Narok County security committee has waded into a land dispute between the Lemek Conservancy association members and a Wildlife conservation group that degenerated into a physical fight between wildlife rangers from the two warring sides, leaving several youths with injuries.
The chair of the committee and Narok County commissioner Isaac Masinde ordered the two groups fighting over a lease agreement to use dialogue, and mechanisms provided in solving disputes to solve their issues.
“A fight erupted between rangers of two conservation groups over parcels of land at the Lemek Conservancy, and instead of fighting physically they need to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to address their differences,” Masinde said.
At the end of last week, operations at the 1,7000-acre conservancy in Narok West were disrupted after a fight pitying the club-wielding wildlife rangers from the conservancy versus those from the Greater Mara Management Limited (GMM) a company fronted by the Maasai Mara Conservancies association to manage conservancies.
Police reports indicate that over seven wildlife rangers from both sides are nursing injuries and were rushed to different Hospitals in the area before they later filled out P3 forms at the Mulot Police station.
Incidents like this one, are becoming more common in a land dispute that has unfolded over the past five years pitting the MMWCA against a splinter group of land owners, protesting against the terms of land leasing among them coercing members to sign a 25-year land lease.
In an interview with K24 Digital, the Lemek Land Owner’s Association committee led by Joshua Naimodu (Chairman), David Yiale (Secretary), Phillip Tinga (Treasurer) and Musa Nampaso (Member) say the bond of contention is the lease agreement which they have refused to sign because of its terms and paltry Ksh28,400 monthly payments.
The committee said its members have refused to sign the long-term commitment to their continued involvement in wildlife conservation arguing they might change their minds during the period to venture into other economic activities and would be held back by the agreement.
“We the land owners of Lemek conservancy association members have reneged the 25yrs lease agreement with MMWCA and they are now using police, provincial administration to force it through our throats and sending goons to physically assault our people,” Nampaso said.
Nampaso added that in the agreement each land owner is set to receive Sh284 per acre monthly translating to the sh28,400 for the 100 acres each members have, but for the lease period, no land owner will have any access to his land and would not perform any economic activity or fencing it.
“How can we give our land to a group of elite brokers in the name of leasing land to a private company owned by 10 people? The lease is like taking away the rights and voice of land owners for 25-years,” Nampaso, who spoke on behalf of the land owners, said.
Nampaso said they would not lease their land but instead, MMWCA to pay them daily game fees, and vehicle parking fees per every tourist and vehicle that use their land for game drives and sleeping in hotels at the conservancy.
Up to 2019, a for-profit company, Seiya Limited, had managed MMWCA’s conservancies – Mara North and Naboisho. But the following year, the conservancies switched to a new internally formed, nonprofit entity-the Greater Mara Management Limited (GMM).
In June 2019, members of Naboisho Conservancy renewed their leases for a period of 25 years with MMWCA just like members of Mara North Conservancy and Olare Emotorogi Conservancy in efforts to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem through a network of protected areas for the prosperity of all.
Conservationists however argue if the protracted standoff persists, the wildlife successful conservation model – which has protected wildlife for decades – may be on the verge of crumbling.
“The MMWCA is arm-twisting us and duping land owners to sign the lease without giving us time to understand implications of the long-term lease, no public participation or consulting their families but they are dangling this donor funding to force us sign these leases,” Stephen Ole Koriata, the director of the Lemek Conservancy, said.