This thesis is about community based natural resource management. This form of resource management is well known globally and locally through its acronym: CBNRM. It stands for the devolution from the state to local communities of rights to manage and reap the benefits from natural resources. One of CBNRM’s objectives is to empower rural communities through providing material and non-material incentives for assuming management responsibility over natural and wildlife resources. CBNRM initiatives have globally been triggered by substantial losses in biodiversity and marginalisation of rural communities. Enduring poverty in communities residing in communal areas bordering protected areas and non-involvement in management, decision-making and access to benefits are often seen as causing biodiversity losses to occur. For many academics, NGO-practitioners, rural people as well as national and regional policymakers, CBNRM has evolved to become an important model for conservation and rural development. The realisation and widespread failure of centralised, top-down approaches, also referred to as ‘fortress conservation’, combined with the belief that wildlife could be sustainably conserved if its management was partly transferred to the people who live with these resources, contributed to the growth and expansion of CBNRM projects and programmes across the globe. CBNRM - if well designed and implemented – is positioned and believed to be a model that potentially simultaneously conserves biodiversity and reduces poverty.
This thesis explores a critical dimension of CBNRM: the community, and particularly the community in interactions with a range of actors operating at global and local levels. CBNRM stands analytically a multi-actor and multi-level project. CBNRM projects evolved to be the sites where global and local processes and projects interact and intersect creating in turn many interesting interfaces and learning moments for all that are involved in conservation. Such focus helps to understand what a conservancy actually is and how these were introduced and enacted in villages. The idea gradually developed that a conservancy evolves as an area where a diversity of actors socio-politically relate to each other and operate to satisfy their specific but different needs and interests in distributing the benefits of CBNRM and to attempt to access jobs and yield power in the process. I conceptualise the conservancy as an ‘arena’, as the social setting or site of enactment of conservation practices, social relations and processes and, simultaneously, the site where the struggle over control over conservancy resources and power takes place. This focus allows for a detailed analysis of a range of critical issues including socio-economic inequality, gender, traditional authority, benefits sharing, elite behaviour or capture, competition, transparency and accountability. The empirical setting of the thesis is three conservancies in the former Caprivi Province of Namibia: Wuparo, Sobbe and Kwandu. The author has worked with these conservancies for over 8 years, in many capacities: as researcher, as practitioner/consultant and as a more then interested bystander given his involvement with nature conservation from his high school years.