Time for Restructuring to Address Conflicts in Kenyan Parks


To address the ultimate challenge of conflict management in Kenyan national parks, in 1994 KWS launched an independent review of human-wildlife conflict. The responses to this grassroots survey showed that for most rural Kenyans, living in proximity to wildlife is a painful and worsening experience. Yet most respondents said that, given an economic incentive to do so, they would willingly conserve.

The review, followed by studies on land use, wildlife utilization, tourism and the ideal legal framework for wildlife conservation, provided the elements of a new national wildlife policy that incorporates social as well as biological and economic concerns. The new policy has been approved by the KWS Board of Trustees and the Cabinet. The Board also has approved a draft wildlife bill that incorporates the redesigned policy and forwarded it to the government. Once the necessary national legislation is in place, KWS will be empowered to begin developing the economic incentives needed to make conservation beyond the parks a practical reality. KWS has already embarked on a radical restructuring programme to meet the challenge of facilitating local participation in conservation. The process began in December 1995, when a core group of KWS personnel from headquarters and the field participated in a strategic planning workshop. Their task was to take a long, hard look at the organization and revise its mission and goals in harmony with the new wildlife policy.

As they worked, the workshop participants realized that, to be effective, KWS’s internal structure needed to reflect and serve the needs of the three main goals of biodiversity conservation, partnerships and sustainable nature tourism that they had defined. They recommended restructuring, decentralizing and downsizing our extremely top-heavy organization to implement these newly defined goals.

The Strategic Planning Team, together with a cross-section of KWS staff and a consultant, eventually developed a seven-point change-management plan, which included:

  • restructuring the organization
  • initiating a culture-change programme,
  • enhancing financial management and reporting,
  • finalizing both a short-term and a five-year strategic plan,
  • initiating an overall communications programme,
  • redesigning procurement procedures and
  • co-ordinating action plans for the three goals

These seven project, approved by the KWS Board and its donors in January 1996, are to be undertaken and completed in two stages during an eighteen-month period that began in March 1996. A six-member Change Management Team (CMT) appointed by the Director is charged with coordinating the strategic plan.

Beginning in April, the Director, accompanied by members of the CMT, traveled all over the country to explain the need for the seven-point plan to KWS personnel in the field. By addressing staff members’ concerns early on- particularly those concerning restructuring and resulting retrenchment – the “road show”, as it was dubbed, aimed to demystify the process and enlist the help and enthusiasm of staff at every level.

Restructuring has centred around the creation of eight regions, each headed by a regional assistant director (RAD) selected through a highly competitive and open interview process. The regional structure will make it easier for KWS to address urgent conservation issues and locally integrate the key goals of biodiversity conservation, partnerships and tourism.

Headquarters has borne the brunt of the retrenchment programme. After careful job analysis and performance assessment, its 1,072 employees – more than a quarter of all KWS personnel – have been reduced to 566. Even with the introduction of a new market-oriented salary structure tied to performance-evaluation procedures, costs will be stabilized and then steadily reduced through prioritization and efficiency measures. Staffing levels now more accurately reflect the focus of the majority of KWS activity in the field. Headquarters staff increasingly will be dedicated to policy development and delivery of support services.

The work ahead will be centred around making sure the eight regions have the resources to work in a semi-autonomous fashion, developing strategic plans for each of Kenya’s 27 conservation areas in consultation with other agencies and stakeholders.

Culture change throughout the organization will continue to be a major focus of attention as KWS focuses on its three goals and adopts a customer-oriented, meritocratic culture needed to train or attract the most talented employees and deliver quality services.

Even though restructuring is not yet complete, we can feel proud of celebrating fifty years of national parks, confident that we are also facing the future. The birth of the Kimana Community Wildlife Sanctuary (See Page 15), Kenya’s first “park beyond parks”, is a bridge to that future. Other communities are taking similar steps to establish conservation programmes around the country.

If we nurture these initiatives, parks will no longer be the sole bastion of conservation fifty years from now. Instead, wildlife will be widespread, abundant and safe in the hands of its age-old custodians. The tourist industry will be more diverse and profitable as a result, especially to wananchi. Most important of all, tourism will be dominated by Kenyans eager to see their own wildlife. Our conservation efforts will then be truly national and self-sustaining.

Kenya is taking a bold, innovative step once again, and it will be keenly watched by the outside world. Our vision for the next 50 years will take daring and dedication, as did the creation of the national parks we will continue to celebrate. But having won support nationally and internationally, the time has come to win support locally. Wildlife cannot thrive, much less survive without it.

I am confident that the government and people of Kenya will meet the new conservation challenge and ensure that Africa’s lost tradition of co-existence with wildlife – on terms we can all live with – is restored.