Kenya: How Malka Mari National Park in Mandera County Fell Into Neglect

On October 6, 1989, Malka Mari National Park was gazetted through Legal Notice No.338.

Since then no active management activities in conservation have taken place 31 years later.

Situated along the Dawa River on the Kenya-Ethiopia border, the park has become a hotbed for inter-clan clashes pitting the Garre and the Degodia clans in Mandera County.

The park is approximately 900 square kilometres in size and due to regular clan conflicts, it remains probably the least visited national park in the nation.

Malka Mari is mostly semi-arid bushland and scrubby grassland with riparian woodland along the river. There are plants in the park that are unique to the area but human settlement and activities have taken a toll on it.

SPECTACULAR LANDSCAPE

Despite the human settlement, the park is rich in flora and fauna with a spectacular landscape.

A few members of the cat family can still be sighted in the park.

Here you cannot miss to see the reticulated giraffes, lions, spotted hyenas, wild dogs, ostriches, cheetahs and leopards.

Other wild animals in the park include monkeys, baboons, foxes, zebras and several species of antelopes.

Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are also found in Malka Mari Park.

The idea to have a park in Mandera was conceived in 1974 as per the available records at the county offices.

The defunct local council was interested in conservation of the white rhino that formed part of the fauna then as indicated in the records.

Due to an increase in human activities at the park, the white rhino and some other animals have since become distinct at the park.

DEALING WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES

In 1989, Malka Mari was mapped then abandoned and local historians blame it on failure by the government to know how to deal with the local community.

"Those who were practicing crop farming along the river accepted to move out of mapped area. The government failed to set up a Kenya Wildlife Service camp in the area, leaving the park open," said Mr Hassan Adan, a local elder.

He says the park formed part of the migration route for elephants between Kenya and the Ethiopian highlands along Daua River.

"Elephants used to pass here heading to Ethiopia and back just like wildebeests crossing into Tanzania and back into Kenya at Maasai Mara," he said with nostalgia.

NAME'S ORIGIN

The name Malka Mari, derived from the Garre words "Malka" - meaning access point - and "Mari" - meaning a meeting point mostly for consultation, was given to this area by a prominent colonial chief Shaba Alio.

"The Garre and Degodia clans are always fighting over resources found in the park since the government has abandoned its responsibility of conserving and managing it," said Mr Adan.

During the colonial era, the British, while battling the Italians in Ethiopia, built several armouries in the area that still stand to date.

"We have several forts that still stand in the park reminding us of the British soldiers in Mandera," said Sheikh Matker the first councillor of Malka Mari (1974-1983).

Other sceneries in the park include ruins, landscapes, mountains, hills and river line vegetation.

PASTORAL COMMUNITY

According to residents, the national government failed to preserve the park after it realised that it was a challenge fencing off a huge chunk of land within a pastoral community.

"Communities returned into the park at around 1991 following a severe drought and this was the only place they could find pasture and water for their livestock," said Mr Maalim Issack, a local elder.

Since then, the Degodia and the Garre communities have settled in the park leading to unending clan skirmishes over ownership of the land.

The Degodia community resides at Malkamri centre and Hullow village while the Garre clan is found in Hardawa, Antharak, Malka Ruqa and Qarcho villages.

The villages cover 76 square kilometres of the park.

The park itself has since become a division and a ward.

SCHOOLS IN PARK

There are several schools, a health centre and a government administration office in the park at moment.

To save the park, on October 10, 2018, two environmental activists moved to court seeking to have it conserved by KWS and the Mandera County government.

Mr Ibrahim Mohamud Ibrahim and Abdi Dima Yakub petitioned KWS, the Cabinet secretaries for Wildlife and Tourism and Interior, Mandera County government and the Attorney-General.

The two asked the court to stop the respondents from undertaking any development activity within the park.

The Environment and Land Court sitting in Garissa issued injunctions restraining both the national and county governments from undertaking any projects in Malkmari National Park.

DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

Despite the court ruling, several development projects can be seen in the park including schools and houses for internally displaced persons.

Mr Yakub says they moved to court, accusing the respondents of neglecting the park, failure to manage, conserve or protect the ecosystem of the park thereby allowing members of Garre and Degodia communities to settle there.

The activists warned that the continued settlements posed serious environmental threats to the already fragile ecosystem and that it would lead to the extinction and death of wildlife in the park.

The Ministry of Interior was accused of building a police post and a chief's camp in park without carrying out an environmental impact assessment.

DISPUTES RESOLUTION MECHANISM

In response, KWS said the issues raised needed to be solved through the disputes resolution mechanism as spelled out in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013 but not in a court of law.

At the same time, the Mandera County government said the issues should be solved at the sub-county offices and not in court.

But in his ruling, Justice E. Cherono concluded that the applicants had demonstrated public interest in the matter, the constitutional values and proportional magnitude attributable to the cause.

"In the final analysis, I find merit in the said application and the same is hereby allowed as prayed," he ruled.

The matter being heard at the Garissa Environment and Land Court is nearing conclusion with the parties expected to submit their final submissions on July 23 before a judgment date is set.

LEFT PARK VOLUNTARY

Mr Adan Mohamed Abdinoor said he left the park voluntary in the 80s when the government informed him of the plan to conserve the area.

"I moved out of area leaving my farm. I am now settled in Rhamu but the farm I left behind has since been taken," he said.

He blamed the national government for allowing members of another clan to settle on his land.

"I am yet to believe that the government allowed some people from Ethiopia to settle in the park after asking us to leave. This has led to clan skirmishes between the Garre and the Degodia," he said.

Mr Sheikh Matker, a former councillor, also blamed the national government for the situation in Malka Mari Park.

"The national government asked people out of the park but allowed others to settle in and this has been the problem leading to clan clashes," he said.

Mr Izzidun Abdullahi, the county minister for Tourism, said for any development to be undertaken in the park, it will depend on the final court verdict.

"We plan to revive the park in collaboration with the national government but that shall be determined by the court judgment since we still have a live court case," he said.

The most important undertaking by the county government is educating the communities residing in the park on its importance in Mandera according to Mr Abdullahi..

"Our communities have first to understand the importance of the park before anything happens in Malka Mari," said Mr Abdullahi.

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