A row has erupted between Cabinet ministers Najib Balala and William ole Ntimama over the construction of a tourist camp in the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Tourism minister Balala has authorised building of a new campsite in the area, but his National Heritage counterpart, Ntimama, says that the project is “irregular” and a “mockery of conservation efforts” in the Mara.
The tourist lodge where the Mara and the Olkeju-Ronkai rivers meet is owned by former Transport Licensing Board chair Hassan ole Kamwaro, who is a long-time political foe of Mr Ntimama, the Narok North MP.
Opponents of the project claim that the Mara is already over-saturated with lodges and also say that the project is located at breeding ground for the endangered rhino.
But Mr Balala responds: “Let us not bring politics in the whole issue. We cannot allow a few people to reap from national assets ... why would they label a place a ‘leopard breeding ground’ or ‘rhino breeding ground’ just to ward off competition? All these gimmicks have no place in 21st century.”
Local leaders led by the Mara Ward councillor, Mr Simiren Sengeny, on Wednesday led a demonstration against the project. The threatened to remove the perimeter fence.
Mr Ntimama accused Mr Balala of infringing on the mandate of the Forestry and Wildlife ministry by issuing a directive to have the camp built.
Mr Ntimama has complained to Prime Minister Raila Odinga about the matter.
According to Mr Kamwaro, a director of Olkeju-Ronkai Ltd that that is building the 13.09 hectare camp, he had “followed the law” in acquiring the site.
He showed the Nation a licence awarded by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema). The licence dated January 14, 2008 is signed by Nema Director-General Muusya Mwinzi.
Contacted, Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng’etich pointed out that the Masai Mara reserve was managed by Narok Country Council, not KWS.
He referred the Nation to Nema. In turn, Mr Mwinzi said the matter was already in the Environment Tribunal and any comment would be prejudicial.
Mr Balala dismissed a report by the Mara senior warden which says the site is a rhino breeding ground.
Mr Balala’s letter of August 21 this year, led to the lifting of a ban on further development in the Mara reserve by the Narok County Council Clerk.
But this is contested by some councillors who termed the clerk’s action as “unilateral” and not the position of the Council.
Speaking in Narok on Tuesday, four civic leaders vowed to discipline the Clerk Maurice Ogolla.
However, Mr Kamwaro has held his ground and vowed to go on with the project.
“Nobody will stop me, I have wasted enough time.” He also pointed out that Mr Ntimama has his own tourism lodges in the Mara.