Why The Westgate Tragedy Should be a Turning Point in our Natural Resource Nightmare

**On a personal note, I was extremely hesitant to post this. This has been not only a national tragedy with global ramifications, but it has been a personal one for so many families including many that I know. Through conversations with friends, with all of us trying to make sense of this madness, I have been asked repeatedly to write down my thoughts. Whilst, I am keenly aware that the timing of this post may seem controversial, my hope is that it will spur a conversation that leads to healing and importantly, proactive solutions to the underlying enablers of this tragedy. I will apologize in advance if the timing or conclusions are offensive. They are my opinions and I take sole responsibility for them.

Tsavo, Kenya

Sitting at the waterhole, I am watching the big bull elephants come quietly for a drink. They approach cautiously, emerging from the scrub of the surrounding woodland. Their skin is deeply furrowed by age and the tough tree branches, under which they have been hiding during the heat of the day, scrape along their sides with a leathery rasping sound. They are majestic and their ivory glints in the sun. However, the signs of war are never far. One old bull shows evidence of abscesses caused by bullets and arrowheads that have festered under his tough skin for several days, possibly weeks.  These bulls are wounded warriors, making their last stand here in Kenya. Kenya’s wild lands are a warzone right now, and on Saturday, the war was brought to our city in an excruciatingly painful way.

One hundred years ago, this same waterhole where I am standing was part of a warzone as well.  The British troops, with their puttees and pith helmets, fought the wily Germans in what must have been the most bizarre campaigns of the First World War. Both armies claimed vast swathes of land for themselves, and the suffering that the floundering new countries endured during that time is something we are beginning to feel today. What the hell were they fighting over in this part of the country?  Then as now, it was natural resources. One hundred years ago, it was land, and the power and influence that comes with control of natural resources. Now it is much the same.

Working on the “front lines” of this current war have been our wildlife, and forest agencies. They have been gallant, brave and received very few accolades for the incredible sacrifices they have made, including an astounding number of casualties. Sadly, we are collectively failing on many fronts. Overstretched and under-resourced, we have been fighting an unseen war for years. Moreover, we spend as much of our time fighting our own impotent systems and entrenched corruption, as fighting the enemy. We are failing to control vast parts of our country. You may be saying to yourself, “what the hell does this have to do with the Westgate tragedy”? Well, the simple truth is, everything.

Al Shabaab, the group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Westgate, have been operating well inside Kenya’s borders for some time now, but more often than not, in the ways we would not expect.  Yes, there have been repeated grenade attacks in Garissa and Nairobi, and abductions in Wajir. But the bulk of their impact has been unseen, until now.

One thing that we have overlooked in the general discourse about religious extremism, is that no matter how hard you pray, it is unlikely that God is going to send you MPESA payments that you can pay for bullets and grenades with. Extremists (of all religions and creeds) need revenue and to do so, at least in part, they look to the land where they are operating. They are often heavily involved in cartels, massive taxation drives, and organized crime, and Al-Shabab is no different. Worse still, in a very real sense, we Kenyans, have enabled them to operate with impunity for the most part.

 Just as the Taliban have used the poppy fields of Afghanistan, Al Shabaab are using our elephants and our trees, in the form of ivory and charcoal to underwrite their activities. They do this through a variety of indirect and some direct routes, including massive taxation and even direct trade.  The bullets that are used in attacks are purchased with that money, and yet resources such as charcoal are still under-regulated by our current systems. Suspects caught with ivory are given paltry fines and the payoff is worth the risk. In effect, they are using our own natural resources to kill us. And yet, most of us Kenyans have failed to see the linkages. We like cheap, unregulated charcoal for example. Why would we want it to be more regulated?

The thing about extremism is that without assets, it is hot air and a bit of hate speech, both bad enough in their own right, but not bloody sieges.  But when given access to a resource base that can be traded for influence, money and resources, extremism is incredibly dangerous. It is common knowledge that much of the revenue from the sale of poached ivory is finding its way back to Somalia, and into the hands of Al Shabaab.  This may be through familial links to crime syndicates or zakat taxataion. Even more directly, charcoal is acting as an equally and even more pervasive revenue stream. When the Kenya Defence Forces took Kismayo from Al Shabaab in 2012, they found as much as 4 million bags of charcoal waiting to be exported, estimated to be worth a staggering 25 million USD, a healthy chunk of change to anyone in the world, let alone a terrorist group, bent on annihilating us.

Worse still is that our leaders have been slow to see the link.  Thankfully, they are coming around but in some cases, some our leaders are still bent on their own personal interests, and are actually fighting against the regulation.  They cite non-existent rights to continue herding their cattle into our national parks, and by posing as herders, this gives room for unprecedented access to slaughter elephants as they are doing here in Tsavo.

Even after our wildlife agencies catch a suspect, our regulations for dealing with ivory traffickers are effete and impotent, and our charcoal regulations are even more so. In short, an overall lack of management of our core natural resources is creating a governance vacuum in areas that are well off the beaten track, leaving natural resources to be exploited by the worst possible people.

An encouraging trend is the recent action to strengthen the penal actions accorded to our courts’, strengthening their ability to imprison those involved in ivory trading. This is a positive trend and gives me hope that the links between the terrible events such as those at Westgate will be seen through the lens of what they are: a natural resource management problem coupled with the ferocity of extremist ideology.

I have no doubt that we as Kenyans will persevere, we will overcome and we will achieve the type of Kenya we all want. However, settling for the status quo again, as opposed to ensuring we don’t repeat this type of episode in our future, are two very different roads. We have a choice to make here. We must see that a critical part of that foundation is to find a way to bring governance to our natural resources, because if we don’t someone else will and the likelihood that they will use it against us, instead of for our collective benefit, is very high indeed. 

As we process through the mental and physical anguish that follows the Westgate tragedy, we will undoubtedly face the full array of human grieving and we must come out of that, prepared for positive actions. We must transform our collective pain, our collective anguish and bereavement into something that will crush the extremists. But it has to start with reforming our foundations. And by our foundations, I mean how we govern our collective natural resources, on which this country depends. If we are to grow as a nation it is important for us to look at ways which we can better govern ourselves and prevent the empowerment of extremists.  If we want to achieve goals like Vision 2030, let us realize that we need a foundation that treats natural resource management as paramount to overcoming this war. If not, all the oil in Turkana, all the gas off of our coast, every elephant and rhino in our parks and reserves, and every drop of water we have will not insulate us from this type of terror. Rather, it will attract it. I don’t say these things to take away from our anguish, but to inspire us to change the way we govern.


Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


Kenya at the polls: A precautionary tale

With the upcoming elections in Kenya, now less than a week away, many people in the region and indeed the world are watching, waiting with bated breath. Many pundits are predicting violence akin to that of the fiasco of the 2007-2008 Post-election Violence (PEV).  The purpose of this short post is two-fold: Firstly, I wanted to write a brief, precautionary tale based on my own experiences of the 2007-08 PEV and perhaps convey a lesson that we have hopefully learned.  Secondly, this is a very intentional “shot across the bow” of a small but extremely influential group of people whose careers have benefited massively from the last PEV.  I am not talking about the politicians this time.  Rather, I am speaking directly to the international journalists who will cover the current Kenyan exercise.

Kenya has long been a very key strategic ally for many European and North American countries.  This is clearly nothing new and I won’t drag on about this in this space, save to say, it is quite natural, and extremely mutually beneficial that the relationship between Kenya and many external countries, continues, uninterrupted by the passing politics of the day. That in itself is why the world is watching and why high-profile stringers from every major media outlet are also standing by, as self-proclaimed experts, to give their take on the current political climate.

Interestingly, Kenya’s leaders have been warned repeatedly, including by everyone from Obama to Ban Ki Moon, to choose peace, and renounce violence. Ominously, some envoys have even warned that if presidential aspirants Uhuru and Ruto are voted into the presidency, there will be consequences for Kenya’s international standing, based on their current indictments by the International Criminal Court.  This is expected and warranted.

The International Crisis Group has urged CSOs, the private sector, religious bodies etc. to preach peace, encouraging them to take very public stances against violence.  This is excellent and a commendable position.  Kenyans have responded to this and many people have taken very public stances indeed, culminating in a public commitment by the aspirants themselves to condemn violence associated with the polls.

But one thing has remained under-emphasized and that is the implicit and critical role of the media in this equation.  And by media, I am referring mostly to the international media outlets and their stringers in Kenya.

In 2007 and 2008, I was living in between Naivasha and Nairobi. Parts of each of these urban areas were considered among the most highly impacted of the political violence.  During the entire spate of violence, I spent my time, as did millions of other Kenyans, attempting to proceed with life, work, and love. In fact, the vast majority of Kenyans did proceed with life as normal because the violence was restricted to a relatively small area (less than a fraction of a percentile of Kenya’s total area).  I am not saying this to minimize the impact of the violence on individuals and some communities. I was a first – hand witness to several events, roadblocks etc. during this time. The violence was intense, ugly and nefarious.  However, it was spatially bounded, in explicit pockets, not uniform across the country. Moreover, it is the headlines from the international media that stuck with me the most: Kenyan Crisis WorsensScores dead in Kenya poll clashesDisputed Vote Plunges Kenya Into Bloodshed.  While these headlines and the subsequent media coverage, are not (spatially-speaking), inaccurate in that they were occurring within Kenya’s international boundaries, they are grossly misleading and sometimes even ridiculously speculative.  The fact is that Kenya, as a whole country, was not burning, not descending into bloodshed and chaos, not “blowing up in a cloud of widespread ethnic cleansing akin to Rwanda’s famous violence” as one reporter once told me.  There were pockets of intense violence and suffering as I have stated above.  These have left some deep scars on Kenya’s reputation and society. However, Kenya, as a whole was still functioning, with most Kenyans still pursuing life, and livelihoods despite chaos in pockets. 

Then came the travel bans and the associated paranoia of the international organizations.  The travel bans urged people to avoid Kenya completely. Never ever having been a target, many of the personnel that were evacuated from Kenya during this time, did so on the basis of the inaccurate media reporting that they were constantly being fed, creating an image and feeling that they themselves would somehow be targeted.  This was wholly inaccurate and not based on any verifiable fact. Unfortunately, the media did nothing to educate the wider audience that the violence was not engulfing every enclave of Kenya. The often-cited reason for not being more spatially explicit and specific about place names is that journalists do not feel their audiences will know where places like Kibera are. However, the role of a journalist is also the role of an educator, assisting audiences to be more informed about our world.  Surely, not everyone knew where Bhopal, Hiroshima or Sandy Hook were when those stories came to light?  We do know now, but surely we aren’t claiming that India is completely toxic, Japan radioactive or the entire US is at risk of being shot? Educating, not playing into our stereotypes, is one of the most important roles of media. Education about the spatial boundaries of the violence was only ever partially or inaccurately communicated to the audience and a lack of intensive scrutiny meant that journalists simply got away with it. Imagine if Boston evacuated because of the school shootings in Connecticut?  Imagine if every time a murder happened in Houston, people cancelled their business trips to Chicago?

The impact of inaccurate, imprecise reporting was felt most gruesomely in the tourism sector where cancellations, based on the international media’s claims that Kenya was burning, nearly collapsed the tourism market.  The Kenya Tourist Board estimate that 200,000 Kenyans are directly involved in the tourism industry and with an average family size of six, many millions more Kenyans depend directly on tourism revenues, not to mention the associated support industries.  During the 2007-2008 PEV, tourism numbers dropped catastrophically, with cancellations hitting an all-time high.   The sector showed -45% growth compared to an annual average of 9.8% growth in visitor numbers before the PEV. The economic impact was felt across all sectors of the country and with tourism as the second largest foreign income earner in the economy, GDP tumbled.

These impacts are directly attributable to international media reporting characterizing Kenya as a country descending into hell, a characterization which was grossly misleading.  I posit here that more Kenyans were negatively impacted by the inaccurate and exaggerated international media coverage, than were ever affected by the violence directly. 

You may be asking yourself why I am seemingly going after a free and fair press that gives a window in to the dark alleyways of Kenya’s politic process.  Here is the reasoning:  In all of the warnings and counter-warnings towards Kenya’s political elite, the religious leaders, civil society organizations etc., in the run-up to this current election, the media itself has never been warned to ensure that their stories are accurate and an appropriate appraisal of the actual facts.  Other independent analysts, including many of Kenya’s own political scientists are also noticing this and the message needs to be circulated.  My message to the international media is that they have a duty to ensure that the scope of their reporting is accurate to the time, the place and the extent of the impacts.  Exaggeration and misleading, speculative headlines are not the hallmark of the noble profession of journalism. Secondly, I encourage any one of my readers to get the verifiable facts, scrutinize the sound bites and news flashes you are hearing and if all else fails, call a Kenyan in Kenya and get an appraisal.  The calling rates have never been cheaper.  Or, as Uhuru believes, you can even use Skype.

In short, this is not a call for a boycott of the international media, nor is it an attack on the principles of a free-press. We all hope for a peaceful election process throughout Kenya. Indeed, the world needs Kenya, and Kenya needs the world.  However, I urge the international media to report that process accurately, fairly, and with relevant, verifiable facts.  I also ask international media outlets to refrain from speculation and drawing inaccurate, unfair conclusions lest they hurt more Kenyans than political violence ever could.  It is not only up to us to choose peace during this election; it is also up to us to make sure that that peace is reflected accurately.



Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Militarization of Natural Resource Management, Elephants, Rhinos and…Seals

The militarization of wildlife poachers and the subsequent response by the organizations charged with the management of protected areas is one of the clearest examples of the role on natural resource management in the underlying issues of security and human development.  It is no secret that current insecurity in Darfur, eastern DRC and Somalia for example, are both influenced by and fueled with financial resources from the direct consumptive utilization of mineral and more recently, ivory, rhino horn and even charcoal.  The Kenya Wildlife Service claims that the charcoal and ivory trade are fueling Al Shabab’s continued operations in eastern Kenya and enables their strangle hold on Kismayo, in southern Somalia.  Subsequently, the hunt for poachers and other purveyors of illegally extracted natural resources has intensified into a full military and para-military operation throughout eastern and southern Africa.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that these trends have been on a long steady increase since at least the 1980’s, but in recent years, the pressure has significantly intensified due to geo-political maneuvering and poor decision-making by bodies such as CITES who allowed a one-off sale of ivory in 2008 despite the protests of countries such as Kenya which warned of the reigniting of demand. This sale has been repeatedly cited as causing the renewed resurgence in demand for ivory, a contextual detail that matters.  In any natural resource grab, the path of least resistance, and therefore the path of least transactional costs, will be the one that is exploited first.

In Kenya, this is indeed a crisis which warrants a full-scale state response in the interest of Natural and inherently National security.   However, what is desperately needed is not a knee-jerk military reaction on the part of the national and international security and natural resource management community but rather, a detailed analysis of the drivers of conflict, and the responses to it, which should in turn guide our policy decisions towards a more long-term stabilization of natural resource management decisions, and consequently, national security here in East Africa.  The poaching crisis is a symptom, not the disease and the broader picture shows issues in the delivery of humanitarian aid, national development policy, maritime law and the governance of international waters, the management of grazing lands and the control of the border and immigration issues.  Like most complex management issues, the current crisis is a huge number of interrelated political and management issues.  Solutions must treat it as such and not try and narrow it down to a problem of “Somali poachers”.  Failure to take this systematic response will likely continue to entrench the status quo of half-baked approaches, which erode the natural capital of the region while we focus on chasing a few ivory poachers around an area the size of Western Europe.  Punitive actions always make us feel good.  They give us the façade of justice having been served.  However, the small vacuum created by “taking out a few poachers” will undoubtedly be filled quickly and long-term stability, the desired outcome, will be sadly unobtainable.

The transition to a broader approach has been advocated by a few and can be accomplished using common tools such as the DPSIR framework and many others.  However, a full situational analysis, accompanied by the development of both policy and legislative instruments in addition to strengthened enforcement mechanisms is desperately needed.  Unfortunately, all of what I have just discussed could possibly be overshadowed, if not completely lost on a few ‘meatheads’** (see discussion in the comments section) who lack understanding of basic pragmatism, cooperation, diplomacy and effective adaptive management, advocating instead for full scale military-based solutions.  We are currently experiencing the manifestation of those knee-jerk reactions here in Tsavo.

The current crisis has attracted some interesting characters, who often volunteer their time to assist.  Whilst volunteering one’s time and expertise is appreciated, it can sometimes do more harm than good, as contextual analysis is often quite shallow. Moreover, volunteers always have an expiry date, often leaving those that have hosted them in the lurch, picking up the pieces and repairing the damage.  A case in point is our current cohort of visitors, two former US Navy SEALs.

The two SEALs visiting us have come to ‘advise’ us on our security apparatus in an effort to bolster our current enforcement activities.  They are the most highly trained individuals imaginable, on many fronts and one cannot help but be a bit in awe of their physical presence. We all know that we need help as one of the greatest scrambles for natural resources is unfolding all around us.  However, ‘help’ is sometimes no help at all.  Anywhere else in the world these guys would be known as mercenaries but because they are from the US they are somehow referred to as ‘security consultants’.  Their presence has not gone unnoticed by our local staff, nor the Kenya Wildlife Service as their ‘advisory’ role has quickly been self-morphed into a more commandeering role.  This has caused obvious friction and some repulsion both internally in the management and externally, amongst the wider community. Whilst regaling us with their exploits in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other number of countries, “splattering brains and guts all over walls…” and “hacking down insurgents with our hatchets, splitting their skulls in half…” these gentlemen have come to epitomize the very things that make many people sick about American contemporary culture and war-mongering.  The bravado with which they extol their own exploits, the obvious solutions to our poaching problems which we clearly have never thought of, and the continual massaging of their own egos, does little to ensure the long-term proper management of natural resources in East Africa.  Moreover, this same bravado is the number one limiting factor in keeping their often excellent training and problem-solving awareness from being more widely accepted by those they are attempting to train.  These chaps are used to popping in to a country, removing or annihilating someone, and jetting back out.  Unfortunately, the ideas that is being conveyed, which are largely the ‘American way or the highway’ attitude, have been somewhat unappreciated in this part of Kenya mostly because they fail to see the loss of elephants and rhinos for what it really is…a failure to contain the situation in Somalia, and equally epic failure to apply diplomatic pressure on the markets in the Vietnam and China.  In short, for all of their good intentions, these guys are premium meatheads and cannot understand that a long-term systematic analysis of the drivers of commercial poaching, the general insecurity and the socio-economic forces underlying environmental degradation are just as key to the solution as “shooting every poacher in sight”.    This is problematic when the drivers of degradation in the environment are much more removed and insidious than a few poachers from Somalia.  Those drivers, and dealing with them at a policy and political level, are the key to ensuring long-term sustainable management of our East African landscapes.  In this case, a military solution may be needed in the immediate term, but a wholesale gang-war is not.  A long-term solution lays only in the realm of sensible policy and regular, systematic enforcement without the bravado of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now back to my two favourite SEALs…

I am a firm believer that we all have more in common than not.  I also am a firm believer that everyone has a few redeeming attributes. It is an interesting experience having a conversation with these two gentlemen, who for all of their bluster and bravado are quite congenial fellows.  They are normal guys with families who enjoy being out in the bush.  However, intensive situational analysis of the operating environment in which natural resource management decisions are made and enforced in East Africa, does not rank among their stronger skills sets. In fact, when I queried them about the greater context of influence on the poaching crisis, the underlying drivers, the market dynamics, the diplomatic and political channels that should be exploited, I was met with ‘hmmpf’ and the another zephyr of wisdom in the form of a one-liner:  “we are diplomats, humanitarians and warriors…”.   That quintessentially arrogant attitude manifested in the lines such as “we have the answers” (even after our rather shallow and paranoid analysis of the situation) and “if you guys would just fall in line and do what we say, we could take care of this problem” becomes rather unsettling the deeper into conversations that we get. This attitude also perpetuates the falsehood that stereotypical analysis and singular, militarized solutions to natural resource management issues will work for long-term sustainability.  There are far too many examples to count that prove this assertion painfully wrong.  Unfortunately, my two SEAL friends believe their own dogma far too religiously to see that larger picture. In fact, I don’t think I have actually ever met more brainwashed individuals outside of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious sects – which brings me to my final point about this entire situation.  Natural resource management is a science, not a religion.  Being a Navy SEAL is seemingly a religion, and battling the Taliban or Al Shabab or any other ideological enemy, is just another ‘religious war’.  However, real tangible long-term solutions to natural management issues are not bound in religious conviction (although they can be aided by those convictions) but rather in tangible, pragmatic, science-based solutions and policy interventions.   Until we get that right, our enforcement challenges will only grow, even with the help of the world’s finest warriors.


Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Discipline of Diligence

Our attention spans as humans seem to be getting shorter and shorter.  Some blame the Internet generation, video games and the touch-pad age.  Others blame a general apathy on our part to see the importance of following anything that is not immediately gratifying.  I tend to be an optimist.  Whatever the reason, following an issue or subject that we are passionate about, that is bigger than ourselves and that most likely, challenges and confounds our ability to find answers for, is a discipline.   There is an inherent importance in this day and age for actually paying attention to the same subject over a longer period of time.  With that said, I wanted to continue to follow and to update you, the reader, about any developments on the stories and subjects that I have written about so far.  I will start with the oldest story herein and move forward, chronologically and will likely post in several parts. 

The Machine Gun Preacher

The movie had mixed reviews in the box office. Many critics thought it was a bust but apparently it is being widely hailed among evangelical church groups as a brave testament, and sermon topic for the role that one man can have in saving people.  I still have not seen it and do not intend to.  However, a friend, who is an academic, encouraged me to see it and try and weigh the film and the idea through the academic lens.  I intend to do so, at some point.  In the meantime I have been awaiting the documentary that has been promised to show his questionable trip to Darfur.  To date, I have not been able to locate a copy.  I have repeatedly attempted to contact Sam Childers himself via his website, blog, his friends and his email address with no response to date.  I believe that constructive criticism is important and dialogue should be exercised accordingly.  He may in fact be able to dispel the rumours and my arguments and questions to his legitimacy.  I would welcome that.  However, so far, his silence tends to raise more questions about the legitimacy of many of his claims about his work in Sudan.  Alas, it seems that under legitimate questioning he is more likely to pawn it off as “persecution” for doing God’s will.

Southern Kordofan

Southern Kordofan, along with Blue Nile State and the Darfur states, continue to be subjected to the marginalization policies and violence of the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum.  This has intensified greatly since the South Sudanese seceded in July.  Continued attacks along the border regions in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State specifically have resulted in massive displacement into refugee camps just inside the new borders of South Sudan.   The NCP government has pursued civilians into these areas and continued aerial bombardment well within South Sudan’s territory.   The resultant displacement is a humanitarian disaster.  South Sudan’s recent decision to simply shut off the oil pipeline has only served to exacerbate the tensions.  The posturing by the new government in the South is expected.  However, the resistance and intolerance of the NCP’s actions in Sudan itself is growing as well, both by civilians and armed rebel groups.  In fact, this shared persecution is one of the uniting factors between rebel forces in each of the three states and a recent announcement of uniformity in their goals has sparked a renewed hope that the brutal regime’s continued crimes against their own people will come to and end. Khartoum’s response was as efficient and brutal as ever with the killing of Khalil Ibrahim, one of the rebel leaders and a former minister in the Government of Sudan.  However, with each passing day we are hopeful that the seeds of change sewn elsewhere in the world will begin to inspire ordinary citizens stand up to the NCP government of Omar Bashir.  In fact, residents of Nyala, South Darfur, where I once resided, displayed their discontent with the ruling NCP today in what can only be described as general civil disobedience in the town.  As expected, they were met with a categorical show of force by police, military and the infamous Abu Tira, all loyal to the NCP.  Undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead.

Unfortunately, the situation in neighbouring Southern Kordofan has gone from bad to worse with intensified bombing of civilian targets and a complete blockade of aid reaching the state.  There are now legitimate concerns that the NCP is laying siege to towns in order to ready themselves for a full on attack of both rebel and civilian targets, particularly in the Kauda Valley.   The resultant civilian casualties of a siege and subsequent attack are likely to be disastrous.  Already aid groups estimate that nearly half a million civilians are at risk of food insecurity in the coming months. Although plans for the African Union to negotiate access for aid, one wonders, diplomatically speaking, what will be sacrificed.  For example, will the support for the ICC warrant for the arrest Omar Bashir be dropped?

Citizen journalist Ryan Boyette continues to exemplify what it means to be committed to constructive action.  His professional, and extremely important work remains a valuable contribution to the mountain of evidence of the NCP’s atrocities, through his regular reporting from the front lines including heavy fighting:   

Ryan’s most recent report is as follows:

“On January 9th and 10th, 2012 there was heavy fighting between SAF and
SPLA-N forces in the village of Braum and Tess.  The SAF forces pushed their way to Braum in an offensive attack.  The SPLA-N forces repelled the attack and the SAF forces retreated back to Kadugli.

During the attack in Tess the SAF air force bombed the surrounding area
wounding and killing many civilians.  The exact number is unknown.  Although I have attached pictures of the wounded civilians.  The civilians were treated by the SPLA-N medic in a near by village.  There have also been reports of rape of women in Tess village by SAF soldiers.  Since SAF troops are still located near the road to Yida Refugee camp many civilians are scared to travel south to the refugee camp.”   

You can follow Ryan on Twitter at:

At this juncture I think it is important to tip our hats to two groups of people.  The first group is rather obvious; immense appreciation should be shown to all of the people assisting to bring aid to those displaced by the tensions and fighting.  Your diligence, devotion and sacrifices are appreciated.  Secondly, and more importantly still, I commend the ordinary Sudanese citizens who are participating in acts of civil disobedience in the northern towns and cities in order to show their own distaste for the current leadership.  Undoubtedly, you will need to be brave. 



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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


Update on The Price of Plunder

In the intervening days since Friday’s deadly events, some progress has been made in stabilizing Ijema Funan, the injured ranger.  Although his injuries are severe and likely to be a life-long disability, he is stable and in excellent hands in Nairobi.  For that I am intensely grateful. He will undergo multiple, lengthy and extensive surgeries to replace his shattered shoulder and repair the wound on his face.

Abdullahi Mohammed’s (aka Abdi) funeral was attended by many in the community, a testament to the loss and pride of the community of the role rangers play in protecting the local environment.  He will be sorely missed.

Additionally, in an excellent turn of events, two of the perpetrators have been captured in the nearby town of Mackinnon Road.  A full report of their capture is available here.  Their capture represents an important step in bringing justice to the families of Abdi and Ijema and the wider WW family.  Their arrest is also leading to a wealth of intel on other nefarious activities in the area, including the recovery of the assault rifle used the incident.

Thank you for your continued reading.  I will keep you updated. La Luta Continua


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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Price of Plunder

I write this post with sadness. As I am typing, one of my friends and former colleagues is in surgery in a Nairobi hospital, a round from an AK having ripped off half his face and a second round through his shoulder.  Another former colleague has just been buried in the red sands of Tsavo.  This is the human price of plunder. 

In the last two years, the massive escalation of elephant and rhino poaching in eastern and southern Africa has resulted in the emergence of powerful cartels which fund and control the wealth generated from the sale of the ivory and horn.   There are various theories as to where the money ends up with some experts claiming that the money funds Al-Shabab activities in nearby southern Somalia.  Others believe that there is at least complicity, if not full involvement, within the local government structures in order to allow for the massive scale of the current crisis.  The crisis that is emerging erodes the natural ecosystems on which Kenyans are intrinsically tied and on which forms the foundation for the future.

Often, brave men like my two friends are all that stand between the widespread plundering of the environment by powerful groups of criminals.  They have selflessly given their lives for that cause and will be remembered as heroes. 

In Paul Collier’s book, The Plundered Planet, he asserts that the developing world’s greatest asset is its natural capital.  Collier claims that the governance and management of natural assets can have one of two impacts: either to buoy the country towards a sustainable development path, or in the absence of regulation, result in the absolute plunder of the natural environment.  In the past, too often, the latter has been the case. Governance (regulation), technology and natural capital form the three main components of his argument.  A poignant reminder of this paradigm comes in the form of one of Collier’s simple equations: Nature + Technology – Regulation = Plunder.  I will write more on this at a later date. 

As one man’s family mourns him, and another man’s prays for his recovery, the plundering of the environment continues unabated.  If the environment is crucial to our development, and the foundation of our future, it is my hope that we soon come to realize that the price of plunder is ultimately a human one. 

Rest in peace brother.



Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


Follow-up to Canada, Kyoto and the Crisis of Climate in East Africa…

I came across this excellent video from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it.

When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts by : Yale Environment 360.

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


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