Governing landscapes through partnerships: Lessons from Amboseli, Kenya

Tabitha Njeri Mugo

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This study focuses on the Kenyan Amboseli landscape, which comprises the Amboseli National Park and six neighbouring Maasai community Group Ranches, namely Mbirikani, Kuku, Kimana, Eselengei, Ologulului-Ololorashi Ologulului, and Rombo. Over the past five decades, Amboseli has been facing persistent conservation and development challenges. These include changing land tenure and land-use; human-wildlife conflicts (HWCs); poaching of wildlife; unplanned and uncoordinated development; loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats; inadequate and unequal benefits for local communities; high levels of poverty; and a conservation-development nexus policy void. To mitigate these challenges, various policy interventions, mostly in the form of varied partnership arrangements between actors drawn from communities, governments, market, and conservation organizations, have been initiated – with mixed outcomes.

This thesis specifically explores two landscape-wide partnerships, the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust (AET) and the Big Life Foundation (BLF). The Amboseli Ecosystem Trust is a landscape-based partnership that seeks to bring together governmental agencies, communities, private investors, and civil society with the aim of simultaneously achieving conservation and development goals. The Big Life Foundation (BLF), a partner and member of the AET’s Board of Trustees and the successor of the Maasailand Preservation Trust (MPT), is a partnership between the Mbirikani Group Ranch community members and a tourism investor-based conservation NGO. BLF’s projects cover a large part of the Amboseli landscape in Kenya and adjacent areas in northern Tanzania.

The overall aim of this study was to understand the contribution of the two partnerships to landscape governance at Amboseli. To achieve this aim, this study sought to answer the following research questions:

(i) How are the landscape governance roles fulfilled by the analysed partnerships in the Amboseli landscape?

(ii) In what ways and to what extent have the partnerships (through the landscape governance roles) addressed conservation-development challenges facing the Amboseli landscape?

The study amalgamated literature on partnerships, governance, and landscapes into a landscape governance approach, which was integrated with a multi-dimensional power perspective that was used to analyse the two partnerships. The study combined primary and secondary data. Primary data was collected using 75 in-depth interviews with 55 key informants; the findings of which were triangulated with 4 focus group discussions (FGDs), 4 non-participant observations, and 30 informal conversations.

Related to the first research question, the research findings reveal that the partnerships have performed complementing landscape governance roles. Whereas AET focused on policy development, agenda-setting and meta-governance, BLF concentrated on policy implementation and meta-governance in relation to wildlife security. The way the partnerships performed these governance roles can be explained through the four faces of power, revealing BLF’s compulsory power and AET’s institutional power. Nevertheless, the partnerships have only partially managed to bridge conflicting conservation and development discourses, illustrating that the concept of sustainable development appears to hold little productive power in practice.

Related to the second question, findings show that both AET and BLF have been able to address direct drivers of biodiversity loss (such as human wildlife conflicts, poaching, unplanned infrastructural developments) and – to a much lesser extent – the indirect drivers, such as poverty and land subdivision. Through the workings of both partnerships, more community members have gained access to specific community capital assets, through employment opportunities and other monetary incentives and education. Moreover, the activities of the analysed partnerships have created a transboundary national landscape covering Kenya and Tanzania. However, it is not clear if and how the livelihood benefits translate into real and long-term support for wildlife conservation.

This PhD thesis also includes some recommendations. There is need for: (i) concerted efforts by government and other stakeholders to expand and improve compensation for wildlife inflicted losses so as to cover more areas, all wildlife species and properties; (ii) ensuring that landscape governance engages all stakeholders in the governance of their landscape; (iii) finding ways of ensuring that biodiversity conservation land use pays enough to be able to compete with other land uses and to avoid over-dependence on donor funds, which are unpredictable and time-bound; (iv) governments of Kenya and Tanzania, as well as AET, BLF and other actors, to look into ways of enhancing the landscape governance across the Amboseli-Kilimanjaro cross-jurisdictional area, by bridging conservation-development related policy-incoherence.

Lastly, this study only analysed the 10-year period between 2008-2018, therefore, it would be insightful to continue monitoring the landscape governance roles of AET and BLF and compare these to other examples. This would show to what extent AET and BLF can sustain over time and are able to resolve some of the challenges Amboseli has been facing over the last 50 years.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van der Duim, Rene, Promotor
  • Visseren-Hamakers, I.J., Co-promotor, External person
  • Kieti, D.M., Co-promotor, External person
Award date19 Apr 2021
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463957069
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2021


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