On October 6, 1989, Malka Mari National Park was gazetted through legal notice No.338 (Wildlife Conservation Management Department-WCMD) Act Cap 376.
But 31 years later, no active conservation management activities have taken place in the park.
Situated along Dawa River on the Kenya-Ethiopia border, the park has become a hotbed for inter-clan clashes pitting the Garre and Degodia clans in Mandera County.
Over the years, prolonged drought has sparked resource-based inter-clan tensions among the pastoralist communities. The violence has resulted in a chronic humanitarian crisis affecting both sides.
The underlying cause of the conflict has its roots in the Ethiopian border near Malka Mari.
The park, which is approximately 900 square kilometres, remains probably the least visited national park in the country due to the regular clan conflicts.
Malka Mari is mostly a semi-arid bushland and scrubby grassland with riparian woodland along the river. It has plants unique to the area, but human settlement and activities have taken a toll on them.
Despite human settlement, the park is rich in flora and fauna, with a spectacular landscape.
A few of the cat families can still be sighted in the park. You can’t also miss the reticulated giraffes, lions, spotted hyenas, wild dogs, ostrich, cheetahs and leopards.
Other wild animals in the park include monkeys, baboons, foxes, zebras and several antelope species. Sceneries include ruins, landscapes, mountains, hills and a river line vegetation.
The idea to have a park in Mandera was conceived in 1974 as per the records at the county offices.
The defunct local council was interested in conservation of the white rhino that formed part of the fauna. But due to increased human activities in the park, the white rhino and other animals became extinct.
Malka Mari was mapped in 1989 and then abandoned. Local historians blame it on government failure to deal with the local community.
“Those who were practising crop farming along the river accepted to move out of the mapped area, but the government failed to set up a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) camp in the area, leaving the park open,” local elder Hassan Adan said.
The park formed part of the migration route for elephants between Kenya and Ethiopian highlands along Daua River.
“Elephants used to pass here the same way wildebeests cross into Maasai Mara from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park,” Mr Adan added.
“The Garre and Degodia clans are always fighting over resources in the park since the government has abandoned its responsibility of conserving and managing the park,” he said.
During the colonial era, the British while battling the Italians in Ethiopia built several armouries in the area. They still stand to date.
“We have several forts... reminding us of the British soldiers in Mandera,” said Sheikh Matker, the first councillor of Malka Mari over the 1974-1983 period.
According to residents, the national government failed to preserve the park after it realised that fencing off a huge chunk of land within a pastoral community was a challenge.
“Communities returned to the park around 1991 following a severe drought as this was the only place they could find pasture and water for their livestock,” Mr Maalim Issack, an elder said.
Since then, the Degodia and Garre communities have settled in the park, leading to unending clan clashes over land ownership.
Degodias reside at Malkamari centre and Hullow village, while the Garre live in Hardawa, Antharak, Malka Ruqa and Qarcho villages. The villages occupy 76 kilometres square of the park.
The park has since become a division and a ward. There are several schools, a health centre and a government administration office inside the park.
To save the park, on October 10, 2018, two environmental activists moved to court seeking to have it conserved by KWS and Mandera County government.
Mr Ibrahim Mohamud Ibrahim and Abdi Dima Yakub sued KWS, Tourism and Interior Cabinet secretaries, Mandera government and the Attorney-General.
The petitioners requested the court to stop the respondents from undertaking any development within the park. The Environment and Land Court sitting in Garissa issued injunctions restraining both the national and county governments from undertaking any projects in the park.
But despite the ruling, there are several projects in the conservancy, including construction of schools and houses for internally displaced persons.
According to Mr Yakub, the respondents neglected the park, failed to manage the same, conserve or protect the ecosystem, thereby allowing Garre and Degodia communities to settle in the park.
The applicants warned that continued settlements posed serious environmental threats to the already fragile ecosystem and would lead to extinction of wildlife in the park.
The Ministry of Interior was accused of building a police post and a chief’s camp in the park without carrying out an environment impact assessment.
But KWS responded that the raised issues needed to be solved at the Dispute Resolution Mechanism as spelled out in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, not in a court of law.
Mandera government said the issues needed to be solved at the sub-county offices and not in a court of law.
In his ruling, Justice E. Cherono concluded that the applicants had demonstrated public interest in the matter, the constitutional values and proportional magnitude attributable to the cause.
“In the final analysis, I find merit in the said application and the same is hereby allowed as prayed,” he ruled. The matter being heard at Garissa Environment and Land Court is nearing conclusion, with the parties expected to submit their final submissions on July 23 before a judgment date is set.
Mr Sheikh Matker, a former councillor in the area, blamed the national government for the mess in the park.
“The government asked people out of the park, but allowed others to settle, and this is the problem that has led to clashes,” he said.
County Tourism Executive Izzidun Abdullahi said that any development to be undertaken in the national park — including its revival in collaboration with the national government — shall depend on the final court verdict.