One of the biggest events in Northern Kenya is the Safaricom Lewa Marathon that brings together the surrounding communities, athletes from different parts of the country, celebrities and other visitors from outside Kenya and ambassadors among other wildlife enthusiasts. Children are not left behind either as there is a 10km race just for them. That is apart from the 42km and 21km adult races.
For a visitor, one would be tempted to think that things start and end on the day of the race. Far from that. Lewa Marathon is a community affair and proceeds of the race ripple far and wide as they’re used to bolster community projects to benefit both the people, and the animals that thrive within Lewa Conservancy.
There is a lot of benefits to be counted and for this article, I will mention a few that struck me most.
The Northern part of Kenya has an unfortunate history of marginalization and inter-ethnic conflict. A lot, if not all of these conflicts are as a result of limited resources and especially water. These conflicts which have resulted to numerous deaths are declining thanks to the annual race that is organized and executed through many partnerships, including Safaricom. Efforts like encouraging good governance, frameworks for conflict resolution, effective grazing management and creating other ways of earning livelihoods are slowly building towards a more peaceful environment in this previously volatile area.
This year at the race for example, I met Josephine Naikiru who is a peace coordinator with the Northern Rangelands Trust. Josephine told us of her successful peace programs through which she has managed to build peace between the Turkana and the Boran, two communities that were previously warring a lot. She has a team of morans drawn from the different communities and they work closely to ensure that the community sees the point that peaceful sharing of resources is better than cattle rustling and fighting.
Improvement of livelihoods
Northern Kenya is an arid and semi arid area and this means that their options for income generation are not as much in abundance as they are in other areas of the country. Often times, even Government services do not trickle down fully to people living in these areas and a lot of them live in dire circumstances and poverty. With the marathon and other partners, the brunt of poverty and disillusionment is reduced through job creation, as well as provision of other amenities like schools, healthcare centres, boreholes for homes livestock and enabling farming activities to name a few.
Jobs are created for example by direct employment of people ranging from drivers, accountants and managers by the rangelands trust. There is also entrepreneurship training of morans and women groups, which goes hand in hand with offering loans for them to start or boost their businesses. Success stories abound in the area.
Take for example the Kalama conservancy which is a direct beneficiary of the annual marathon, and which works to benefit women mostly. Money made from the Kalama conservancy project is shared between the women and the conservancy office so that there is some for the women to improve their livelihoods, and some left for the office to continue running. With this economic empowerment, community members are able to do bigger things and one that stands out is the construction of the Laresoro dispensary in Kalama area.
It is no secret that our wildlife is facing big threats due to factors like competition with livestock for grazing, loss of habitat, ecosystem interference and probably worst of all proliferation of small arms which makes the poaching menace even more challenging.
With continued effort from different partners however, communities around Lewa conservancy are slowly seeing the connection between wildlife conservation and better living standards. Through conservancy efforts, children are now able to school, women are empowered and the men are able to provide for their families. Community ran conservancies are even paving way for tourism in the area and there are efforts to brand Northern Kenya as a tourist destination. The benefits of conservation are clear and as such, the communities develop a sense of ownership of the wildlife as opposed to viewing animals as the enemy. This goes a long way in mitigating the big problem of human wildlife conflict, and therefore towards the ultimate goal of conserving wildlife.
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot more good going on with the communities in Northern Kenya. A bit more can be found in an article I did earlier on the same.