Wildlife hunting and management…the colonial legacy in Zimbabwe


HUNTING, prior to the colonisation of Zimbabwe, was an important activity central to the lives of the indigenes.
In the Munhumutapa Empire, annual elephant hunts were celebrated.
The incursion of early European hunters such as Fredrick Courtney Selous with the introduction of firearms and more recently, poison, has resulted in the devastating decline of elephant populations and other wildlife such as buffalo, antelope and zebra.
To protect wildlife, the Ndebele King, Mzilikazi, and his son Lobengula, unsuccessfully attempted to impose fines and limit the movement of European hunters.
Today, do we need strict traditional hunting laws in the wake of increased poaching and wildlife poisoning activities, or do we need programmes that regulate the way rural communities utilise wildlife and forest resources?
The past two weeks saw wildlife managers and conservationists commenting on the deaths of elephants due to cyanide poisoning in Victoria Falls and the Hwange National Park with various solutions proffered.
The major solution, from all stakeholders it seems, was the call for strengthening and implementation of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) in the management of wildlife in rural communities.
The purpose of the programme is to ensure sustainable rural development supported by efficient management of wildlife.
Where CAMPFIRE has been implemented, it has achieved the dual objectives of giving communities economic benefits and providing the locals incentives to conserve wildlife.
Although more than two decades have passed since the inception of CAMPFIRE and millions of donor funds have been channeled to external organisations for fulfillment of programme goals, there is little evidence to show the programme has contributed significantly to rural development.
While the concept behind the programme, which calls for rural communities to regain control of their natural resources, is one supported by most indigenes, its implementation process remains embedded in colonial ideology.
The programme structure has become one of dependency rather than of self-reliance.
Rural communities are neither managing, directing nor benefitting from programme activities.
Instead, several hundred households have been forcibly evicted or relocated to make room for the programme.
Zimbabwean wildlife and other natural resource management systems were practised in the country long before the arrival of the Europeans.
Strong remnants of this can be seen today, revealing how tightly knit these systems were with daily social, cultural, economic and political activities of indigenes.
The dependence of many African communities on wild animal and plant resources based upon collective access allowed for the evolution of resource management systems.
Access to resources such as wildlife and forests for food, medicines and cultural purposes were controlled by local institutions and involved complex sharing and rotation schemes bound by tribal indigenous knowledge systems.
It was the nature of this access to natural resources which formed the basis of unique socio-economic, cultural and political structures upon which the survival and propagation of communities depended.
There is substantial evidence to show that Zimbabweans had practised wildlife and natural resources conservation long before they were colonised and long before the implementation of programmes such as CAMPFIRE.
With the onset of colonialism, traditional wildlife management systems were rapidly replaced by European models which did not acknowledge existing indigenous knowledge systems and practices.
Over the years, wildlife mangers have been unable to cope with problems of human and wildlife conflicts, dwindling wildlife populations due to poaching and habitat loss and escalating poverty levels among those living in rich wildlife areas.
But programmes meant to benefit these people have been misdirected and excluded these communities from benefitting from the resources.
Conservationists opine that until rural communities are able to benefit financially from wildlife resources, poaching will continue.
A trend emerged whereby several programmes claimed to combine both the protection of wildlife and rural development but this has not been the case as evidenced by the increasing number of poaching activities recorded by the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
A report on Sustainable Utilisation and African Wildlife Policy: The Case of Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indeginous Resources by Heena Patel for the Indigenous Environmental Policy Center (IPEC) of March 1998 castigates the concept of CAMPFIRE and noted that since its inception, the programme has received millions of dollars from the US, EU, the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan for the fulfillment of programme goals but there is little evidence to show significant development in the rural areas.
“CAMPFIRE is not a community-based, community-directed programme.
Rural communities are neither managing, directing nor benefitting from programme activities.
Instead several hundreds of households have been forcibly evicted or coerced to resettle to make way for the programme. The programme is largely driven by external organisations and private safari operators (largely whites) both of whom are benefitting the most from the millions of donor funds and lucrative revenue generated from trophy hunting,” said the report.
The report goes on to say: “On the local level, the programme is essentially a business agreement between Rural District Councils (RDCs) and the private safari operating industry.
RDCs allow the safari operators to exploit wildlife resources in their district in (return) for a small percentage…of the profits. The little revenue channeled to local communities has proved insignificant to household income and is viewed by the communities more as compensation for not using their wildlife resources.
On national level, the programme is a strategy devised by the white dominated private wildlife industry to retain their land and increase their control of national policies on land reform and wildlife.
On international level, the programme has been used as a strategy to increase the profits of trophy hunting industry in several countries.
The rural development theme has been used as an effective tool by programme implementers to increase donor funds, influence wildlife policies in other African countries and keep international markets open for trade in endangered species
The ecological sustainability of CAMPFIRE is undermined by mismanagement of trophy quota system, continued subsistence and commercial poaching and the failure by the programme to resolve human-wildlife conflicts and the total dependence of wildlife management on activities like human and wildlife conflict resolution on wildlife as well as anti-poaching on revenues generated by private safari operators.
“There is however no evidence in the hundreds of CAMPFIRE documents that the programme is actively addressing the current inequalities of land ownership.
While there is plenty of mention in the programme documents on land appropriation during the colonial era, no reference is made to the large tracts of land currently under the control of commercial farmers and private individuals.
Nor is it mentioned that private commercial farm owners are often responsible for forcing migration into the communal areas.”
To compound the problems created by the CAMPFIRE programme, NGOs, private hunters and donor agencies all devise land use plans which they feel to be most appropriate for local and national development.
These plans have often been implemented without consultation with the villagers concerned or with very little understanding of the socio-economic and cultural make-up of the communities, resulting in their displacement in growing numbers.
Community participation in the programme can be classified as passive participation at virtually all levels of the programme.
Analysts say while the CAMPFIRE programme has the potential to become a community owned programme rooted in the culture and tradition of rural Zimbabwean society, there is need for the Government and all stakeholders to modify the existing wildlife and natural resource policies to ensure equitable access to rural communities living with resources.
Rural communities themselves, through their local institutions and indigenous knowledge systems, must play a central role in redefining the implementation of programmes such as CAMPFIRE.
The implementation process must be simple, built on local capacity and have popular grassroots support.
Passive participation has been defined as a means to a more efficient realisation of a project by educating people to facilitate externally-formulated plans and achieve project objectives rather than by enabling power- sharing in decision making and self-determination.
Research has revealed that Zim Trust dominates the CAMPFIRE implementing process.
Zim Trust is not a local Zimbabwean NGO.
Its head office is in the UK where its director general and most of its board of trustees reside.
With one exception, the board of Zim Trust is comprised entirely of the British elite, some of whom have received knighthoods for their high level of involvement in Britain’s former colonies of Nothern Rhodesai (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi).
Of the other organisations involved in the programme, the CAMPFIRE Association is the closest in representing local communities through their membership of RDCs.
However, this position is also questionable due to mistrust among community members of council operations.
There are also conflicts between council elected officials and traditional leadership, particularly in the area of land and natural resources allocation, resulting in a lack of popular support for council initiatives by many community members.
It is also interesting to note that only a few indigenous Zimbabweans occupy high posts in the programme-implementing agency, Zim Trust.
While this does not mean whites should not not have a role in some of these programmes, their overwhelming presence in key positions presents a sharp contrast in the debate influencing wildlife policies, not only in Zimbabwe but in other African countries as well.
This is very sad for Zimbabwe’s indigenous populations who, in addition to losing their lands and rights of access to forests for honey, firewood and medicines, are not benefitting from this God-given inheritance.
The BaTonga, whose closely knit community was split up with the creation of Lake Kariba in the 1950s and were evicted to arid and rugged terrains of the Nyaminyami Districts losing access to fertile regions of the Zambezi where fishing and cultivation had previously ensured their household food security, are an example of a disadvantaged people who could be reaping huge dividends from the natural resources in their community.
In the south of Zimbabwe, the Shangaan people, who inhabited what is now the Gonarezhou National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park, were evicted as recently as the 1960s to create protective areas and animal reserves.
The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert are also suffering the same fate while elsewhere in Africa, the Masaai people of Kenya are losing vast tracts of their pastoral lands to wildlife sanctuaries.
In essence, the National Parks and safari hunting areas have become holiday destinations for affluent Europeans and Americans.
Western perceptions of African wildlife did not include the alienation and marginalisation of the indigenous populations at whose expense enjoyment was provided.
According to J.H. Peterson, writing on evictions that created safari hunting areas: “The compression of the African (indigenous) people onto an ever more restricted land base, to provide commercial farms for white settlers and wildlife reserves for white recreation was conveniently forgotten and ignored and this has been a trend all over Africa”.
Instead of being bystanders and pawns used to poison elephants by some gullible Westerners, local people should have a sense of wildlife ownership and should not be seen as poachers.
They are the custodians of this precious resource, but as long as we have foreign-backed programmes that do not value our contribution in wildlife and natural resource management, we will continue losing our animals and medicines with the former colonisers having the last laugh.


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