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The political ecology of land and disease in the Zambezi valley

In addition to migration discussed in last week’s blog, the changing politics of land use in the Zambezi valley is another dimension that has affected the incidence of trypanosomiasis over time.

Over the last century, the people of Hurungwe have been subject to numerous external interventions. The Korekore were the original inhabitants of the area, prior to the waves of migration discussed last week. The reasons the Korekore are settled where they are today is a result of the massive engineering project of the Kariba dam, and the creation of the Mana Pools national park in the 1950s and 60s.

Colonial visions of modernity and the need for electricity to supply the growing industries and urban centres of Rhodesia resulted in a major eviction of people who had traditionally made a living along the Zambezi river. Colonial economic imperatives reshaped the landscape, and pushed people into new territories. In the subsequent decades, the Mana Pools area became a significant tourist attraction, generating revenues for the state and for elite ecotourism operators, as well as a symbolic site of ‘wild’ Africa for white residents of Rhodesia.

Surrounding the park a series of hunting/safari areas were established, and particularly after Independence, these became the location for high-end hunting operations. Some of these activities generated some employment for locals, but not much. Ecotourism and hunting was by and large the preserve of a white elite, and money did not find its way back into the local economy.

The Zambezi valley was a major front during Zimbabwe’s liberation war, with frequent incursions of fighters from Zambia and regular battles with the Rhodesian forces. In this period, tsetse control efforts were abandoned, and the fly encroached into once cleared areas. With peace and Independence in 1980, aid programmes supported clearance efforts once again, and the tsetse fly retreated. Combined with migration from other areas of the country (see last week’s blog), and the mid-1980s cotton boom, the habitat for tsetse flies also declined.

But there were countervailing drivers, encouraging an expansion of tsetse habitat too. From the late 1980s, Zimbabwe was at forefront of ‘community-based conservation’ and the CAMPFIRE programme became a world-famous experiment. Revenues from hunting were to go back to the community, and provide much needed support. But CAMPFIRE was premised on generating revenue from animals shot (or sometimes photographed) in the communal areas, where people lived. While providing an economic basis for conserving wildlife, it encouraged wild animals to be closer to people. And since such wildlife are significant hosts of trypanosomiasis, and their habitats the same as those of tsetse fly, the disease consequences of CAMPFIRE were potentially significant.

With the decline in hunting operations with the collapse of the economy and the failure of bankrupt Rural District Councils to share revenues, CAMPFIRE has declined in significance. But there is a new kid on the block, focused not on wildlife, but on carbon. A massively ambitious project – Kariba REDD – was established notionally over thousands of hectares, including in Hurungwe, and in our study area. Making use of international markets for carbon, and linking to the UN REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), the project aimed to put a value on carbon, and reverse the decline in forested area across the Zambezi valley.

Through protecting – and indeed expanding – forests against a notional baseline, other values could be marketed, including an expanded trade in ecotourism and wildlife hunting. Like the interventions that went before, carbon is restructuring disease landscapes too. As carbon has acquired value, the project is increasing incentives both the plant and protect trees. These may expand the habitat of tsetse flies, including into the formerly cleared areas.

Understanding disease incidence, spread and risk requires looking at the underlying structural drivers. These are not just the proximate ones of changing climate, habitat, demography and so on, but can be traced back to much deeper causes. Whether these are the factors that drive migration or incentivise investments in hunting or carbon, these can be linked to wider political economy processes. These may often reach to the global political economy; way beyond the confines of the fields and forests of the Zambezi valley.

A political ecology of disease must therefore take these factors into account. Any appraisal of intervention – whether for forest protection, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection or infrastructure development – must look at these wider webs of power and influence. Without looking at the political drivers of disease, we may never understand underlying causes, or define the most appropriate interventions. As the blogs in this series have shown, ‘control’ interventions may miss their target, if wider questions of land access, migration, economic opportunity and the politics of competing land values are not addressed.

The Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa work was supported by ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) programme funded by NERC, ESRC and DFID, and the Zimbabwe study was led by Professor Vupenyu Dzingirai (CASS, UZ), working with William Shereni (Ministry of Agriculture), Learnmore Nyakupinda (Ministry of Agriculture), Lindiwe Mangwanya (UZ), Amon Murwira (UZ), Farai Matawa (UZ), Neil Anderson (Edinburgh University) and Ewan McLeod (Edinburgh University), among others.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland.

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Cecil the lion: a lens on land, wildlife and elite politics in Zimbabwe

A lion called Cecil from Zimbabwe hit the headlines this week. He had been shot by a dentist from Minnesota as part of a high-end bow hunting trip to Gwaai Conservancy on the edge of Hwange National Park. A huge uproar has been generated. Walter Palmer (the dentist) has been condemned by the general public, politicians, including the UK PM David Cameron, and countless ‘celebrities’. The Zimbabwean government has demanded his extradition for trial alongside the landowner, one Honest Trymore Ndlovu, and the hunting guide, Theo Bronkhorst from Bushman Safaris. Bronkhorst had helped bait the animal and draw it out of the park where it could be killed on private land, apparently though without the appropriate quota. There have been calls for a ban on hunting, tough restrictions on trophy imports and a flood of money being pledged for lion conservation.Cecil-the-lion-ap-640x480

The whole episode is for me a fascinating lens into Zimbabwean land politics, and the relationship between humans and ‘wild’ nature, at the centre of debates about conservation and development. A number of things have struck me while trawling through newspaper articles, social media and other commentary (some of it really weird – just check out #CecilTheLion for a flavour).

First is the relationship between people in the (urban, middle class) west and ‘wild’ Africa, and particularly its charismatic wildlife. The outpouring from everyone from Mia Farrow to Ricky Gervais to Newt Gingrich has imposed a strange anthropomorphism on poor Cecil. He had a name because he was famous for his large black mane. But why Cecil? Surely not linked to the other famous Cecil (John Rhodes) associated with Zimbabwe? Was this the tragic slaying of the imperial master, who had gained dominion over nature and people as the head of the pride? But Cecil also has another side to him. He is also constructed as one more of the cuddly toys – the Disney Lion King image of nature – that are stacked up outside the beleaguered dentist’s surgery. Walter Palmer did not fit in with the conservationist view – hunting and killing for pleasure is regarded widely with disgust, and the massive $50,000 fee seen as indulgent, arrogant extravagance.

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Second, it raises questions about how hunting revenues can contribute to development. From the 1980s, Zimbabwe was at the forefront of an international movement away from a preservationist position on conservation to one that emphasised conservation for development through ‘sustainable utilisation’. Hunting it was argued could be seen as a form of management, as long as careful cull quotas were adhered to (apparently not in this case). Alongside Cecil, many lions (presumably without names) have been killed in the past years as part of regulated quotas. According to Peter Lindsay and colleagues in a 2013 PLOS One article, the annual lion quota for Zimbabwe is 101 across 38,000 square kilometres of hunting area on a mix of land-use types. On average 42.5 lions – less than half the quota – were killed each year between 2008 and 2011, presumably due to the drop in hunting visits to Zimbabwe in recent years. Along with other southern African countries, Zimbabwe pioneered an approach linking game hunting with development, and the famous CAMPFIRE programme from the late 1980s became a flagship, with hunting concessions offered on communal lands nearby parks and safari areas. The revenues raised were quite considerable, especially for the big five. Around 90 per cent of CAMPFIRE revenues were from sport hunting, not other forms of tourism. Funds were ploughed back into development projects with dividends going to both the local community and Rural District Councils. CAMPFIRE did not always work as planned, and there have been many critiques, but the principle of making use of local resources for local development has been widely acknowledged in the region – if not in East Africa where a more preservationist strand of conservation persists.

Third, while for Westerners lions are either Disney style characters in charge on the African plains or potential trophies to show off machismo and hunting prowesss, for many Africans living in areas near national parks, lions are dangerous predators and pests. They kill their stock, and sometimes people too. Last year there were a number of reports of lions terrorising people in the press in Zimbabwe. And no doubt many, many more where they killed livestock. Hunting as pest control is often valued, especially if the benefits are shared locally, and the hunting replaces the inadequate Problem Animal Control operations from the National Parks and Wildlife Agency. Walter Palmer might have been a saviour to some poor villagers, rather than the devil incarnate.

Fourth, the Cecil story exposes some of the racial dimensions of the relationships between wildlife, land and hunting in Zimbabwe. The hunting business has a long pedigree going back to the establishment of hunting blocks in various parts of the country in colonial times. Hunting was always seen as central to the colonial conquest of taming wild Africa. Many white farmers turned their properties over to private game hunting reserves in the 1980s and 90s, sometimes as part of large blocks of land where the fences were removed, called ‘conservancies’ – such as Gwaai in the west, as well as many others, notably the well-known Save Valley conservancy in the southeast. These blocks and conservancies became the playgrounds of a rich, white elite; some local but many international, with Americans and Europeans being regular customers. Unlike the CAMPFIRE arrangements, the benefits from conservancies to surrounding populations were minimal, beyond a few concessionary ‘outreach’ efforts. Grand visions of connecting conservancies with national parks across borders have recently been promoted in the ‘transfrontier parks’ movement, with the wildlife estate extending over massive areas, very often to the exclusion of people and their livelihoods. Conservation – and hunting – has been long associated with white privilege and colonial expansion, and a European construction of landscape as wilderness. Cecil (and the name becomes more appropriate with this lens) is also about issues of race, colonialism and the control over land.

Fifth, the case however also reveals a new elite land politics in Zimbabwe. The extensive game ranches and conservancies were mostly subject to land reform in the early 2000s. Many of the former owners were evicted, along with their safari operations. But these lands, unlike many of the agricultural areas elsewhere in the country, were not handed over to land-hungry peasants or unemployed urbanites, but to elites. For a time there was an argument that conservation areas were not to be part of the land reform, and that a separate wildlife-based land reform would be instituted. This was to be under the control of the Ministry of Environment, and not the Ministry of Lands, and so would guarantee the sanctity of the wildlife estate as a good source of revenue – from hunting, but more especially tourism. However this soon got overridden by politics and many of the conservancy lands and other game farms were allocated as part of A2 (medium to large scale) land reform. And, as with a lot of A2 allocations – and particularly in the conservancies that many assumed to be very lucrative businesses – to well-connected elites. The list of ‘beneficiaries’ of some of these areas reads like a who’s who of the ZANU-PF political-military elite. Wikileaks offered details of who was in the Gwaai area where Cecil was shot, and there are many recognisable names. Honest Trymore Ndlovu was one such beneficiary (a Mugabe ‘land grabber’ in some people’s parlance). The new land owners in search of income from their land have hooked up with white safari operators, some who had formerly operated on the same areas. Some are legit and above board, sadly many are less so – and Bronkhorst it is alleged is one of the less reputable crowd. Wildlife is once again perpetuating a new elite land politics linked to wildlife, excluding wider populations from the benefits. This time it’s with new (black) faces, but with many of the same unsavoury connections of the past, with links between politicians, poachers and hunting business entrepreneurs never far from the surface.

So what should we make of the sad demise of Cecil? Knee-jerk reactions resulting in bans on hunting or trophy imports will not solve anything. Indeed, past bans elsewhere have made things worse, with a rise in poaching, and decline in conservation protection. But while the posturing rhetoric about extraditing an American dentist dominates now, Zimbabweans should look harder at who benefits from wildlife. If revenues are to be generated from hunting quotas (and I am a great supporter of this route to conservation), they should not just benefit a narrow elite – a new pact between white hunters and their safari companies and the new politically-connected black elite, as exposed in the case of Cecil. If Cecil and his other 100 odd fellow lions are to be part of a regulated hunting quota, and so creating a resource for development, then the conservancies and game ranches need to be opened up for wider use to generate broader benefit. Only then will the wildlife assets of the nation be properly shared and the habitats preserved for Cecil and his relatives. Perhaps the outcry over Cecil can result in a proper wildlife based land reform, so such wildlife can benefit everyone, not just elites – black or white.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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