#WorthMoreAlive: I like that we are talking about elephants, rhinos and wildlife conservation in general…

For about a month or so leading up to the April 30th ivory burn at the Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservation discussions have been trending. Local media houses have been assigning some much needed and deserved, airtime and attention to this important conversation. With increased coverage, came increased interest about human wildlife conflict, poaching, Eco-tourism and development. Kenyans started asking questions, giving opinions and suggesting solutions to identified challenges. I have always held the opinion that only a select few care about the Kenya’s wildlife heritage, so it was quite refreshing to watch as people actively partook of the conversation online. As the historic date drew near, the conversations began revolving around the ivory burn. Was it the best option? How was burning the ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products going to help stop poaching? Was it an exercise in futility?

When President Ian Khama of Botswana unveiled an elephant sculpture made of ivory in July 2015, it stirred up the conservation circles somewhat. Some thought it a brilliant idea that Botswana had decided to put up this monument, while other were of the exact opposite opinion. Botswana’s Minister for Environment is quoted as saying, “It serves as a reminder to people who pass through this building each day that conservation of this iconic species is our collective responsibility. Complemented with a conservation awareness message, we are saying that one live elephant is worth so much more than all the art made of ivory. The statue is a lasting memorial to raise local, national and global awareness of the devastating impact of illegal ivory and the determination of Botswana and the global community to put an end to it.” After about a fortnight of ensuing debate, the noise settled. The towering monument still greets guests at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

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BOTSWANA , Gaborone 16 July 2015, Botswana president let Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama officially unveils the live size Elephant Sculpture of ivory at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone on 16 July 2015. The ivories come from the elephants which died naturally. (PHOTO/MONIRUL BHUIYAN)

This week, almost a year later, the photo of the monument started popping up on my Facebook timeline with captions like, “This is very creative, maybe Kenya should do this instead of burning the ivory.” One particular post had over five hundred shares. The reactions were as varied as they come. Majority felt enlightened and immediately endorsed the idea; maybe a museum of sorts would work? Others said no. Then there was a group that said, “Why bother? Everything in Kenya is stolen. Soon, the only thing that will remain is the glass surrounding it.” Ha! There is always that breed of people, you know, ones who seem to have resigned to some sort of self imposed fate. Before putting my thoughts down on several posts, I just took a moment to be grateful the WE are actually talking about this! In mass! Now, we just need to arm ourselves with the right information.

It is now hours after smoke filled the skies at the Nairobi National Park as President Uhuru Kenyatta led his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo and other dignitaries in lighting up the 105 ton heaps of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. The debate is still as hot as the fire that still burns what is estimated to include the remains of 8000 elephants and 345 rhinos. Why burn? Why not a museum?

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I must admit, up until three and a half years ago, I was completely oblivious of the plight of elephants and rhinos in Kenya, and indeed Africa. As I took up an internship position at an elephant conservation NGO, I told myself that it was only temporary; that I would soon get bored an take up something better. I did not anticipate falling in love with elephants as I watched BBC’s ‘Secret Life of Elephants,’ sobbing as Maasai girl’s two calves nudged their dead mum to wake up. The roller coaster of emotions being extended to the field, looking in awe as they walked majestically into the sunsets or, in more tragic situations, staring at one lying in a pool of blood, half its face chopped off. I was never quite the same. I started caring. I caught feelings 😀

My interest grew with every passing day, discovering and learning about why we bother about saving elephants. Today, I speak from a point of information, and most importantly, I reckon, real experience. There are people who will speak about the economics of poaching, a really important aspect no doubt, but I like to appeal to the heart. Pick up a documentary that will show you uncensored footage and photos of mutilated bodies of elephants/rhinos lying in a bloody pool. Watch elephants mourn their dead. Then take a trip and see them, alive, in their splendor. If you still feel nothing…if you are still giving that ivory monument a moment of thought…Doing what Botswana did, I think, just makes ivory look attractive. It breaks my heart, but to other twisted people it displays class. I see no difference between that and a carved piece of ivory in a living room in China. I prefer a live elephant thriving in a national park, living to its old age. Now that’s a worthy monument.

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Elephants at the Samburu National Game Reserve Photo: Daryl Balfour

We, Kenyans, have come of age, having such discourses. I hope the media does not stop with the coverage after the burn. Pray, we need to keep talking about this within our circles, engaging each other on how to make things better. Read about all the organizations working on the ground and read about what they are doing. I feel that if we, Kenyans, start caring enough we will hold our leaders accountable for things as corruption and consequently, poverty and other factors fueling poaching. We need to stop thinking about ivory conservation and re-ignite efforts aimed towards wildlife management and conservation. To purpose never to have a day like this one, because there will be nothing to burn. In a nutshell find a spot, in your own capacity and #Stopthekilling#StopTheTrafficking and #StopTheDemand for ivory and other wildlife products. The burn alone might not achieve the desired results, but with collaborated efforts between governments (this means you and I, as it does elected leaders) and conservation groups, as well as embarking on conservation education, I am confident of success. The economist will chip in. You will get involved. It will be a concerted effort, everyone doing what they can. This way, we will proactively work towards ensuring future generations SEE these species in their full glory, ALIVE, not lifeless, as a heap of ivory. That, in my opinion, makes more sense than an ivory museum. Otherwise, people will keep killing and we will keep confiscating and building ivory towers. It is pointless. As someone rightly said in one of the Facebook posts,

“Ivory for any other purpose than being on a live elephant is repugnant.”

Elephants and rhinoceroses may be large, heavy and thick-skinned, but they are being threatened with extinction in the wild by poaching for their ivory or horn, and by human impact on their habitats. You need to join the fight and help secure their future.

Pssst! I’ll start you off with sites you need to visit 🙂

  1. http://www.savetheelephants.org, Save the Elephants on Facebook
  2. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
  3. Tsavo Trust
  4. Amboseli Trust for Elephants 
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PITCHING ETIQUETTE 101

In my short professional career, I have not had many people or companies pitch ideas to me in a formal setting. Even so, being a Communications graduate, I have a pretty good idea of the kind of conduct expected. Some of these expectations also boil down to common sense and a general sense of respect.

I am quite sure that this sort of thing is also taught in Business School. So I would think that this is a skill that 90% of the workforce should have. I will take a chance and say the ‘professionals I am about to talk about fall in the 10% bracket. Please, humour me as I bore you with the details…

About two days prior to the meeting, I received a call at my place of work. The person at the other end of the line introduced herself and went on to state the purpose of her call. She was from the marketing department in one of the prominent media houses in the country. On the surface her idea sounded real good! I went ahead to give her my supervisor’s email address as well mine, so she could request a meeting officially. The call came through on a Wednesday, and the meeting set for Friday, 11:00 AM. Honestly, we were all looking forward to this meeting. We have been trying for a while to get the media to take an informed interest on the cause and it seemed like we were finally making headway.

Friday:

Our guests call at 10:30 AM informing us that they are just leaving the Nairobi CBD. Our offices are located in Karen, the other side of town, so it would take them around 35-40 minutes to get to the office. They get lost a couple of times, and keep calling for directions. Never mind the ease of access to Google Maps these days. Finally, we see a car pull up right in front of the office. It is 11:45 AM. No apologies are made for the delay, instead when we show them into the meeting room; one of them spots a heater and asks, “Is this heater working?” It is a cold morning in Nairobi, so we offer the ladies tea and/or coffee.

The meeting starts. The team, two very smartly dressed ladies, introduce themselves and again, state the purpose of the meeting. They thank us for meeting them at such short notice, and we respond that we had sensed the urgency. My boss begins to tell them about our organization and what we do. One of them is on her phone replying to some text (I was seated right next to her) and the other one had back turned to the boss and her head buried inside her laptop bag trying to find something. I doubt they had grasped anything by the time they requested to show us a presentation they had prepared.

The presentation was painful. They had the right idea, but I think, no I know, it backfired. The first slide was meant to show us that they are up to speed with issues concerning our cause, statistics and all. Let’s just say they were misinformed. The lady charged with doing the presentation kept dragging her chair to and from the table where she had placed her laptop. It was just the four of us, so there was no table separating us, sort of like a semicircle setting. She was in the middle, so she kept going back and forth, like a kid who had just seen these types of seats for the first time. Midway through her presentation, her colleague decides to interrupt her to let her know that her tea is getting cold! Right!

They finish the presentation and drop the bombshell that they would like to partner with us, with a Ksh.4 million figure displayed on the laptop. Again, assumptions are made in a quest to convince us that we needed the airtime that their ‘CSR’ approach was offering us. So we were to brainstorm and let them know how much of the 4million we can raise by, wait for it, latest Tuesday morning. We tried to conceal our shock as we politely explained how things work and assured them that we would try and go the extra mile as to contact our partners for additional support.

I had had enough. I could not wait for them to take leave so I could tell my boss what I really thought of them and the idea. Long story short, we did not partner with them, but we did do due diligence and contacted our partners on their behalf. Waiting to see if they got them on board.

I am disappointed. Disappointed at the level of disrespect and assumptions made. Maybe we can make future performances better. Here are a few pointers to winning people to your side:

  1. Be Punctual. Always arrive a least ten minutes before the agreed time. This way, you are able to prepare any presentation materials before the meeting begins.
  1. Basic etiquette. The heater working is none of your business!! (I just had to throw this one as it is) Seriously though, your conduct, right from the handshake when you walk in, your presentation and behaviour during the meeting, will determine the end result. There was such obvious disrespect during this meeting, and the fact that the ladies did not seem to recognize this or bother to, is baffling.Until the host insists that you refer to them by their first name, do not. The pointer is usually at the point of introduction, “Hi, My Name is Trezer,” and “Hi, I am Miss Oguda” already tell you how the person wishes to be addressed. Alternatively, to eliminate any doubt, you can ask, “Can I call you Trezer?”
  1. If you are going educate experts about what they do, please do sufficient research. For instance, Don’t say Serengeti is in Kenya for God’s sake…Or that the organization is two years old while it is in fact twenty! Oh, this one’s important, GET THE COMPANY NAME RIGHT!
  1. Even in this dot.com age, I prefer a pen and paper as opposed to an ipad or computer to take notes, especially if it is a small meeting as was ours. It is less tempting to respond to texts or emails and you actually maintain eye contact. If you’re one of those big shots, do come with someone who will transcribe the meeting notes for you. Someone who will not be directly involved in the talks.
  2. If it is a last minute thing, as this one was, please please please get as much ammunition in your bag as you possibly can. I am talking personal charm and fascinating presentations of past successes.
  1. Oh, I must say this. It does not matter if your host met your perceived expectations or not. That same level of respectful tone you had on the phone should be transferred physically. Never let it be seen that you are ‘disappointed’ to be meeting someone smaller in frame or any other physical attributes that could cloud your judgment. Do your job and walk away.

You must be disciplined in how you prepare yourself every day. Don’t be careless or go into meetings unprepared. You must be serious, if you want others to take you seriously. And it all boils down to your personal discipline.

A lesson in dreaming

I treasure children. I love their innocence and all they can get away with in the name of being ‘children’, because when a grown up does them, they are branded childish. I love the genuinity(is that a word?) in their eyes; the windows to their souls. I can tell, earnestly, when they are happy, sad, bored or whatever other feeling. Being around kids is refreshing. I started accompanying the education team for documenting purposes, film and photography. Then, unofficially, hype man (woman) was added to my TOR-Terms of Reference. So whenever the kids look bored or are unresponsive, I am there to do an equivalent of ‘ikibamba sana wapi nduruuuu’! Anyway, so this one of those times, the Save the Elephants education team, is out in Chumviere, somewhere between Isiolo and Archers post. To get to Chumviere Primary School, you will need:

  1. A strong purpose
  2. One of those cars used by drivers in the Rhino Charge events
  3. Water
  4. A state of the art backbone.

There is a British Army barrack just off the tarmac. It is the only modern building you’ll see until you get to the school. The terrain is mostly rocky and thorny, and when its not, its very dusty. There are ‘manyatta’ villages scattered every few kilometers. Sometimes, you will see an old woman with her donkey carrying a jerry can or two of water and boys tending to goats. They stop to look at you and/or your car and the young boys run after you waving excitedly. If they see a ‘mzungu’ they will shout proudly “How are you?” and run away giggling at the response, “Fine.” Only, the mzungus are sometimes too eager to show off their Kiswahili skills, they shout back a “Jambo!”

We get to the school and its just perfect. Well, not perfect PERFECT, but it certainly beats my lowly expectations. I spot a water tank somewhere, and then classrooms built of wood and oiled black. The Kenyan flag is flying high on a high metal pole planted in the middle of a circle of well-arranged white stones. A few meters away, a stone walled toilet brightly painted blue and white. Some writings on it, I can’t quite make them out. After a briefing at the headmaster’s office, we head to the Standard Six class. There are about 20 of them, more girls than boys this time. There have been incidences of banditry and cattle rustling, and most of the boys had to go help their fathers with the herds. The girls stayed back with the women folk. Staff introductions and the lessons begin. “Living in Harmony with Elephants,” they are dubbed. The education team goes round schools built around elephant corridors and carries out lessons to find out the students attitudes towards the elephants and how Save the Elephants can help in areas of conflict.

The team concludes part one of the lesson and one of them whispers in my ear “enda uwachangamshe kidogo before we start part 2”) Ha! So I step up and ask each of them to tell me their name and what they would like to be when they grow up. Cliché, I know, but I love to hear that kids still dream in this day and age. I tell them to smile while at it because it makes it even more interesting, and I like to see happy faces (…also, we need to get really happy photos for social media and the website) I get a couple of answers; from doctors (of course) to teachers, pilots and even rangers, but nothing could have prepared me for this one. “My name is Raphael, he says, “…and I want to be a farmer.”

Source: Internet

A young farmer

I say a ‘wow!’ Careful not to sound too surprised. I tell him to keep working at it. I expected all the other answers. Almost all of them had seen someone in that career once. Pilots, they had seen flying planes over their schools. They have been through enough hard times to see soldiers and men in uniform around, so being a soldier or pilot don’t sound so farfetched.

Why you ask, did the farmer amaze me so? Picture the terrain I have just described. Nothing grows there except thorns and other random weeds. The livestock eat whatever they can find. On a previous visit, lunch was githeri (A mixture of hard boiled maize and beans-a Kenyan delicacy) No one wants to eat this everyday though, but to some of these kids its life. A hope. For Raphael, being a farmer represented people and green lush farms that he’d only seen in books. A farfetched one, but a dream nonetheless. It made me happy, that he wished to explore the world beyond Chumviere. He knew that to fulfill his dream he had to work hard to get out of Chumviere where farming doesn’t happen and who knows, come back and supply green leafy vegetables home.

Aaaaah! A lesson in dreaming.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. -Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Being the 1st ‘Different One’- A moran’s perspective

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“How do you feel when you see your age-mates getting married and you are just there?”

I feigned a “Pardon?” while digging my brain for an appropriate answer.

A few days ago, I was in Kiltamanny area in Samburu County, interviewing a moran(A circumcised Samburu young man) about early marriages, polygamy and Female Genital Mutilation in his community. We were chatting up pretty easy until he asked me a question that caught me completely off-guard;

He didn’t ask, how would you feel, he said do. Ok, maybe I’m paranoid.

“How do you feel when you see your age-mates getting married and you are just there?”

One of two things;

  1. He wants to marry me (LoL)
  2. He’s trying to drive a point home by contextualizing* the issue.

“It depends.” I tell him.

“On what?”

Funny how this guy had turned the tables on me and now ‘held the microphone…’

“On how old you are, what kind of society you live in and personal life goals.”

“Ooooh. But isn’t a girl is a girl anywhere in the world. Girls like ‘groupie (not his exact words, implied) things.’ Following each other, doing things at the same time because you don’t want to be left behind.” TRUTH

I disputed with a couple of ‘intellectual’ arguments revolving around personality and reiterated my first answer. He nodded and let it go.

But he’d made his point. In communities where there is little exposure, education (formal) and influence from the outside world, questioning traditions is useless. A girl is circumcised at age10, 11 and by 13, she’s ripe for marriage. By the time, she’s 20, she has at least 5 children. After a few more years, her husband will then bring her a helper and the cycle will continue until there are no more cows to give as dowry.

“In other parts of Kenya, there are more unmarried women.” He says.

I laugh and ask him if by marrying more than one wife a man does a favor to women folk. He smiles.

“In these villages, if my age-mates are getting married at 13, having gone through the rite of passage, I can’t ‘hang out’ with them if I haven’t done it. They are WOMEN…I am not. The feeling of seclusion and solitude is universal. I think that’s the biggest hurdle. To convince someone that its ok to be different, to be the FIRST different one.”

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How many women are you going to marry?

“Nikioa wengi, ni mmoja tu.” (Only one)

So why was he trying to defend the polygamists, FGM and early marriages?

“I did no such thing. I just stated facts and why outsiders need to find more innovative ways of bringing mindset change where its not wanted. If any strategy is to work, the initiative has to be taken up by those of us (from the community) who have tested and seen the benefits of first, education. Education really is the key. I would be somewhere in the bushes raiding another community for cattle if it were not for an education.”

I left this interview EDUCATED. All the stereotypes and ujuaji I had coming into this had vaporised.

Lessons:

 -Dare to stand out. Be the first. Take one for the team.

– The feeling of seclusion and solitude is universal. Reach out when and if you can. At one point or another, you have felt something similar.

-Formal education is cool, but it won’t take you nowhere without informal education.

-Have conversations with an open mind, you will get what you came for and more.