East Africa Hub

Interview with Dr. Boniface Kiteme, Partner of East Africa Hub

Dr. Boniface Kiteme has been the main facilitator for activities of the Wyss Academy in Kenya from pre-conception to proof of concept and through the ramp-up phase up to now. He champions true stake­holder engagement and the integration of indigenous knowledge and youth groups into the design and implemen­tation of initiatives that aim to benefit nature and people.

Portrait Kiteme

Dr. Boniface Kiteme

Director CETRAD,
Key partner of East Africa Hub

The rapid transformation of society and the environment calls for multifaceted actions. How did you set priorities?

Let me begin with the very first visit of the Swiss team in 2018 when we familiarized ourselves with the landscape that we planned to work in, the Mount Kenya - Ewaso Ng’iro North Basin. That was the beginning of the conceptual framing that became what we today call the knowledge platform, engagement platform and the incubators. In February 2019, we had our co-design workshop here in Kenya. For four days, around 60 participants drawn from different institutions and professional backgrounds in academia, policy and practice discussed and generated a huge basket of intervention ideas that we considered relevant for activities vis à vis the Wyss Academy’s mission in Kenya. Collectively we reduced this huge list of ideas to about 100, then to nine and down to six. Importantly, we identified two areas of focus: the Dual Purpose Corridor and the Wetland Stewardship. The others were planned for further elaboration at a later date.

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The Dual Purpose Corridor project evolved out of the need to think systemically and address the emerging challenges associated with a lack of connectivity between ecosystems. Can you tell us more about that?

The Dual Purpose Corridor was the most challenging project to set up because it proposed the demarcation of migration routes which can be used by both wildlife, in particular, elephants, and by livestock. This idea was proposed because we realized that existing wildlife corridors were also being used by people. Historical land use transformations in the Mt. Kenya-Ewaso Ng’iro landscape were mostly triggered by agricultural and settlement activities that encroached on, and in most cases took over, what were formerly livestock routes and wildlife migration and dispersal corridors. These are largely responsible for curtailing ecosystem connectivity in the region. As we addressed the needs of connectivity between wildlife and livestock, we were also catering to the connectivity needs of communities living in these areas. So the scope of this project idea was expanding every time we met. It is a sensitive project because it touches on land use planning where competing claims may be involved, so naturally this becomes an extremely emotional issue. To address this, through a series of context-specific workshops, we were able to form what we call the “champions of the corridors” group. In the process, we realized that the Dual Purpose Corridors must be anchored on existing institutions, in order for them to achieve the level of legitimacy that they require.

Why does the Wyss Academy concentrate on Wetland Stewardship?

We are in a very interesting landscape where the highlands have more or less enough water, while the lowlands suffer from serious water scarcity. Therefore, we have been intervening on land use activities in the highlands as a way of releasing water from there, and supporting communities and ecosystems in the lowlands. Up until 2016, we had always focused on the utilization of river water as the main challenge. Then we did a study looking at river water use between 2003 and 2013, and the results of that study made us realize that the dependence on river water in those ten years had decreased by about 30 %. This was because the exploitation of alternative sources – rain water harvesting and ground water – had increased by almost the same margin. So we expanded our attention from river water to spring water, in order to determine their role in sustaining dry season flow in the lowlands of the Ewaso Ng’iro river. We did a rapid analysis of how much each spring is exuding and, of what the key aspects are that threaten the life of the springs. The first round of springs mapping and assessment in the lowlands, and partly, the upstream, was completed at the time when we were doing the co-design workshop. The participants of the co-design workshop insisted that we must look at water resources both upstream and downstream.  And so the decision was taken to complete the remaining springs assessment in the upstream areas. That’s how the Wetland Stewardship incubator came about.


How does the approach of including local knowledge make or break a project?

We have the external knowledge generated from research or science, which plays an extremely important role. But we also have local knowledge that has its position, and that can never be wished away. In my view, sustainability rests in the hands and the brains of the local communities. How they receive and accept external interventions determines a lot about whether these interventions will be sustainable. And to a large  extent, the willingness and the availability of the local communities to continue supporting an initiative beyond external intervention depends on how much of their knowledge systems have been tapped into designing this.

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How – and why – did the Wyss Academy engage Maasai youth groups?

You don’t speak to a young person as you would speak to an elder. So you have to find the right avenues, the right channels, the right words, the right language to get the youth on board. We are partnering with a youth group from the Maasai community who have this very deep respect for traditions but at the same time, this curiosity about the future and for new things. We are recording them and producing music videos to carry their messages across their communities but also beyond. These are people who sing about peace, about protecting the environment, about the land. They have very positive messages both for people and nature, messages that don’t come from us. We bring them along to the communities with us, so that whenever we want to engage with the community we have a large crowd and the event becomes more exciting than just a workshop. The youth are the future.

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Challenge 1

Healthy and functional semi-arid landscapes

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Challenge 2

Inclusive governance and management of water and landscapes

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