THE NEW KWS IN ACTION
Those who have interacted with Kenya wildlife Service (KWS) staff in modern times can attest to their ebullience, pride and effervescence. It has not always been so according to KWS director Dr Julius Kipng’etich.
‘Times were when KWS staff reporting to work by matatus at the Nairobi headquarters would give their destination as the adjacent Lang’ata cemetery without blinking an eye lid, preferring to be identified with the silent dead instead of their employer,” reminisces an effusive Dr Kipngetich who has been on the saddle at the organization for the last eight years.
Reason? Staff morale was at its nadir due to disorganization, shameless fraud and lack of strategic structures that left them sapped of motivation. “Salaries were haphazard and the all important human resource neglected. Public image had suffered a terrible dent,” narrates the director.
The organization established through an act of parliament in 1989 had also suffered from political interference, poor governance, inadequate management systems and structures and low revenue occasioned by fraud, says Dr Kipng’etich. That was manifestly reflected in the big turn over of directors who by 2004 numbered 13 in 14 years.
Thus the core product of tourism, an activity that contributes 15% to the Gross domestic Product (GDP) was bleeding from the neglect it suffered by the time Dr Kipng’etich took over.
From yearly revenue of sh800 million, initial restructuring saw the revenue jump by sh300 million in just six months. Currently, KWS is raking in a yearly revenue in the region of Sh4.6 billion from sources such as streamlined entry fees into national parks the majority of which have been branded through renovation and rehabilitation of areas such as gates, staff houses, sewerage system, painting and the cutting of grass. The branding was a morale booster to staff while justifying the increase in entrance fees.
How was that achieved? Dr Kipng’etich says devolution and what he calls ‘satisfiers” or motivational factors played a big role. “We made sure that the organization’s hardware such as proper housing, good salaries and so on were in place but installed software such as team spirit, recognition and work incentives to enhance their motivation.
“In that direction, today, we have innovative brands such as daily communal staff tea break sessions in open courts other than offices, a director’s tea break session with staff every Friday, a quarter Kamukunji and organized internal competitions to further boost morale.
“We honour our heroic rangers who frequently put their lives at risk preventing wildlife crime on December 16 every year at a special monument erected for the purpose in Nairobi. Families and friends of departed heroes, 50 of whom have died in the course of duty since 1990 alone, attend the occasion. KWS employees, government agencies, conservationists and well-wishers also grace the occasion.
According to Dr Kipng’etich, it all started with a five year strategic plan in 2005 that among other things, focused on enhancing science for wild life management, information for institutional development and marketing for financial management. “Within the five year plan, we developed a mission statement that outlined the aim of the organization to conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife for posterity on a sustainable basis.
“The plan concentrated on institutional strengthening, especially creating order and discipline among a motivated workforce and designing structures, systems, processes and procedures to produce a more accountable and agile organization.
“It also is a clear organizational structure with clear job description, evaluation procedures and performance indicators so that employees knew what was expected of them.
Transformation has been immense not only in revenue, but in areas such as vehicles whose number rose from 90 in 2004 to 712 presently, majority of them distributed in the 26 national parks. 95 per cent of the vehicles are less than five years old to ensure efficiency. 16 planes patrol the national parks.
Benefits to the communities that coexist with wildlife rose phenomenally from Sh20 million in 2004 to sh250 million presently, says Dr Kipng’etich: “Our target is to pass 10 per cent of our income to the communities in the form of schools, health centres, water points and other communal benefits.
Dr Kipng’etich laments that law reforms so vital for the way forward has not moved much. ”We need deterrent laws in place that will treat environmental destruction of plants and animals with economic crimes because the environment is an important pillar in any country’s economy. It is a pity that existing laws categorize environmental destruction as a misdemeanor.
“ The envisaged law reforms have a provision for a regulator authority to coordinate the operations of KWS, private ranches, community and local authority conservationists such as the Maasai Mara with a view to ensuring that standards are maintained for the good of the tourism industry.
“The law will have a clause compelling any operator unable to run a protected area to cede the responsibility to KWS for a provisional take over.
“Once enacted, the law will separate players, leaving the KWS to run the national parks while the regulator oversees management matters.
For financial stability to cushion the organization from uneven income, Dr Kipng’etich says KWS plans to set up an endowment fund with an eventual target of U$100 million as principal. “Interest accrued is expected to be enough to cushion conservation during bad times,” says the director. He discloses that already, US$ 1millionn has been raised for the purpose.
Dr kipng’etich underscores the importance of the conservation industry of which wildlife is a key component as a major economic actor. “A total of 25 per cent of the country’s GDP comes from the industry of which 15 percent is from wildlife, five per cent from water and another 5 per cent from electricity, both hydro and geothermal. In fact, the conservation industry runs neck and neck with agriculture when it comes to contribution to the GDP.
“To fully harness such a critical resource left on a free path of decline, we made reforms and stabilization our entry point with a phased approach to implementing wide-ranging reforms through various strategic management tools and initiatives to drive conservation and tourism efforts in the 21st century.
The new KWS brand was developed. It articulated strategic points within the organization, containing a clear vision, mission and expression of core values to be implemented by all field stations, national parks and reserves to enable full participation by staff.
Dr Kipng’etich cites increasing human population and sophistication in crime as the greatest challenge to conservation but assures the nation and the world that Kenya’s wildlife is safe for posterity as demonstrated by the fact that KWS has registered a negligible loss of animals amidst a baby boom in some species such as elephants that have been growing by an average 1,000 per year.
“Whereas main competitor South Africa’s loss of its rhino population is moving to 250 since January, in spite of their immense wealth, Kenya so far has lost only four rhinos, three of them from private ranches, thanks to our superior infrastructure, vehicles and motivated rangers. We lost a total of 23 rhinos last year vis a vis South Africa’s 448.
Commenting on the tons of elephant tusks usually seized in Kenya, Dr Kipng’etich says the bulk of it comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and to some extent, Tanzania.
He says the 1.5 tons tons of tusks recently seized in Sri Lanka entered Kenya from DRC through Malaba. “After inspecting our X-rays, KWS alerted Sri Lankan authorities to inspect the suspect container.