservancies and sanctuaries
in collaboration with other law enforcement
agencies, counties and community wildlife
scouts” ( p. ). Nevertheless, Kalama
conservancy—much like other conservancies
in the country’s northern rangelands—has
effectively militarized by establishing an armed
ranger force in collaboration with National
Police Service as noted below:
. . . the conservancy recruits national police
reservists into its ranger force. But the
Change and Continuity in Conservation Governance 5
reservists remain part of the police service.
Authority is one. There’s no alternative
chain of command. The guns are the same
ones the police use. The police use G rifles
and that’s the same one we use.—Key infor-
mant , June , .
c) Continuity in approach parameter
Continuity in approach parameter is reflected
in PAs. Even community conservancies have
adopted the PA concept with implications for
people and wildlife as noted below:
The community conservancy land-zoning
scheme is skewed towards developing
tourism. People can only settle in certain
areas. And this is what creates the difficult
imbalance situation we see now [in refer-
ence to resource-related conflict in the
northern rangelands]—Key informant ,
July , .
Analysis of household survey responses corroborates
the foregoing (Figure ). Survey participants were asked
because of conservancy livestock grazing restrictions. A
significant percentage () of them reported having
lost access to grazing land.
KNOWLEDGE PARAMETER.Globally, scientific knowledge
continues to dominate as the system of knowledge upon
which mainstream wildlife conservation theory and prac-
tice is based. Analyses of field data establish that the same
is true for Kenya. For example, throughout the fieldwork
period, it was apparent that community conservancies are
serving as conduits through which international conser-
vation NGOs (e.g., IUCN and the Nature Conservancy)
promote conservation practices that are deeply rooted in
Western science. In other words, indigenous knowledge
continues to play a subordinate role, if any, relative to sci-
entific knowledge in the governance and/or management
of wildlife conservation in Kenya.
Emerging Concerns Hindering Sustainable Wildlife
Conservation in Kenya
This applies across board (i.e., nationally), but
because of page limitation this discussion is
FIGURE 2. EectofPAsonaccesstocommunitygrazing
land. “Agree” denotes the proportion of livestock-owning
households that reported loss of access to their grazing land
occasioned by the introduction of conservancy livestock
grazing restrictions, “disagree” denotes the proportion of
livestock-owning households that reported no loss of access to
grazing land under similar conditions, and “N/A” represents
the proportion of households to which the conservancy
livestock grazing restrictions do not apply because they do not
Kenya. Elitism is a reality in community-based
conservation. At the community level, elite
comprise of a select group of elders and profes-
sionals. During fieldwork, I got to learn—from
observation and conversation (both formal
and informal)—that the main driving force of
the community-based conservation agenda is
not the community per se contrary to popular
belief that community-based conservation is
community-driven. Rather it is the elite (or a
section of elite) within a given community.
The rest of the community simply follows cue
from elites. In the case of Kalama conservancy,
Samburu gerontocracy coupled with low lit-
eracy levels among Samburu people has made
6CASE STUDIES IN THE ENVIRONMENT 2019
it possible for elitism to thrive. But Samburu
society is changing rapidly and an elite-driven
community-based conservation agenda is
essentially doomed in a future where majority
are educated and empowered enough to effec-
resources. The issue with elitism is that it
erodes community buy-in especially where
elite minority deprive non-elite majority of
opportunity to effectively engage in gover-
ii. Green grabbing
In the context of this article, green grabbing
refers to the appropriation of community land
for wildlife conservation purposes dispossessing
communities of their ancestral and livestock
grazing land or restricting community access to
the same. As shown in the previous section on
findings, community-based conservation in
Kenya has embraced the PA concept effectively
making community conservancy a mini-PA.
This has implications for livelihood security of
pastoralists (e.g., Samburu) whose survival is
dependent on an all year round unrestricted
access to pasture land and water. In Kenya’s
northern rangelands where the case study’s sub-
national level analysis is situated, elitism
arguably facilitates green grabbing. Because of
this, the region has witnessed a steady rise in
violent conflicts between herders and conserva-
tionists since the advent of community-based
conservation. In the recent past, such conflicts
have led to several human deaths and injuries,
destruction of property, and massive killing of
both livestock and wildlife . The future of
wildlife conservation is bleak under such cir-
Sustainability of wildlife conservation is a func-
tion of several factors including finance among
others. Wildlife conservation by its very nature
is an expensive venture. Document review and
key informant interviews reveal that Kenya’s
wildlife sector is part public-funded and part
donor-funded with United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) as the
lead donor. While KWS receives funding from
both government and donors, communities
engaging in wildlife conservation receive no
public funding making them almost exclusively
dependent on donors usually foreigners and/or
foreign-based entities. For instance, field data
analysis reveals that about of Kalama con-
servancy budget is donor-funded. Considering
that Kalama conservancy is a microcosm of the
larger picture, the foregoing does not reflect
positively on the sustainability of community-
based conservation in the country. In other
words, donor-dependency stands to jeopardize
the financial sustainability of Kenya’s wildlife
sector with far-reaching implications for people
That biodiversity is essential for human well-being is now
well established. This article adds to growing knowledge
on biodiversity and human well-being nexus. It documents
transformations, changes, and continuities in conservation
same for human well-being especially in the country’s
northern rangelands. For instance, it shows how commu-
nity conservancies’ adoption of PA model of wildlife con-
servation is depriving Samburu pastoralists’ of access to
their grazing land and contributing not only to livelihood
insecurity but also resource-based violent conflict in the
region. Finally, the article identifies and discusses elitism,
green grabbing, and donor-dependency as three factors
that hinder sustainable wildlife conservation in Kenya.
CASE STUDY QUESTIONS
. Distinguish between management and gover-
nance in the context of biodiversity conserva-
. Why might change and/or transformation in
conservation governance not necessarily be a
. Explore the link between the transformations,
changes, and continuities in conservation gov-
ernance documented in the article and
resource-based violent conflict in Kenya’s
Change and Continuity in Conservation Governance 7
. Discuss actual and potential socio-ecological
implications of militarization of community-
based conservation in Kenya.
. Working in groups of no more than five stu-
dents, discuss the challenges to sustainable
wildlife conservation in Kenya and suggest pos-
sible ways out of donor-dependency particu-
larly with regards to community-based
conservation in the country.
. Over of wildlife in Kenya is found outside
PAs. Do you think expanding PAs into com-
munity land is the best approach to address
declining wildlife numbers in the country?
Why or why not?
. Given what you know about the history of con-
servation governance in Kenya, what would
This article is an original contribution. The author is
solely responsible for any error(s) and/or omission(s).
Lenkaina for their assistance during fieldwork, and the
two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback.
Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship
(IGERT) fellowship grant number DGE .
The author has declared that no competing interests
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