East Africa is home to a rich biodiversity of animals and plants, which brings immeasurable social and economic benefit to the people who reside in the region. At the same time, confrontations between humans and animals are on the rise, driven by changes in land use and competition for limited and diminishing natural resources like water.
Six of Kenya’s 47 administrative counties — Isiolo, Kajiado, Laikipia, Samburu, Taita Taveta and Wajir — are particularly affected by cases of human-wildlife conflict. The media rarely delves deeply into the issue and only occasionally reports on the news of an animal attack or a retaliatory slaughter.
Recognizing the need to improve media coverage of this issue, Internews’ Earth Journalism and Internews’ Africa team supported the Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET) with a media grant through the East Africa Wildlife Journalism project. From late 2021 and throughout 2022, the Network trained community-based reporters on how to effectively report on human-wildlife conflict.
KCOMNET is a non-profit organization founded by a voluntary group of individuals, media practitioners, NGOs and community media groups committed to supporting the promotion and development of community media in Kenya. The network consists of 420 journalists at 42 radio stations, working in 21 counties.
Most communities living near Kenya’s protected areas and conservancies are pastoralists and farmers, whose main source of information is local radio stations which broadcast in the local languages such as Maasai, Samburu, Kikuyu and Taita. Consequently, this initiative placed a special focus on radio journalism, both live and produced. It also included training workshops on the basics of human-wildlife conflict and the multi-stakeholder solutions being implemented to combat it, as well as opportunities for direct community engagement.
“Before we came in, community radio stations in wildlife-rich areas were providing general broadcast reportage on the incidences of human-wildlife conflicts,” said Moses Provabs, KCOMNET program manager.
“We realized there is a need to have a sustained media campaign to not only raise community awareness on the importance of wildlife and conservation, but also learn from locals on Indigenous means of conservation that worked for them while promoting a good working relationship with the authorities,” he added.
EJN, with support from USAID and the U.S. Department of the Interior, awarded a grant to KCOMNET to work with eight radio stations: Bus Radio in Kajiado County; Sauti ya Wanjiku in Laikipia County; Wajir Community Radio in Wajir County; Mwanedu FM in Taita Taveta; Mchungaji FM and Serian FM in Samburu County; and Baliti and Shahidi FM in Isiolo County.
The initiative kicked off in December 2021, with a virtual training of 32 journalists from the participating community radio stations. This was followed by a refresher workshop which was held on August 17–31, 2022.
“The training was comprehensive and informative,” said Halima Kahiye from Wajir Community Radio. “I acquired relevant knowledge useful in planning and conducting a productive training session for my colleagues.”
By November 22, the participating radio stations had produced nine audio dramas to illustrate the issue of human-wildlife conflict. These were accompanied by live talk shows, in which Kenya Wildlife Service officials answered questions posed by local residents, including why compensation for losses and damage caused by wildlife are frequently slow to come, if at all.
The lack of compensation took “center stage” at subsequent public forums, organized by the radio stations, which gave the community a chance to directly engage with authorities and other conservation stakeholders, said KCOMNET’s Provabs. Following these activities, KCOMNET ran a survey with the station managers to gauge the impact of the overall initiative. Most said that initially it was difficult to get Kenya Wildlife Service and county government officials to comment or be interviewed on human-wildlife conflict. Their mindset appeared to change over the course of the project.
“Today, “Wajir County officials ask for free airtime to talk to listeners on matters of human wildlife conflict and conservation,” shared Kahiye.
Participants said they benefited in other ways from the initiative. “I loved interacting with my colleagues, sharing experiences, and learning new things concerning the line of our work,” said Naiserian Laibuta from Radio Mchungaj. “The network we have formed will go a long way in fostering long working relationships.”
More can be done, however, to continue to improve journalism on the clashes between people and animals.
“Human-wildlife conflict is a thorny issue; it is as cyclical and perennial as the northern-eastern pastures, especially exacerbated by drought, like is being experienced now,” said Kiundu Waweru, project manager for EJN’s East Africa project. “Our work with KCOMNET was unique as it not only empowered journalists with knowledge and skills, but also interacted and engaged the local communities directly.
“In as much as we have seen impact on the ground, this work, just like the issue of human-wildlife conflict, needs recurring support to ensure sustainability.”
Banner image: A wildlife official discussing human wildlife conflict on community radio / Credit: Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET).