A well-meaning observation by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife Najib Balala on newer models of financing national parks has acquired a life of its own with some in conservation circles urging for the Rwandan way.
In Rwanda, a number of parks are managed by private entities.
This is coming at a time governments in East Africa are at a crossroads over raising between $90 billion to $225 billion to manage parks.
While Mr Balala has denied calling for the privatisation of national parks, he says just six or seven of the 58 national reserves and parks, generate 85 percent of revenue to the Kenya Wildlife Service.
“There are no plans to privatise or sell any parks. The sector is eyeing new investments and seeking to explore innovative business models that will not only ease entry into new markets, but also minimise on operating costs as part of the transformative agenda to revitalise the business due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic,” said Mr Balala.
He said the private sector already partners with the government to provide infrastructure, such as roads and facilities, such as restaurants, which are already being managed by the private sector.
Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA), which is opposed to privatisation as a means of raising funds to manage national parks, prefers a private-public partnership arrangement.
“We prefer a partnership, of the private sector providing a solution to enable you to raise more money, or carry out marketing for the game parks,” said Dickson ole Kaelo, chief executive, KWCA.
Such private-public partnership has been employed before to manage and raise funds for Kenyan national parks.
“Our calculations are that it takes $3 billion to $7 billion to maintain Africa’s national parks annually depending on the size. And if you take three per cent of the annual returns from the $90 billion to $225 billion you have enough money from the returns to support activities,” said Frederick Kumah, African Wildlife Foundation vice president in charge of external affairs.
“Privatisation needs to make us sustainable. It has to empower government capacity to be more effective, develop financial flow that is not entirely external, and one that allows linking up with local stakeholders to enable inclusive engagement in the management of these resources.”
Mr Kumah says AWF was equally pushing for the creation of a Pan-African conservation trust fund to the tune of $90 billion to $225 billion if the continent is to conserve its 8,552 parks.
Over 54 countries and international NGOs have backed the proposal, which is expected to be top on the agenda of the Africa Protected Areas Congress to be held in Kigali in March.
“We hope to launch the fund in Kigali in March. By then, we need to have some anchor donors We are talking to other partners like international NGOs who will put in some seed money to create momentum,” said Mr Kumah.
Parks are underfunded and this will be so for the next ten years. In this 2021/22 financial year, Kenya’s State Department of Tourism was allocated a paltry $200 million while the State Department for Wildlife got $74.5 million. Rwanda allocated $5.9 million to tourism and conservation management.