Achieving a sustainable future is currently the world’s most urgent and critical agenda as can be testified by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development by world leaders in 2015. Kenya is not an exception. The country is endowed with vast and diverse natural resources including biodiversity, land and unique ecosystems as well as recently confirmed deposits of oil and gas and other extractives. These resources can have transformative effects on the economy through generation of revenue, capital inflows as well as provision ecosystem services that are of vital importance to the various sectors of the Kenyan economy and to communities. However, these benefits are not to be realised by default, as can be attested by the experiences of other resource rich countries. This therefore calls for fundamental shifts in how it governs and manages its natural resources in order to position natural resources as true engines of Kenya’s sustainable development.
The challenges to sustainable development are manifested in forms such as the conflicts between infrastructure development to meet the needs of Kenya’s growing population, economy and sound environmental management. Additional challenges come in the form of governance constraints, social inequalities, corruption, inadequate policy, legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks, varied and often conflicting stakeholder interests and technical capacity gaps in the management of large scale projects, the combination of which result into real risks to economic, social and environmental development of the country.
The Constitution of Kenya, various national and global policy and legislative frameworks, and emerging need for application of community based approaches in conservation; among others all provide a basis for addressing natural resource governance related changes in Kenya.
Natural resource governance responds to these challenges by addressing interactions within and between structures, processes and traditions that determine how societal power and responsibilities are exercised, how decisions are taken, and how citizens or other stakeholders have their say in the management of natural resources. It addresses the set of standards, institutions frameworks, norms, and processes that frame decision-making and stakeholder engagements in policy development and how its implementation with the aim to respond to the impacts on nature and people.
Enshrining good governance principles in natural resource management that include public participation and inclusive decision making processes, sound policy and legislative framework, access to information, transparency, equity, equality and tackling corruption among others are crucial first steps to ensure a balance of power allowing Kenyan citizens to not only hold the government accountable for natural resource wealth that belongs to the country for public good but also contribute to realisation of sustainable development.
As in most countries, Kenya inherited a ‘centralist model’ of economic development which historically placed more emphasis on government- led development than on the participation of local communities in the management of natural resources. This was particularly extreme on matters pertaining to both wildlife and forest management which was exclusively led by government managing state national parks, game parks, forest reserves and other forms of protected areas. However in the 70s and 80s discourse on community based management in Africa and other developing countries led to much reflection in Kenya and the Community Forestry and Wildlife Conservancies demonstrate this.
In Kenya, community participation/CBNRM has been embedded in several sectoral (Wildlife, Water, forests and fisheries) policies and legislations. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 provides for CBRNM in Sections 69 (1) (a) and (d). CBNRM is also taking root in Kenya as more local communities actively manage natural resources and derive benefits from their conservation and management.