Little known outside Kenya, hugely influential within
NAIROBI, Kenya––Pioneering Kenyan journalist and wildlife advocate Sidney Quntai Tauwo, 57, died “on the morning of April 20, 2018 after a short illness which he courageously fought, but lost,” Africa Network for Animal Welfare senior officer for communications and advocacy Sebastian Mwanza emailed to ANIMALS 24-7 on May 3, 2018.
Sidney Quntai was the third person prominently involved in Kenyan wildlife conservation to die in only 75 days. His death followed the February 5, 2018 unsolved murder of ivory trafficking expert Esmond Bradley Martin Jr., 75, and the April 12, 2018 death from breast cancer of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust founder Daphne Sheldrick, 83.
TV news editor before turning to activism
Though the least known of the three outside of Kenya, Quntai might have been the most influential within Kenya, especially in the early 21st century, not least because he was already a nationally known reporter and editor before changing careers to focus on animal advocacy intertwined with seeking community economic development and political empowerment of indigenous Kenyans.
Working his way up among the various media owned by the Standard Group, which now claims a 48% share of the total Kenyan audience, Quntai rose to become senior news editor for the Kenya Television Network, flagship of the Standard empire.
Recounted KTN reporter Ramadhan Rajab, “Quntai was the third born son of the late Theophilus Toirai, the first Maasai magistrate. He served as a journalist with The Nation newspaper from 1983 to 1985, joined the Kenya Times in 1985, and moved to the Kenya Television Network in 1994. He went into public relations in 1996,” then ran unsuccessfully for the Kajido Central seat in Parliament in 1997, “before joining activism.”
“A gentleman. A humble, honest man”
Eric Latiff, 41, of the Capital Group, among the best known broadcast journalists in Kenya today, recalled Quntai as “A gentleman. A humble, honest man. In 1995, he agreed to see a young man who had gone to Nyayo House,” the downtown Nairobi skyscraper housing KTN and many government offices, “seeking to speak with the KTN editor-in-chief. He didn’t know me, didn’t care that I had not been referred to him by anybody. I told him my singular career desire was to become a broadcaster. I told him that I wanted a chance to work in KTN for free, to learn from the people who worked there what I needed to do in order to be like them. And then I would go to college.
“Sidney Quntai did the unthinkable in those days,” Latiff continued. “He immediately took me to the KTN newsroom and introduced me to the bigwigs. My internship lasted a year, only broken by my enrollment into college to study broadcasting. Eleven years later, in 2006, I was anchoring KTN Prime.”
“Journalism is about the excluded & marginalized”
Nairobi Star sports editor Chris Mbaisi, who worked with Quntai at the Kenya Times remembered Quntain similarly.
“Unlike most journalists who were selfish and unfriendly in guiding new colleagues,” Mbaisi said, “he was patient, welcoming and keen on mentorship. He gave us ample time to say everything we wanted to before responding.”
Agreed Patrick Mugo Mugo, another leading Kenyan journalist, known for reporting on social justice issues, “Sidney Quntai was a good man. He taught me that journalism is not about who controls power and political discourse, but about the politically excluded and economically marginalized.”
Human Wildlife Conflict Network
Quntai formed the Human Wildlife Conflict Network in 2004, hoping to help resolve tensions between wildlife conservationists and impoverished farmers whose crops are often raided by animals wandering out of the Kenyan national parks.
A year later, in 2005, Quntai helped to found the Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation & Management, which he chaired until his death.
“He was instrumental in battling with us against the pro-hunting bill passed in parliament on December 9, 2004,” recalled Mwanza.
Led fight to stop return of trophy hunting
Authored by G.G. Kariuki of Laikipia West, a district dominated by landowners of European descent who have sought to overturn the Kenyan ban on sport hunting practically since it was introduced in 1977, a bill called Cap 376 was presented as a measure to compensate farmers and others for harm incurred by wildlife.
In gist, however, Cap 376 was all along a bill to allow private landowners to operate hunting ranches similar to those of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
Working with little help from outside Kenya, Quntai and then-Youth for Conservation president Josphat Ngonyo organized a coalition of 14 indigenous Kenyan environmental groups, representing all parts of the nation.
“The darkest day for Kenya wildlife”
They appeared to have stopped the Kariuki bill, but with a national election looming, Kariuki and allies pushed it to passage through the Kenyan parliament in two late-night sessions, after most opponents of the bill had left, unaware it was alive and advancing.
Quntai and Ngonyo in a furious written response called it “The darkest day for Kenya wildlife in living history,” noting that the Kariuki bill was most strongly backed by parliamentarians who had recently toured hunting destinations in southern Africa as guests of Safari Club International.
Fumed Quntai, “It was sneaked through Parliament through the back door. It appears that private property and leisure games have triumphed over wildlife conservation.”
Won presidential veto
With a working budget of next to nothing, Quntai, Ngonyo and others mobilized sufficient public outrage, nationwide, that Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki––a member of the same political party as Kariuki––vetoed the Kariuki bill on December 31, 2004.
During the next several months Quntai organized the Kenya Coalition for Wildlife Conservation & Management, while Ngonyo founded the Africa Network for Animal Welfare.
Quntai and Ngonyo continued to work together to stop a scheme first floated in mid-2005 which would have sold more than 300 animals collected from Kenyan national parks to the Chiang Mai Safari Zoo in Thailand.
A combination of lawsuits, political activism, and exposés of corruption involved in the deal caused it to be scaled back to involve just 104 animals, and then be cancelled altogether after a 2006 coup d’etat in Thailand.
Fought the railroad
Quntai emphasized in that campaign, and throughout his work for animals, that Kenya has suffered a net loss of wildlife over the years, through the combined effects of poaching and habitat loss to development, and should pursue economic development through encouraging visitors to come to Kenya, not to visit foreign zoos where free-born Kenyan animals would suffer miserable captive lives.
Quntai and Ngonyo in recent years have led the Save Nairobi National Park Campaign, which Mwanza described as a coalition of “conservation organizations keen on conserving the iconic park, especially from infrastructure development encroachment,” in particular an elevated railway crossing the park, built with Chinese funding and now close to completion.
Wrote Mwanza, “Quntai will be remembered for his steadfast belief, fierce stance and bold readiness to fight for the justice of wildlife, the environment and the community. His steady voice, especially through the media and advocacy campaigns, spoke to many marginalized and disheartened people and inspired them to protect what belongs to them.
“Always at the front line”
“Sidney was always at the front line,” Mwanza said, “as he intensely lobbied, picketed and advocated for both protected and unprotected wildlife territories to remain untouched.”
Ngonyo, described by Mwanza as “dazed beyond words,” said, “Shocked is an understatement. It is truly difficult to accept the news of the passing on of Sidney Quntai, a man I have known and had the privilege to work closely with in conservation for over 15 years, a man with unmatched and unquestionable dedication, passion and commitment to wildlife conservation and community causes.”
Added Africa Conservation Centre director Lucy Waruingi, “Quntai epitomized what it meant to give up personal comfort for a greater cause.”
“We look for heroes. He was right here.”
Said community activist Nkamunu Patita, “We read about heroes. We look for heroes in far-away lands. Sidney Quntai was right here with us.”
Summarized Quntai himself, on many occasions, “We believe Kenya’s wildlife should remain in the wild in Kenya, for the benefit of all Kenyans and all our guests from all over the world.”
Quntai left his wife Mary Wanjiku Quntai, six adult children––Toirai, Somoina, Maloy, Leshan, Solonka and Lialo––and his first grandchild, Ethan.