tThe recent violent evictions of Maasai in Loliondo, Tanzania, to make way for a luxury game reserve is the latest in a long list of examples of community owners of land suffering under a ‘fort conservation’ model adopted during the heyday of colonialism . And for what? So that others, whether wealthy tourists or royalty can use tracts of land as their playground.
The Tanzanian authorities and other African governments undertake the unenviable “duty” of ensuring that the pursuit of such pleasure is not jeopardized or hampered by the desire of thousands, if not millions, of people to regain their rights to land. to demand and survive in that field.
Tanzania is not alone in maintaining this obscenity. Neighboring Kenya may not have an outright pro-sports hunting policy, but it is adept at ensuring that the rights and needs of those with ancestral claims to wildlife corridors and ranges do not hinder the enjoyment of primarily foreign tourists. In addition, Kenya is known to use violence against herders and their livestock when they encroach on white game ranches.
Few people in East Africa are willing to point out that Tanzania and Kenya were created by the British and partly by the Germans, and minimal effort was ever made to reconfigure these geographic entities for the benefit of most citizens.
When they landed on our shores, white settlers brought from their homes ideas and practices that had little to do with the realities (natural or otherwise) of the places they colonized. None of them would have claimed to be conservationists in the modern sense of the word; they were hunters. Some also had romantic notions of nature. They reconciled the warring visions of naturalists on the one hand and romantics on the other by designating former hunting grounds as game parks and reserves. In Kenya, this started in the mid-1940s. Nairobi National Park was established in 1946.
“Establishing” wildlife parks and reserves meant ushering in what Mordecai Ogada and I call The Big Conservation Lie in our book. “apartheid in protection”, replacing the organically evolved model of mixed land use with an attempt to separate animals from humans. This was enforced by laws that the locals knew nothing about – and by the barrel of a gun.
For the first time, people were officially banned from accessing some of what used to be their grazing grounds or sacred sites in the dry season. No attempt has been made to acknowledge that the vast array of white settlers in the wild found in East Africa owed its existence to African spirituality, as well as conservation philosophy and ethics. This colonial disdain was confirmed by the indigenous elite, who held managerial and administrative positions abandoned by the European rulers.
The ongoing pursuit of fortress preservation – the idea that ecosystems must function in isolation, devoid of humans to protect land and biodiversity – in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is a foolish and short-sighted attempt to prevent animal species from dying. . The before-and-after statistics show that nearly all wildlife has declined in numbers and diversity. But the promoters of this model — whether environmental groups, individual conservationists, hired scientists or government officials — fail to see this contradiction. Many see the causes rather in terms of habitat invasion, overuse and misuse of land. I am not saying that these negative forces do not exist. But I also know that this is not the whole story.
The world should realize that the philosophy and practice of contemporary wildlife conservation has been adopted in East Africa without input from the local people. It is a sign of naked arrogance that Europeans came up with conservation models that ignored and supplanted the conservation ethics and practices followed by communities in Africa for hundreds of years. I recognize the oft voiced but lazy opinion that Africa is now too much water under the bridge to go back and dig up what it was that gave it environmental and economic resilience. But with climate change, we face crises of planetary proportions that require a real paradigm shift.
Africa must stop listening to opponents as it reclaims the right traditional conservation practices. Certainly, 100 years of colonialism and neo-colonial practices cannot replace those that provided ecological and economic resilience for thousands of years. The authorities must start to restore, protect and promote the land rights of local communities, both in Tanzania and elsewhere. Governments in Africa and beyond should show their gratitude to communities like the Maasai, who have historically forfeited parts of their ancestral lands to preserve the protected buildings for which Tanzania, Kenya and other countries are so famous. In the eyes of these communities, this means protecting their rights to the land they still own.