Witchcraft, wilderness and rhinos: on frictions in market-based improvement through community-conservation in west Namibia

Sullivan, S (2015) Witchcraft, wilderness and rhinos: on frictions in market-based improvement through community-conservation in west Namibia. In: RGS-IBG Annual Conference, 1-4 September 2015, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.

Official URL: http://conference.rgs.org/Conference/Sessions/Sear...


The latest annual report on The State of Community Conservation in Namibia (NACSO 2014) frames CBNRM and associated initiatives as a modernisation programme generating improvement in the management of natural resources in rural communal areas so as to enable business. A communal area conservancy is described as ‘a business venture in communal land use… although its key function is actually to enable business’ (ibid., p.25). Conservancies thus ‘do not necessarily need to run any of the business ventures that use the resources themselves. In fact, these are often best controlled and carried out by private sector operators with the necessary know-how and market linkages’ (ibid.). Such statements clearly structure CBNRM as a state, NGO and donor facilitated process of outsourcing access to significant public natural/wildlife resources and income possibilities to private sector (frequently foreign) business interests, a governance strategy that tends to be associated with neoliberalism. Given the concurrent argument that such investment will improve conservation outcomes, by linking improved conservation of valued species to income for local employment in tourism businesses as well as to benefits such as meat handouts to conservancy members, CBNRM in Namibia can also be understood as a paradigmatic case of what has become known as ‘neoliberal conservation’ (cf. Sullivan 2006; Büscher et al 2012). A number of recent contributions have brought complexity into analyses of CBNRM success in Namibia, highlighting discontent with CBNRM as a development strategy (Silva and Mosimane 2012), insufficient, i.e. low value and low volume, levels of incentives (Suich 2012), and concerns regarding the long-term financial viability of many communal area conservancies (Humavindu and Stage 2015). In this paper I seek to complement such analyses by drawing on current ethnographic research to illustrate ways in which CBNRM as a powerful instrument of ‘improvement’ (Li 2007) is destabilised in a particular context through historically and culturally embedded frictions and resistances (cf. Tsing 2005). Here, local desire for land and natural resources is set within a complex history of eviction of peoples from ancestral homes in the course of manufacturing the west Namibian landscape as a <>. Conservation area boundaries are made further porous through pastoralist aspiration for access to grazing and water sources. And since 2012 international demand for rhino horn (cf. Mason et al., 2012) has brought rhino poaching to west Namibia. This is potentially destabilising a critical source of economic value for CBNRM and associated business ventures in the region (NACSO 2014: 14-15), as well as ushering in an intensification of military security strategies for anti-poaching in the region (see critique in Muntifering under revision). Operating in the midst of accusations of witchcraft and murder, rhino poaching in the region is linked with socio-cultural dynamics that are a far cry from the projections of modern, rational management associated with indicators of CBNRM success (pers. obs.). My intention is to contribute to nuanced conversation regarding the impacts of and resistances to neoliberal conservation, through observations of the complex social dimensions that can intersect productively and unpredictably with the linear projections of progress, improvement and development associated with neoliberal conservation interventions.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
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Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2015 14:56
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2024 16:16
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/6818
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