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Transfrontier Conservation, Sustainable Use and the Southern African

Dr. Clara Bocchino, AHEAD-GLTFCA Network and Programme Coordinator

Transfrontier Conservation was born out of a practical realisation that the

natural environment is a physical continuum, the boundaries of which are
determined by geology, hydrogeology and climate, rather than by human
decision-making. This scientific postulate was accepted, not without the need
for some lobbying by conservation groups, in the political spheres both at
national and regional levels with the added value that the re-unification of
natural environments across international borders would symbolise the
affirmation of peace between the countries involved. For those scholars who
have always looked at conservation, particularly in Southern Africa as the
realisation of romantic and naturalistic perceptions (see the critiques
presented in Anderson and Grove, 1987), the evolution of transfrontier
conservation has represented the culmination of such process with all the
advantages and disadvantages it implies (see Ramutsindela, 2007).

In Southern Africa, a war-torn region until the mid 1990s with a history of
fortress conservation that functioned on the exclusion of rural indigenous
communities from any use of natural resources, the concept of transfrontier
conservation was promoted as a pathway to peace, cooperation and
development between the new constitutional state of law in all countries in the
region. Particularly, in consideration of the role played by Apartheid South
Africa in fomenting regional conflict, and through the work of the corporate
magnate Anton Rupert, South Africa placed itself geopolitically as the main
driver of transfrontier conservation as the telos for sustainable development
in Southern Africa (Bsher, 2013). This was done through the use of the
expression Peace Park to describe the newly established transfrontier
conservation areas across countries that were previously in conflict. However,
the initial focus revolved around biodiversity conservation and tourism
development. The approach was very much in line with a global trend that
viewed tourism as a development solution for rural areas in developing
countries neighbouring existing or potential biodiversity hotspots, be they
coastal or in-land. The inception of the Great Limpopo transfrontier
conservation area, for instance, saw the promotion of the unification between
Kruger National Park in South Africa and the new Limpopo National Park in
Mozambique as a bush-to-beach tourism experience: a pathway of potential
income generation that would begin in Kruger, through Limpopo and lead all
the way to the coastline of Mozambique.

The other side of transfrontier conservation for sustainable development in

Southern Africa, however, concerns primarily the rural communities who were,
theoretically, to benefit from tourism development, thus accessing better
quality of life. This is the result of an unchanged conservation policy that,
despite the ratification in the concerned countries of international treaties on
sustainable development and biodiversity conservation, still perceives rural
communities as antagonistic to conservation practices. Notwithstanding the
long history of alternative conservation practices in the region that aimed at
placing rural communities as the custodian of biodiversity and the attempt to
implement conservation as a sustainable use practice, transfrontier
conservation has consistently excluded rural communities through forced re-
settlements as it is the case for Mozambique, unfair contractual agreements
such as in South Africa, or the creation of income-generating activities funded
on irrigation schemes and some formalised labour. With the exception of
Namibia, where land and resources rights of rural communities have been
legalised, the rest of the region is far from achieving sustainable development
through sustainable use of natural resources, despite the rhetoric inscribed in
the marketing of transfrontier conservation areas and Peace Parks.

The first decade of implementation of transfrontier conservation in the region

has left an interesting legacy for both scholars and practitioners. On the one
hand, the success stories coming from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park show
that joint-management approaches and cooperation between countries,
despite the sovereignty clauses of the agreements, can work and benefit both
biodiversity conservation and tourism. The Kgalagadi example has shown that
in the scarce presence of rural communities needing natural resources and in
the historical development of cooperation between protected areas
management, a transfrontier conservation area is an evolution of conservation
to a cross-border scale. This evolution benefits biodiversity directly, through
cooperative management, and indirectly through tourism revenues. The
majority of regional transfrontier conservation areas (TFCA), however, are
very complex socio-ecological systems both at the national and cross-border
scales. The landscape patchwork characterising the Lubombo TFCA, the
Maloti-Drakensberg TFCA, the Great Limpopo TFCA and, more recently, the
Kavango-Zambezi TFCA provides an intricate tangle of socio-economic,
political and traditional relations between government and non-government
stakeholders, including rural communities. The governments response to this
complexity has, traditionally, been exclusion and law enforcement, but this
has not proved sufficient to resolve the conflict between rural community,
conservation as a land use and wildlife protection.

Of course, the surge in the organised crime for illegal hunting of rhino horn
and ivory, particularly along the South Africa Mozambique border, has not
contributed to redress this conflict, rather it presents itself as the unwanted but
inevitable reaction to a decade of unheeded promises of financial returns from
state-based conservation. The rise in the demand for the products in the Far
East has met, thanks to both a globalised world and ancient trade routes, with
the need for cash and the growing resentment against conservation in rural
Africa. The match would be made in heaven if it was not so obvious that
besides the threat to species conservation, this is neither a legal nor a
sustainable income generation, if the number of animals declines below the
recruitment level. Yet, from a Sustainable Use and Livelihoods perspective, it
may not be too late to start thinking of conservation in a traditional African
perspective as a land and resource use practice, and shift its growing
anachronism by including in its management the very people who are now in
conflict with wildlife, and their respective governments. The enduring
challenge is to bring all those positive experimentations in the region back to
life and, this time, engage in a renewed conservation and development
debate, in which trans-frontier conservation becomes a positive driver of
sustainable use and development.