Future conservation: Anthropological perspectives on the (re)coupling of social-ecological relations in conservation areas

Future conservation: Anthropological perspectives on the (re)coupling of social-ecological relations in the conservation areas of southern and eastern Africa. Experiences from Namibia and Kenya.

The project on “Future Conservation” in Namibia’s Zambezi Region is particularly interested in the historical and present construction of a conservation landscape and the ways people are currently interacting with their environment in the shadow of an omnipresent conservation narrative. The socio-ecological conditions in the region were reorganized several times in the course of the 20th century. For instance the resettlement of people that took place at different times, the fight against and elimination of unwanted inhabitants in the inundation areas of the Kwando River (such as Glossina morsitans – the tsetse fly), or the protection of other more popular wildlife species, such as elephants, have had a great influence on the socio-ecological conditions in the Zambezi Region. This making of a conservation landscape involved the decoupling of people from their places of former inhabitation (the riverine areas) and their interactions with their environments, and a re-coupling in somehow new environments in some distance to the river. With the de- and re-coupling of livelihoods and environments, also new orders were established, including new frontiers, demarcated with the establishment of national parks, conservancies, and forest reserves, and new spaces designated for particular uses, observable in the separation of tourism enterprises along the splendid Kwando River landscapes from the agricultural spaces of smallholder production in the back-country.


In the Tugen hills, West of the Lake Baringo, Kenya, the forests histories are intertwined with those of the local communities. With the gazettement of the Katimok forest as a forest reserve in 1933 under the colonial rule, restrictions to the access and uses of the forest were put in place. A new forest landscape emerged with the establishment of the reserve. Progressively, living within the forest was phased out. Until the 1980s, to ensure forest protection and facilitate management, people living within the area were relocated to the edges of the forest. Clear boundaries around the forest were demarcated, physically showing the limit between the settlement and forest zones. New plantations popped up comprising exotic trees new to the ecology of the Tugen hills. Governmental management combined with the still ongoing, albeit constrained, local forest uses and the development of forest exploitation continued to shape the forest ecology. Since the gazettement, forest dwellers started to negotiate their presence in the forest. In the 1960s, discussions about degazetting parts of Katimok to settle them were ongoing but did not come to completion. Today, the stories of past forest lives and relocations outside of the forest reserve are still mobilized and appropriated. Former evictees and/or their descendants claim cultivable land as compensation of their lost forest land seeking new economic opportunities.


By: Michael Bollig, Hauke-Peter Vehrs, and Léa Lacan

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