East Africa must reject its colonial model of wildlife conservation | Gato and matches

TThe recent violent evictions of the Maasai in Lulondo, Tanzania, to make way for a luxury game reserve are the latest in a long list of examples of land-community owners suffering under the “castle-preserve” model adopted at the height of colonialism. And why? So that others, whether wealthy tourists or royalty, could use tracts of land as their playgrounds.

The Tanzanian authorities and other African governments have an unenviable “duty” to ensure that the pursuit of this pleasure is not jeopardized or hampered by the desire of thousands, if not millions, of people to regain their rights to land and survive. on that land.

Tanzania is not alone in imposing this obscenity. Neighboring Kenya may not have an explicitly pro-sports hunting policy, but it is adept at ensuring that the rights and needs of those with ancestral claims to wildlife corridors and scattering areas do not interfere with the enjoyment of primarily foreign tourists. Additionally, Kenya has been known to use violence against herders and their livestock when encroaching on white-owned hunting farms.

Few people in East Africa are willing to point out that Tanzania and Kenya were created by the British and partly Germans, and minimal effort was made to reconfigure these geographical entities in the interests of most citizens.

A Maasai boy grazing cattle outside the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Herders could take their animals to pastures in the Serengeti or crater during the dry season but were later banned in the name of conservation. Photography: Ami Vitali/Getty

When they landed on our shores, white settlers brought from their homes concepts and practices that had nothing to do with the reality (natural or otherwise) of the places they had colonized. None of them claimed to be protectionists in the modern sense of the term; They were hunters. Some also held romantic notions of nature. They reconciled the competing visions of wildlife killers, on the one hand, and romantics, on the other, by designating former hunting grounds as game parks and reserves. In Kenya, this began in the mid-1940s. Nairobi National Park was established in 1946.

It means to “create” game parks and initiation sanctuaries with what Mordechai Ugada and I call in our book The Big Conservation Lie “Apartheid in Conservation,” in which the organic model of mixed land use was replaced by an attempt to separate animals from people. This was enforced by laws about which the locals knew nothing – and by the barrel of a gun.

For the first time, people were officially denied access to part of what were once dry season grazing areas or sacred sites. No attempt has been made to acknowledge that the wide range of white settlers of wildlife found in East Africa owes their existence to African spirituality as well as to the philosophy and ethics of conservation. This colonial disregard was upheld by the indigenous elite, who assumed positions of leadership and governance vacated by European officials.

The constant quest to preserve forts—the idea that to protect the land and biodiversity, ecosystems must operate in isolation, devoid of people—in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is a foolish and short-sighted attempt to prevent wildlife species from dying. Before and after statistics show that almost all types of wildlife have dwindled in number and diversity. But the promoters of this model—whether they are environmental organizations, individual conservationists, paid scientists, or government officials—do not see this contradiction. Instead, many see the reasons in terms of habitat invasion and land overuse and abuse. I am not saying that these negative forces do not exist. But I also know that this is not the whole story.

The world must realize that the philosophy and practice of modern conservation in East Africa has been adopted without input from the local population. It is a sign of the naked arrogance that Europeans came up with and imposed models of wildlife management that ignored and replaced the conservation ethics and practices of societies in Africa for hundreds of years. I admit the often expressed but lazy view that much of the water is now under the bridge for Africa to come back and discover what made it ecologically and economically resilient. But with climate change, we are facing crises of planetary proportions that require a real paradigm shift.

Africa needs to stop listening to the naysayers as it is restoring appropriate traditional conservation practices. Certainly, 100 years of colonialism and neo-colonial practices cannot replace those that have ensured ecological and economic resilience for thousands of years. The authorities must begin to restore, protect and promote the land rights of local communities, whether in Tanzania or elsewhere. Governments in Africa and beyond should show their gratitude to communities like the Maasai, who have historically lost swathes of their ancestral lands to support the conservation edifices for which Tanzania, Kenya and other countries are famous. In the eyes of these communities, this means protecting their rights to the lands they still own.

Gato Wambaria is a freelance conservation journalist and co-author of The Big Conservation Lie

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