Redefining National Security: Poaching as a theat to Kenya’s Security Interests

What is national security? This question has puzzled me in the past few months. Many Kenyans say that this problem or the other is a threat to national security without describing the concept. However from how threats to national security are identified, one can derive the underlying understanding of the term.

Whenever you speak to Kenyans on threats to Kenya’s national security, you will most likely hear one of two things. The first involves terrorism. It trite knowledge that Kenya has been a victim of international terrorism. From the 1998 bombings to the recent attacks this year, terrorism is a fixed theme in national security discourse.

Kenya in this respect has even gone to war. Operation Linda Nchi was initiated by the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) to dismantle al-Shabaab operations in Somalia. These operations were crucial to the planning and execution of attacks in Kenya.

Another likely answer would be internal (in)security. The news trending is replete with news of attacks everywhere. Just a few days ago, villages in Bungoma County were attacked by unknown people and people lost their lives. Garissa is still in shock after a shooting occurred in a local hotel. The list, in my view cannot be exhausted here.

In these two cases, the underlying thread is mainly direct violence to the person. Most Kenyans view security in terms of property and personal security from banditry and terrorism. But is this all there is to national security? I think not.

I have been entertaining thoughts of a broader conceptualization of Kenya’s national security. I deem national security threats as those that threaten the proper functioning of the state or have the potential of doing that is executed unabated. Therein, I include economic and environmental security. If a countries economy and environment are gravely affected, then there will be trouble in the running of the state.

Indeed, Kenya has economic and environmental diplomacy among her foreign policy pillars. Through them, she seeks to engage the international system to derive fulfillment of her objectives. However, there must be congruent domestic policy and law that would make her case in the international arena that much stronger.

This is where the poaching menace come into play. There lacks a dearth of knowledge of poaching and poachers on the Kenyan wildlife scene. every other day stories are told of how elephants and rhinos are butchered for their precious tusks. There are also pictures that document horrific scenes resulting from the act.

Elephants and rhinos are a tourist attraction. Tourism is among the top foreign exchange earners with tourists form all over the world coming to Kenya for a variety of reasons. Among the top reasons is to see the African elephant and the rhino. These two animals may be among the biggest contributors to tourists’ traffic in Kenya, although empirical evidence to support this is lacking.

Therefore it would not be strange to conclude that poaching is a threat to economic security. If Kenya loses these wildlife specieĀ  to poaching, Kenyan tourism scene may be irreparably damaged. This translates to loss in earnings and loss of the position of top tourism attractions in the world. This in turn diminishes Kenya’s economic growth into industrialization.

In matters environment, these animals form part of a larger bio-system. As browsers and grazers, they maintain a healthy population of vegetation in the system. Through their digestive process they provide the soil in rich nutrients that sustain vegetation growth. I am not a zoologist or wildlife biologist, therefore certain technical aspects of their contribution may not come naturally to me. But i hope this puts the point across.

The system may be altered to the detriment of our environment if these animals are felled through poaching. The food chain would be the most obvious observable consequence. By eliminating a link in the chain, other elements within that chain will be affected and we may be losing much more that elephants and rhinos. We may be losing our eco-system as we know it.

I therefore feel that poaching is a threat to Kenya’s national security. Threats to national security must include those that affect the economic and environmental security of a state. If this is so, a lot must be done to stop this menace include declaring it public enemy number 1.

Protected Persons under International Humanitarian Law

International Humanitarian Law is meant to inter alia protect persons from the savagery of warfare. These protected persons are described in the four Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. Broadly they are categorized here for purposes of convenience as Combatants/other legitimate participants in hostilities, Civilians and the Humanitarian Core. Each is examined briefly.

Combatants and other legitimate participants in hostilities

Combatants and those who are considered legitimate participants in hostilities are that group of individuals that get protection in special circumstances. These circumstances include when they are injured or sick (Geneva Convention I, article 12), shipwrecked (Geneva Convention II, article 12) or fall into the hands of the enemy (Geneva Convention III, article 4). Other than that, they can be targeted as legitimate military objectives and their deaths are lawful (Additional Protocol I, article 43[2]).

Combatants are members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict excluding medical personnel and chaplains (AP I, article 43[2]). Article 13 common to GC I and II provide protection for those who are not necessarily members of the armed forces Party to a conflict thus the other legitimate participants in hostilities.

Such include militias, volunteer corps and organized resistance movements provided they observe the listed rules under clause 2 paragraphs (a)-(d). It also includes people who accompany the armed forces such as war correspondence, supply contractors etc. Finally those who spontaneously take up arms on approach of the enemy without having time to organize themselves into regular armed units (levee en masse) are also considered for protection.

Those who parachute from aircrafts in distress are also included under article 42, AP I. They are to be allowed to reach the ground of territory controlled by the adverse Party to the conflict and given an opportunity to surrender.


This group is considered to be the most vulnerable. They are thus protected at all times and in all circumstances.

They are protected under article 4 & 13 of Geneva Convention IV, AP I arts.10 & 50 and AP II art.7. Article 4 confines the term protected persons as those from a Party to the conflict, who is a signatory to the convention and is conducting hostilities with the Party in whose hands the civilians fall into.

Article 13 covers the entire population of a country in conflict. It (GC IV) does not define who a civilian is but article 50 of AP I does this by describing them as what they are not. It refers one to GC III article 4 A (1); (2), (3) and (6) as well as Article 43 of AP I. There are also special categories of civilians recognized such as refugees and stateless persons (GC IV, art. 44 & AP I, art.73), women and children (GC IV, art.50 & AP I arts.76-77) and journalists (AP I, art.79).

Humanitarian Core

This group is concerned with the alleviation of pain and suffering during armed conflict. They include medical personnel, religious personnel and humanitarian relief personnel. They are protected by the conventions and Additional Protocols. For detailed information see GC I arts.24-26, GC II arts.36-37, GC III art.33, AP I, arts.15 & 71(2) & AP II art.9.

Please note that this is just a mind map on protected persons and that one should read the texts of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols to come up with a comprehensive list.