Drama ensued at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters, Tsavo Conservation Area in Voi town after Taita-Taveta Governor John Mruttu led MPs and Members of County Assembly to lock down the offices in protest over massive influx of jumbo invasions in residents’ farms.
The Tuesday afternoon shocking incidence paralyzed activities at the busy Community Wildlife Services offices as the politicians streamed in vowing to eject KWS officers from the area.
The local leaders had just finished a stormy meeting at a hotel in the outskirts of Voi town where they agreed that locking down KWS offices and ejecting officials would trigger a solution to cases of human-wildlife conflict.
Speaking at the offices, governor Mruttu stated that elephants and other wild animals were wreaking havoc on farms in 15 out of the 20 wards in the county.
He said it was unacceptable that residents were suffering massive losses without hope of compensation. He stated that the county leadership did not see the need of the KWS offices in the region.
We have deliberated and decided that these offices should be closed down. They will remain closed until proper restructuring is done and competent officers brought here, he said.
Voi MP Jones Mlolwa and his Mwatate counterpart Andrew Mwadime said that elephants had become a menace adversely affecting learning in various institutions across the county.
All this time, the Assistant Director of Tsavo Conservation Area Robert Obrein stood pensively as politicians tore into the efforts by KWS to contain the jumbo menace. Ironically, a KWS chopper was circling in the skies after spending the entire morning hours driving back a herd of elephants back into the park.
A battalion of police officers arrived at the camp and stood watching the leaders’ engagements. Later, the politicians went and placed a padlock and a chain on the gate before leaving. Sagalla MCA Godwin Kilele threatened to mobilize the community to storm the offices should the gate be reopened.
These gates must remain closed unless people want us to mobilize thousands of residents to protest. We declare the offices closed, he said.
However, minutes after the departure of the politicians, Voi Deputy County Commissioner Khamasi Shivogo arrived and ordered the immediate reopening of the offices. He stated that no government office will remain closed. KWS rangers destroyed the padlock and reopened the gates.
Mr. Shivogo urged for sobriety stating that dialogue was the only workable way to resolve contentious issues. He warned against violence and said that leaders should exercise restraint in sensitive matters.
It is atrocious to close down a government office over whatever issues. If there are matters that need consultation and solution, dialogue is the only way out, he said. He pointed out that the public was complaining about some county offices yet no one had gone to close the offices down.
Mr. Shivogo said that the influx of jumbos in villages in the region was as a result of several projects including Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and the oil pipeline.
The SGR has interfered with the migratory routes for elephants which has forced them to stray into human settlement areas. Also, the traffic along Nairobi-Mombasa highway has tripled in the last five months making the elephants cautious of crossing the busy road back to the national park.
Speaking to KNA, Mr. Obrein stated that KWS were doing the best they could and had established several satellite camps with rangers to check the jumbo movement. He added that despite all those efforts, some local leaders were still not convinced.
It is extremely disturbing when a politician calls and insults you. As a government officer, I find it very disturbing to be subjected to insults by local politicians, he said.
In Monday’s KWS-led operation, over 35 elephants were driven back into the national park. The operation will continue until all stray elephants are driven away from human settlement areas.
By Wagema Mwangi