NAIROBI NATIONAL ZOO PARK
Image: Nairobi National Park, Kenya
The all-Wazungu committee that sat down in 1946 to discuss the convenience of a game park within striking distance of Nairobi City, were not unanimous in their deliberation. The majority were enthusiasts who wanted an ersatz of the pristine times when Adam commanded all the animals to file past him so as to name them (Gn 2:20), but a far-sighted minority could see that the idea was doomed.
The population of Kenya was around six million; there were large tracts of unoccupied land; wild animals roamed in the Kapiti Plains, but it was not difficult to see that none of these features was permanent, and in time conflict between the users of the land and the contemplatives of wild life could not but increase.
And so it was. Politically the issue remains deadlocked, but Nature, as usual, makes fun of politics, with its no-nonsense laws.
By 1996, 50 years after its setting up, Nairobi National Park had long ceased to be open to migrating wildlife to the Kitengela plains and back. The plains were now teeming with farms, schools, mansions and kilometres of fences chaotically running in all directions, so that the wild animal still inside the Park could only increase and multiply biologically, but not by migration. The Park was, to all intents a purposes, a zoo.
That word “zoo” is hated by animal lovers, unless they set it up by themselves, exorcizing the term “zoo” and renaming it “orphanage”, i.e. a home for wild animals “orphaned” by the activities of evil poachers. One of such “orphanages” graces the entrance of the Park, but stocked with animals hardly fitting in the category “orphans”.
And the conflict goes on, with no end in sight. Is there any way of solving it?
The Land Question
Image: Nairobi, Capital of Kenya
There are two simple answers to the last question:
- With the Land Question unsolved, i.e. with title deeds, speculators and developers looking over the shoulder of animal lovers and the rest of the carousel around land, there is no solution.
- With the land question solved, i.e. with the tax base shifted from value added by human exertion to value subtracted from common use by private initiative, there is. What follows describes the ideal situation after the ideal solution of the Question.
The new law has abolished title deeds, Income Tax, VAT and indirect taxes. The Nairobi County now taxes occupied land at the same rate as a parked car, i.e. 30/- per square metre per day in the CBD, decreasing towards the periphery of the County proportional to density of occupation. A single square kilometre of CBD fetches the County 30 million/day, or 11bn/year. The owner of a 1000m2 plot in the CBD pays 30 000/- per day regardless of what is built on it. The more income he makes from his exertions, the less tax he pays proportionally. If the daily income from his property is, say, three million, his tax amounts to a paltry 1% of it. Not bad compared to the proportions in double digits he pays now.
The tax revenue from the 684km2 of the County is now enough to spill over to the Government, no longer needing intermediaries like the KRA and concomitant corruption.
The rest of the revenue comes from the remaining 571km2 of territory with all sorts of economic activity, and from the 112km2 occupied by the former Park.
How much revenue should the surface area of the Park convey to the County? Obviously not at the rate of the CBD, the highest by location. It is difficult to decide theoretically, but for the sake of argument let us pitch the starting rate at 1/- per square metre per day. 112 square kilometres makes 112 million square metres, so that claimants to occupation of the area are to pay 112 million shillings/day.
Here is the rub. Who are these occupants?
Wildlife enthusiasts have so far avoided putting their money where their mouth is, on the grounds of ancestral heritage, biodiversity, pristine landscape and other high-sounding mantras. But the County, now fully understanding the Land Question, is keenly aware of the daily loss of revenue, which instead of accruing to its coffers, keeps in employment few hundred officials of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and the area of the Park fiscally sterile.
So the County begins an investigation in depth. It finds that those with an interest on “pristine landscape” and like mantras are mostly rich foreigners fond of exotic safaris in faraway places, but unwilling (like everyone else) to put their money where their mouth is. In dollars the amount would be around one million a day.
Would there be enough of these people to raise that sum? If yes, there would be no problem. They would pay and the 1946 dream would stay. If not, many competitors would be ready to bid for sums higher than 1/- per square metre per day. Developers of housing estates, the Standard Gauge Railway, the Southern Bypass users, would all push to have the Park de-gazetted and used as a source of increasing revenue, both for the County and for the Government, now alert to the idea that pretending to be in charge of the KWS is a hoax sprung upon it by interests that have nothing to do with the common good of the country.
Image: Lusaka, Capital of Zambia
The animals still in the park could easily be moved to other parks; those in the Orphanage could be released in the wild. The only remaining problem would be the large amount of personnel drawing salaries for sitting in offices. This is not the place to propose solutions, but to point out that the last problem is a minor one, and that solutions could be found with ingenuity and goodwill. On principle, the common good must prevail over the private one.
As to the dangers of “deterioration of a wild area” all one has to do is to observe areas that 50 years ago were what the park is now, and are now fully settled. Without exception, the eye contemplates seas of green: formal and informal gardens, trees indigenous and exotic, homes showing here and there through the greenery. Human presence enhances, does not depress, the social value of public areas.
This brings us to a bigger problem. The same mantras that have kept that speck of land reserved to private interests are keeping no less than 27 000km2 of land reserved to the same interests elsewhere. This land can now produce public revenue, but how much?
Let us not forget that any land value, including that of the National Parks, is not due to economic activities inside the area, but to economic activities around it; this is a pillar of the Land Question, hidden by obfuscating talk before, but clear now after the reform.
The rate of 1/- per square metre per day would clearly be excessive, for economic activities around large semiarid areas would hardly attain that taxable level. Let us reduce it by a factor of 1000 to 10/- per hectare per day. Those parks could produce revenue for 27 million shillings daily.
Here the same reasoning applies as for the Nairobi Park. If foreign interests are willing to keep the parks in being, let them pay in foreign exchange (dollars or whatever), thus reducing the need for “donors”; but if local interests outbid them, it is local interests that have to produce that sum in local currency for the public coffers.
Land would be now the main tax base as value subtracted from common use by private interests. Land titles would be abolished, with the following advantages:
- Automatically optimizing land use, as no one would find it profitable to pay for underused land;
- Drastically reducing unemployment until disappearance, for everyone would have access to land on leasehold;
- Killing land speculation, i.e. unearned income by buying a piece of land to resell at a profit after some time.
- Last, but in fact first, sending bloodshed for land quarrels down memory lane.
The above suggestions are the result of three visits to Zambia between 2012 and 2014. Lusaka sports a network of double carriageways, no traffic jams, ample parking areas free of charge everywhere, no high-rise buildings except Government Offices, but generously spaced out, roundabouts with traffic flowing uninterruptedly, and fully fledged national parks within 40km from the city centre. Its only “slum” is a complex of stone houses in a network of smooth albeit non-tarmac roads. Zambia has moreover welcomed 120 White farmers expelled from Zimbabwe, who now produce the former crops but for the benefit of their new country.
Solving the Land Question is indeed the way to peace, prosperity and a sound economy.
 President Kaunda of Zambia did that in 1975.
 Foreign interests could pay in foreign exchange, thus lightening the burden of Government and of “donors”.
 The figures have been roughly calculated, in support of the argument. In practice they could vary as much as circumstances required.
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