Kenya, 13 December 2023 – Kenya's natural beauty lies not just in its landscapes but in the vibrant tapestry of its wildlife. The country's majestic savannas, teeming with diverse species, stand as a testament to its rich biodiversity.
“Preserving this invaluable treasure is not merely a choice but a responsibility owed to future generations,” explains John Mugendi, the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Senior Assistant Director.
Corruption, however, casts a looming shadow over these conservation efforts. In 2015, Kenya and most of East Africa was experiencing a wildlife-poaching crisis, seeing numbers in flagship species – like rhinos, lions, and elephants – falling by the day.
Mugendi, an accountant by profession, sees wildlife as an environmental and economic asset. “Prevention of corruption is key because we contribute to the GDP of this country through tourism,” he explains. “Wildlife is a national heritage. If we lose species – like rhinos, elephants, lions – we will be losing as an economy.”
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), tasked with conserving and protecting the country's wildlife across over 200 nature parks, has been working hard to reverse this trend, including by collaborating with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to strengthen internal mechanisms and systems to better prevent future occurrences of corruption from taking place.
But change wasn’t easy, Mugendi remembers. “Not everybody will sail with you in the same boat, especially when we’re talking about integrity.”
While KWS stands as a benchmark anti-corruption institution, this was not always the case. With the support of UNODC, KWS implemented the Corruption Risk Management (CRM) process, identifying corruption vulnerabilities and developing and implementing mitigation measures.
“Organizational culture is one of the areas we had to work on, and this involves checking the tone at the top,” Mugendi says.
“We had to bring our ‘boat on board’. When the first assessment of corruption risks was presented to senior management, it was received with skepticism.
"They were very conservative because they thought we had pointed to a weakness in their department,” Mugendi explains. “But the second time around, they accepted that identifying and tackling risks was an essential part of their jobs.” A culture shift had taken place within KWS, he added.
During the CRM process, each KWS department had a representative on the committee working on the corruption risk assessment. Through regular updates and active involvement of all departments, Mugendi was able to cultivate a culture of openness where risks were embraced and tackled head-on.
UNODC’s support to KWS further contributed to the strengthening of management and operational systems. For instance, KWS received a 100 per cent score in the 2022 Anti-corruption Performance Indicator, managed by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), compared to 88 per cent in the previous year and 49 per cent the year before.
Across Kenya, poaching has declined, and the number of elephants, rhinos and big cats, including lions, has increased.
Beyond the professional realm, Mugendi's work with UNODC has shaped his personal outlook on integrity.
“This journey has had an impact on a personal level. It’s keeping you on your toes,” he notes. “You need to make sure that you remain a role model that others look up to.”
Since 2015, UNODC has supported over 20 countries in bolstering the resilience of public institutions mandated with the management and protection of the environment by facilitating corruption risk management processes and supporting the implementation of mitigation plans.
On Monday, 11 December 2023, on the margins of the tenth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (CoSP10) in Atlanta, USA, UNODC hosted a special event on combating corruption to protect the environment. The event underscored the the alarming rates of wildlife crime, forest degradation, crimes in the fisheries and minerals sectors, and waste trafficking. The message was clear: combating corruption – with strong, transparent, and accountable international cooperation – is essential to confronting environmental challenges.
UNODC also launched a publication Rooting out Corruption: An introduction to addressing corruption fueling forest loss to further compliment a variety of tools already available to practitioners such as Rotten Fish: A guide on addressing corruption in the fisheries sector and Scaling Back Corruption: A guide on addressing corruption for wildlife management authorities.