Publications

Navigating community conservancies and institutional complexities in Namibia

Hebinck, P.G.M.; Dimba Kiaka, R.; Lubilo, R.

Summary

Since the mid-1990s, communal conservancies have been promoted by the state and non-state agencies in Namibia as an alternative land use that simultaneously ensures wildlife conservation and provides livelihoods opportunities for rural communities. Members of local communities are given usufruct rights over wildlife and other natural resources. Eco-tourism and trophy hunting became important activities that can provide resources for community projects. Furthermore, the management of the conservancies is expected to be participatory. The new forms and modes of participating in decision-making and sharing of the monetary benefits of nature, however, have generated a series of interfaces and contestations with the pre-existing so-called traditional modes and forms of organising the use and access to natural resources. By focussing on two questions, this chapter sheds light on the interfaces and contestations that unfold in and during the conservancy formation process. First, we zoom in on the institutional complexities the communal conservancy programme became enmeshed in and how the “modern” and “traditional” forms of organisations configure each other. Secondly, we explore what this entanglement implies for the members of the conservancy. We draw from long-term fieldwork in two conservancies: ǂKhoadi ǁHôas and Wuparo in northwest and northeast Namibia respectively. The central argument we develop is that the organisation of conservancies has, by design, become entangled in a social field of multi-scalar institutions serving multiple and often conflicting interests. This is only partly due to the fact that the model has been parachuted into Namibia as part of a global conservation project. By singling out the management of, for instance, wildlife and consolidating it under communal conservancy conditions, it ignored and simplified the existing socio-political inequalities of the society that now constitute a conservancy, one which is expected to perform as a community to be labelled as successfully achieving its aims (i.e. poverty reduction and sustainable resource management). The control over wildlife and tourism benefits affects and is affected by rights and access to land that is controlled by local traditional authorities. At the same time, various other processes (i.e. migration) has produced new elites whose influence in controlling tourism benefits and land allocation affects the operation of the conservancies. Moreover, though the conservancy programme has made the communities to be producers of wildlife, the ownership of wildlife and the determination of its economic use remain with the state, global conservation community and international tourism market. The conservancy programme has created a fertile socio-political ground for these different nodes of power and authority to sprout, which together lead to a struggle over who is in charge and how the benefits are distributed. The imbalances and counter imbalances that stem from these struggles and power asymmetries result in enduring and intensified conflicts and contestations about the conservancy model. Amongst the unintended consequences of the conservancy formation process is that, over time, certain actor groups who rarely share in the conservancy benefits withdraw or engage in defiant behaviours.