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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 36-46

The Power of Dissonance: Inconsistent Relations Between Travelling Ideas And Local Realities in Community Conservation in Namibia's Zambezi Region

1 Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
2 Geography Department, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
3 Department of Sociology, Windhoek, University of Namibia

Correspondence Address:
Hauke-Peter Vehrs
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Cologne, Cologne
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_32_21

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Date of Submission23-Feb-2021
Date of Acceptance03-Dec-2021
Date of Web Publication07-Feb-2022


Environmental conservation is presented as a success story in Namibia's Zambezi Region where conservation measures have led to an enormous increase in many wildlife populations. Complementary to historically exclusive fortress-conservation strategies, inclusive projects have gained prominence in the past few decades aiming to integrate local populations into conservation projects. Perhaps the most salient approach is community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), which sets ambitious goals of more participation, empowerment, and stewardship of local residents in the process of conservation. Despite its popularity in southern Africa, the CBNRM concept has met with criticism, especially with regard to the situations of many conservancy members. We aim to show that the idea of conservation, and the concept of CBNRM in particular, are in some respects detached from the lives of the conservancy members who are confronted with the effects and regulations of conservation measures. We therefore employ the notion of 'dissonance’ to describe the inconsistencies between the intended effects of the CBNRM concept and how it is perceived by conservancy members. Three aspects of dissonance are identified here. First, we draw attention to the limited opportunities conservancy members have to benefit from the thriving safari- and hunting-tourism industry. Second, despite successful conservation leading to increased wildlife populations, impacts of human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) and their repercussions for farming and livestock husbandry aggravate the dissonant relationship between conservancy members and the CBNRM concept. Third, we illustrate the discrepancies between the notion of the 'community’ in conservancies and the actual social organisation. Altogether, the inconsistencies between the travelling idea of conservation and its impact on local livelihoods will be demonstrated.

Keywords: Conservation, CBNRM, Dissonance, Community, Future-making, Zambezi Region, Namibia

How to cite this article:
Vehrs HP, Kalvelage L, Nghitevelekwa R. The Power of Dissonance: Inconsistent Relations Between Travelling Ideas And Local Realities in Community Conservation in Namibia's Zambezi Region. Conservat Soc 2022;20:36-46

How to cite this URL:
Vehrs HP, Kalvelage L, Nghitevelekwa R. The Power of Dissonance: Inconsistent Relations Between Travelling Ideas And Local Realities in Community Conservation in Namibia's Zambezi Region. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 24];20:36-46. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/1/36/337368

   Introduction Top

At national and international levels, conservationists’ aspirations target the expansion of conservation areas to prevent species’ extinction while maintaining biodiversity (Wilson 2016; Convention on Biological Diversity 2020, Desalegn et al. 2020). To this end, the focus has shifted from the mere governance of protected areas (PAs) to more participatory management approaches (Sullivan 2002; Haller and Galvin 2008). A variety of different approaches can be distinguished, ranging from areas being exclusively designated for wildlife and nature protection, such as national parks, to more participatory and inclusive forms of conservation, such as community-based conservation (CBC) models.

In Namibia, the structures of conservation areas are multifaceted, and have developed a strong tendency to strengthen participatory community-conservation projects since the 1980s. The Nature Conservation Amendment Act of 1996 (Republic of Namibia 1996) set the legal frame for the CBNRM idea by regulating the management of wildlife and natural resources. The underlying idea is that as “local people already used, relied on and managed natural resources, they were most suited to conserve them, though with extra-local support” (Dressler et al. 2010: 7). The extension of the conservation approach to communal lands in the 1990s created opportunities for communities to participate in the revenue generation associated with conservation projects (Pellis 2011). The implementation of such projects serves two major goals: 1) empowerment of those people who are living in conservation areas by enabling them to participate in the tourism industry, and 2) the protection of wildlife and endangered species (Abensperg-Traun et al. 2011).

While the CBNRM concept and its implementation were often advertised as a panacea to overcome shortcomings of previous conservation policies, the approach has met with criticism from both the sciences and local stakeholders (Blaikie 2006; Sullivan 2006; Springer 2009; Measham and Lumbasi 2013). More generally, conservation efforts have been accused of reproducing colonial power structures (Koot et al. 2020b), and criticised for the biased perspectives of stakeholders involved in the conservation debate1 (Koot et al. 2020a), for their “mode of global capitalist production” (Garland 2008: 51), and for fortifying 'green grabbing’ (Fairhead et al. 2012). More specifically, scholars have highlighted problems of elite capture (Hoole 2009), the increasing control of CBNRM projects through national governments (Schafer and Bell 2002) and the disempowerment of local communities through conservation measures (Noe and Kangalawe 2015). To sum up, concerns were raised that CBNRM projects “often ended in less than ideal outcomes when institutionalised” (Dressler et al. 2010: 5).

The extent to which CBNRM contributes to the improvement of the local residents’ living conditions remains contested. While on the one hand studies show the economic potential of nature conservation (Naidoo et al. 2016), on the other hand the unequal distribution of revenues is criticised, implying that great proportions of the local population are excluded from economic benefits (Nuulimba and Taylor 2015; Morton et al. 2016). These criticisms question the legitimacy of CBNRM as a conservation strategy and highlight its link to neo-liberalism, given that the commodification of natural resources and the distribution of derived benefits among local residents is the underlying logic of the CBNRM model. Explanations are needed that help to explain the gap between envisioned outcomes of the CBNRM policy and the experiences of local residents. In this article, we argue that the incongruity between the CBNRM concept as a travelling idea (Behrends et al. 2014) and its evaluation by conservancy members can best be understood by applying a conceptual framework that builds on the notions of 'resonance’ and 'dissonance'.

The authors conducted extensive fieldwork in northern and north-eastern Namibia, starting in 2018. Multiple methods were applied including interviews, cognitive methods, archival research, and a household survey. These more systematic approaches were complemented with non-systematic research methods, such as, participatory observation. Fieldwork in the Zambezi Region was conducted with both a regional and a local orientation. While the geographical perspective considered the roles of tourism in the larger context of integration into global production systems, the anthropological perspective focused on social dynamics in the three community conservancies of Mashi, Kwandu, and Wuparo. This was enriched by a historical perspective on the conservation landscape located at the centre of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. In the following, these two perspectives will be merged, to understand the frictions that occur when travelling ideas alight in perceived 'communities'.

The article is structured as follows: first, the conceptual framework is presented by introducing the notion of resonance to conservation studies, and then a description is given of the study region and a brief historical background. The benefit-distribution practices in Zambezi conservancies are then scrutinised, after which, we discuss the dissonances occurring in the nexus of local livelihoods and human wildlife conflicts. Finally, we show how the understanding of the 'community', inherent to the CBNRM concept, dissonates with local realities before drawing our conclusions.

   Reflecting on the Notions of Resonance and Dissonance Top

By drawing on the concepts of resonance and dissonance, this article aims to examine frictions that occur when CBC models are implemented. In this way, we aim to provide a perspective on CBC that goes beyond the common framing either as 'failure’ or 'success'. We perceive resonance as a condition sine qua non (necessary, indispensable) for the CBNRM-driven, long-term alteration of human-animal-environment relationships. Dissonance on the contrary is to be understood as a concept describing inconsistencies between the travelling idea on the one hand and lived realities on the other hand. We have chosen to use the notion of dissonance in our analysis since it enables us to describe inconsistencies that arise between different scale levels, between the global travelling idea of conservation and local realities. Our motivation to understand these inconsistencies through the concept of dissonance was derived from Wikan's (1992) article on “the power of resonance.” Inspired by her idea of shared spaces, we developed an interest in understanding the CBNRM context in terms of the resonances created (or lack thereof). Looking at Rosa's (2019) and Sullivan's (2018) writings, we were able to refine our understanding of dissonant relations, and Sullivan in particular, who also works in the conservation context in Namibia, turned our attention to Festinger's concept of cognitive dissonance.

In the humanities, the term 'resonance’ has been applied in various ways: Wikan (1992), for instance, uses resonance to describe the nature of fieldwork, Ingold (2000) applies it to ways of perceiving and understanding the world, and Rosa (2019) draws on resonance to theorise about the interactions between subjects, society, and their relationship to a (changing) world. Resonance, according to Wikan (1992: 463), is an engagement with the world (or aspects of it) that goes beyond words and describes an orientation which is based on interaction between people and their environments: “Resonance thus demands something of both parties to communication, […] a willingness to engage with another world, life, or idea; an ability to use one's experience […] to try to grasp, or convey, meanings that reside neither in words, 'facts,’ nor text but are evoked in the meeting of one experiencing subject with another or with a text.”

Dissonance, on the other hand, describes inconsistent relationships. Perhaps the most popular approach to 'dissonance’ on an individual subject-oriented level is the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger (1957: 1) from the late 1960s,2 who developed the principles of a theory that attempts to explain the inconsistency between “what a person knows or believes and what he does.” He distinguishes between two states. The state wherein harmony is achieved, Festinger calls consonance:3 when both the belief system and the action of an individual correspond with each other; they are 'consistent'. The moment of inconsistency, by contrast, is called 'dissonance’ and describes a discrepancy between an individual's knowledge and perception of a matter concerning them, and actions that the individual preforms that do not correspond to that knowledge and perception (Festinger 1957). Festinger defines dissonance as “the existence of non-fitting relations among cognitions” (Festinger 1957: 3) and uses the two terms dissonance (for non-fitting relations) and concordance (for fitting relations) to describe his Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

The use of the term dissonance with regard to relationships between people and narratives is not completely new. Rosa (2019: 145) has outlined a theoretical approach to “resonant or responsive relationships […] between world (or environment), body, and brain.” A more nuanced and concrete perspective is taken by Sullivan (2018), who uses the term 'dissonant sustainabilities’ (also drawing on Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance) to describe the inconsistencies between economic and sustainable strategies regarding the conservation-development nexus. As she puts it, “we are bombarded continually, and with increasing intensity, by diametrically opposed narratives and messages regarding the world. Somehow we have to navigate a way through this complexity […]” (2018: 5). Sullivan (2018: 10) also notes the multiple-win narratives in what she calls the conservation and development nexus as being “radically dissonant with local narratives.” Based on this, we seek to understand three aspects of dissonance in greater detail and with a regional focus in Namibia's Zambezi Region.

In our context, we define resonance as being constituted by both the willingness to engage with and the possibility of accessing another world, life or idea, to understand its meanings and establish consistency between the travelling idea and local realities. Dissonance, on the other side, refers to the lack of either the willingness or the opportunity to access these ideas, resulting in inconsistent or askew relationships with these very ideas. These dissonances can be identified on several levels and are an expression of the inconsistencies that arise when a travelling idea (and the promises that come with it) meets the prevailing conditions in local contexts. The underlying interest in our research is the extent to which CBNRM can create a space that allows policymakers to engage with local communities, and the extent to which conservancy members have the means to access the travelling conservation idea as intended by policymakers.

The notion of resonance is important for our study as it allows us to better understand the expectations and experiences of people living in conservancies and to recognise domains where resonance between the conservation idea and the conservancy members is not achieved but strong dissonances prevail, hampering the engagement of conservancy members with the current state of conservation. By drawing attention to the different levels of dissonance, we gain enhanced knowledge of how CBNRM is perceived at the local level, what expectations people have regarding its benefits and which of these are not met, and what challenges still remain for building resonance between the CBNRM concept and existing hopes and expectations towards it. For us the concept of dissonance is particularly useful as it inherently implies a temporal dimension: it does not put a focus on the current state of a problem but understands the engagement of different actors in the Zambezi Region with the CBNRM concept as an ongoing process. After a short introduction to the study area, three dissonances are examined in more detail to illustrate our understanding: 1) the dissonance between propagated and realised economic returns from CBNRM; 2) the dissonance between increasing wildlife populations and their effects on non-conservation-related activities; and 3) the dissonance between the community concept and the realities of conservancy 'communities.’ The acknowledgement of these dissonances, in our view, might help to turn them into resonant relations.

   Historical and Ethnographic Description of the Study Area Top

During the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, various conservation models were applied to the Zambezi Region aiming at profoundly reshaping human-environment relations. Particularly the area along the Kwando River has been transformed into a conservation landscape nowadays, consisting of three national parks, seven communal conservancies (four along the Kwando River), a forest reserve, and community forests that cover almost the entire study area [Figure 1].
Figure 1: The Research Area in the Zambezi Region, north-eastern Namibia

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While the Caprivi Game Park (today Bwabwata National Park) was gazetted in the 1960s and the forest reserve in the north in the mid-1970s, the Mudumu National Park and the Nkasa Rupara National Park were proclaimed just weeks before the Namibian Declaration of Independence in 1990 (Lenggenhager 2018). The conservancies along the Kwando River followed between 1999 and 2009 during a period when a “new conservation” approach gained prominence (Sullivan 2002). The study area is part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), which was officially established in 2011 and is the “world's largest terrestrial transfrontier conservation area,” covering about 520,000 hectares (Peace Parks Foundation 2019).

As Bollig and Vehrs (2021) show, the conservation landscape presently prevalent in the Zambezi Region, was gradually assembled over the course of the twentieth century. After the brief presence of the German colonial government in the so-called Caprivi Strip (which is today's Zambezi Region) in the early twentieth century, it came under the control of the South African Union in 1929, having previously been part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate between 1915 and 1929. Until Namibia's Declaration of Independence in 1990, several displacements took place. In 1937, the South African administration declared the panhandle strip that connects the eastern side of the Zambezi Region with the rest of Namibia—present day Bwabwata National Park—a cattle-free zone, and most Hambukushu people were displaced (Fisch 1996). In the 1940s, and again in the 1970s and the 1980s, the colonial administrator Kruger aimed to fight the tsetse fly, particularly Glossina morsitans, infestation through both ground campaigns and airplanes.4 This intervention later paved the way for the establishment of Mudumu National Park as well as the Nkasa Rupara National Park (formerly known as Mamili National Park). Negative experiences during colonial rule did not strengthen confidence of the local population in negotiating policies between local groups and the state.

The reshaping of the landscape was accompanied by changing livelihood strategies. The people were moved away from the riverine area and established new settlements towards the road that was constructed at a distance of a few kilometres from the river. Today, this road also demarcates the border between the larger areas of cultivation (towards the east of the road) and the most attractive tourist areas along the Kwando River. For instance, compensation for damages incurred due to larger mammals cannot be claimed by conservancy members if the incidents occur in the riverine areas west of the road. This is a strong incentive that encouraged most people to transfer their fields to the eastern side of the road. These fields were consequently mainly used for rain-fed agriculture. Dry-season irrigation along the river, on the contrary, became unattractive, although it was an important strategy when people still settled in the riverine area (Seiner 1909). The hope that the community conservancies would benefit the conservancy members in terms of revenues and village development was also linked to the establishment of conservancies.

The three conservancies that we consider in this article—Kwandu, Mashi, and Wuparo—are all located along the Kwando River. Kwandu and Wuparo conservancies were established in 1999, and the Mashi conservancy in 2003. Kwandu is located north of the Kongola-Katima highway, covering a conservancy area of about 190 sq. km with a local population of almost 4,000 people (NACSO 2021a), and has ventures in trophy hunting, craft sales, a campsite, and the Mafwe Living Museum. Wuparo Conservancy, located between the two national parks Nkasa Rupara and Mudumu, lies in the south of the Zambezi Region and covers an area of 148 sq. km, with a local population of about 1,027. Wuparo has an operating lodge and campsite, trophy hunting, and craft selling (NACSO 2021d). The Mashi Conservancy comprises an area of almost 300 sq. km with a population of approximately 2,500 people (NACSO 2021b). Besides the two tourist sites of the Namushasha lodge and Camp Kwando, it also has a traditional village operating (including the exhibition of cultural elements), cooperates with a trophy hunter, and offers craft selling.

In general, 10 to 12 people are in the management committee of each conservancy and several more are in the executive committee or occupy positions such as community rangers and game guards (with a strong bias towards a majority of men in most instances; see, for instance, Sullivan 2000). With regard to the current situation, it cannot go unmentioned that all tourist activities are challenged due to the repercussions of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (Lendelvo et al. 2020).

   Benefit Distribution in Zambezi Conservancies Top

Habitat and wildlife are critical resources that contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of communities and nations. For that reason, communities need to conserve their natural resources and unlock the value of wildlife by building a 'Wildlife Economy.’ (NACSO 2021c)

The idea of CBNRM occurred in the context of post-colonial nation-building in southern Africa and served as a tool for new political elites to bring about rural development in previously disadvantaged areas, for democratic institution-building, and for the stabilisation of wildlife populations. International donor agencies identified the opportunity to scale up and support these initiatives. These include, for example, USAID, DANIDA, and NORAD. USAID in particular was crucial in the diffusion and implementation of CBNRM and started a programme across Southern Africa in 1989. Besides ecological concerns, the aim was to implement a market logic in nature conservation to a point at which the stakeholders perceive “that their total socioeconomic and financial benefits exceed their individual total input costs” (USAID 1998: 3). Thus, “wildlife production systems” are seen to make a “meaningful contribution to many local economies” (ibid.: 3).

In Namibia, the legislation providing for the CBNRM programme was passed in 1996, and has induced the formation of 15 conservancies in the Zambezi Region. CBNRM is aligned with the national tourism strategy, which aims to convey a progressive and economically successful future. The MEFT5 states that “the key objective of the [tourism] investment strategy is to transform Namibia into the most competitive tourism destination in Africa” (MET 2016: 5), whereby the CBNRM programme is one “investment focus area” (ibid.: 7). In 2019, the 86 Namibian conservancies were reported to have generated a total income of NAD156 million (roughly USD10 million), 90% of which was derived from tourism, both safari and hunting tourism (MEFT/NACSO 2021). Complementary income sources, such as the harvesting of forest products or sales of craft products, play a marginal role.

The introduction of CBNRM has led to a rise in wildlife numbers and significantly contributed to the expansion of safari tourism and the emergence of a hunting-tourism sector on communal lands (Breul et al. 2021). Conservancies, due to the presence of abundant wildlife, are of huge interest for the tourism industry, either for wildlife safaris or hunting endeavours (Stoldt et al. 2020).6 The sale of trophy-hunting quotas to hunting operators, and joint-venture agreements operating lodges and campsites (Naidoo et al. 2016) are the key sources of income for conservancies. In the Zambezi Region, for instance, 22 lodges and campsites make transfer payments to conservancies of USD0.2 million per year, while the sale of quotas to hunting outfitters earned USD1.7 million in 2017 (Kalvelage et al. 2020). Communal conservancies, through benefit-sharing agreements with private investors, are able to capture 20% of the value derived from tourism in the Zambezi Region (Kalvelage et al. 2020). However, the degree to which conservancy members benefit from these economic benefits varies.

Researchers have criticised the fact that “the positive returns at community level […] do not necessarily translate into positive returns at household level” (Barnes 2008: 355), which means that community members bear the costs of conservation but do not benefit adequately (Jones and Weaver 2008; Schnegg and Kiaka 2018). There are three ways in which conservancy members can benefit from conservation, though none of them are fully inclusive: through employment opportunities at tourism establishments and the conservancy, through cash transfers and other benefits from the distribution schemes, or via broader community-development projects.

A recent study estimates that the tourism sector in Zambezi conservancies creates about 780 jobs, and an additional 411 employment opportunities are indirectly created through employment in one of the 15 conservancies. However, the wages for these jobs are low, with an average monthly wage of NAD1,600 in tourism or NAD1,200 in management positions in the conservancies (Kalvelage et al. 2021a).7 An extensive household survey conducted in the Zambezi Region in 2019 (Meyer et al. 2021) showed a low level of entrepreneurial engagement in the tourism sector beyond larger lodges. Major obstacles faced by individual members wishing to enter the sector include lack of necessary skills, investment capital or industry-specific knowledge.

While 70% of the revenues are needed to cover running costs, Zambezi conservancies pass 16% of their revenues on to their members, in the form of cash payouts (7%), traditional authority payments (3%), funeral assistance payments (3%), human-wildlife conflict-offset payments (2%) and other benefits (1%). An additional 14% of the total conservancy revenues are invested in community development projects, such as drilling of boreholes, bridge construction or the electrification of villages. Community development projects are, however, regarded with some suspicion by many conservancy members, as they are perceived as ineffective. However, tourism and conservancy benefits combined only contribute 5.5% to the income of rural Zambezi households (Kalvelage et al. 2021a).

We argue that an initial dissonance can be observed in the mismatches between the realities of community members and the proclaimed benefits brought about by CBNRM. Most community members lack the means to engage with the tourism sector and are thus decoupled from potential benefits accruing from CBNRM. Furthermore, the sizeable revenue gains in the conservation-related sector are well known, but are equally inaccessible to most community residents, especially at household level. This, too, prevents the establishment of a resonant relationship with the conservation approach. Tourism still plays a minor role as a livelihood strategy in a setting where the majority rely on farming and agricultural production for food security. However, the execution of agricultural activities is also affected by the conservation regulations and negatively impacted by human-wildlife conflicts (HWC), resulting in an even higher level of dissonance between the conservation members and the CBNRM concept.

   Livelihoods and Human-Wildlife Conflicts Top

To live with wildlife means striving for balanced land use and a healthy environment. Wildlife—and all natural resources—can be utilised sustainably and integrated with other rural livelihood activities for the benefit of the people and the land. (MET/NACSO 2018: 10)

While direct benefits from conservation-related activities are limited, the implementation of a conservation landscape furthermore competes with other livelihood assets, such as agricultural production and livestock husbandry. First, the zoning practices set aside plots for wildlife conservation, which consequently cannot be used for agricultural production (Hulke et al. 2020; Breul et al. 2021). Second, a major constraint is human-wildlife conflict in conservancy areas where wildlife populations increasingly enter settlements and cropping areas and destroy human infrastructure (e.g., fences, boreholes) and crop fields (Hulke et al. 2020). A recent study by Drake et al. (2021) calculated that in Mashi conservancy, the income from hunting tourism only compensated for 30% of the value of crop losses due to wildlife raids. Third, predators, such as lions and hyenas, regularly cause losses in livestock herds. These reoccurring insecurities have negative effects on both the farming outcome and the well-being of the people affected (Mayberry et al. 2017).

To understand the relations between conservation and other livelihood assets, we asked 107 household heads in the Kwandu, Mashi, and Wuparo conservancies about the extent to which different income strategies contribute to their livelihoods; [Figure 2] shows the ranking of 12 livelihood activities, which were identified as important for making a living in the rural areas.
Figure 2: Evaluation of the importance of income assets among household members in Mashi, Kwandu, and Wuparo conservancies (n=107); indexed

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Unsurprisingly, farming was top-ranked, followed by state social benefits (such as, the orphans and vulnerable children grants, and old-age pensions).8 The direct benefits of conservation (cash, meat, infrastructure, and more) were only ranked in the last third of the options. Local small-scale farming was the undisputedly most important and predominant income strategy. The acceptance of farming along the Kwando River is very high and many people rely on subsistence farming (and surplus selling) as a promising strategy. While farming is an important source of income for over 90% of households (only 7.4% say that farming does not contribute), the other assets are much more diverse in their distribution and importance. For example, not every household has access to the state social protection systems, so that family support is often very important for individual households, while it is completely lacking in others. Cattle husbandry (and sometimes keeping goats) is also generally described as central and important, but only about half of the households have cattle (Bollig and Vehrs 2020). Surprisingly, the items 'self-employment’ (informal jobs) and 'employment’ (formal employment), which are often considered to be a significant income strategy for individual households, are also to be found here.9 Conservancy benefits are also found in the lower third of the table, although all respondents live in and are members of a conservancy. However, the effects of conservation measures, such as conflicts with wildlife, occur regularly and conservancy offset payment schemes are regarded with suspicion.

I do not see any benefit from the conservancy to us, because if there was any benefit, we would not face these human-wildlife conflicts. As you heard from one man in another village, his crops were destroyed by hippos and the conservancy did nothing about it. (Anonymous, August 8, 2019)

Complaints about HWC losses are numerous and so are the concerns about the administrative procedures. The proof of livestock losses lies with the conservancy members and many losses following predator attacks are not easily verifiable (if the corpse is missing).

The difficulties of revenue generation, compensation, and distribution are also emphasised beyond our local case. For instance, Hewitson and Sullivan (2021: 14) state that local farmers are “suffering the greatest economic and emotional burden of living alongside elephants [and] are not necessarily those who benefit from CBNRM's economic opportunities.” Therefore, “structurally entrenched poor […] protect biodiversity and ecosystems and increasingly […] shoulder the cost of providing these services” while at the same time “the primary beneficiaries and consumers of wildlife appear to be those from high-income countries and contexts” (Sullivan 2006: 127).

Conservation is, in many cases, not perceived as being able to adequately distribute revenues, but rather highly unevenly and offset payments are often delayed (Lendelvo et al. 2020 for the case of Wuparo Conservancy) or do not offset the damages caused by HWC. Pellis et al. (2016) report the high amount of resentment of members in Namibian conservancies in the north-western Kunene Region about the mismanagement and disappearance of funds that were meant for the communities. One of the major critiques is that the state was not able to devolve the full control over resources (also including the management of wildlife) to the conservancy communities, but still retains some control over their utilization and use (Taylor 2012).

Often less addressed, however, are the indirect costs of HWC, such as the loss of economic production potential (e.g., when livestock are killed that were needed for work, such as ploughing or the transport of goods, or young heifers that were to contribute to the reproduction of the herd). Moreover, moving agricultural activities to other areas is hardly possible, not only because most regions are already inhabited and allocated, but also because CBNRM regulations and the inconsistent offset payment scheme make a reorganisation difficult.

Generally, the CBNRM concept is not designed to replace agricultural activities or to compete with them, but rather to add value and provide income opportunities at yet another economic level. This approach, however, obscures the opportunity costs connected to such a commodification of nature. While some people have access to the conservation structures, many conservancy members are not able to participate in an adequate way so as to gain from conservation revenues. This illustrates how differentially the access to and the understanding of conservation, its underlying principles, and its benefits is distributed on the community level—where we observe the third form of dissonance.

   Conceptual Inconsistencies of the ‘Community’ Terminology Top

Community conservation is governed by local communities working together to manage the natural resources of their areas. All members of the community are empowered to have a democratic voice in the management of the resources and the distribution of the returns generated. Since the inception of the community conservation movement, CBNRM governance structures and management systems have been developed and tailored to meet local needs. (MET/NACSO 2018: 58)

CBNRM builds on the assumption that the generation and distribution of revenues is steered by conservancy members that have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. Evidence suggests, however, that organisational structures exist beyond the community concept that are often stewards of other interests beyond conservation. In the following section, we describe the dissonances between the conceptual assumptions of the CBNRM concept and the organisation of local livelihoods, which do not conform to the vision postulated for community conservation, but rather illustrate the fragmentations and differentiations in the conservancy community.

A 'community’ in a conservancy in the Zambezi Region can be subdivided into separate components. In the context of a Hambukushu settlement, the dighimbo (village)10 is a larger settlement unit and consists of several dilapa or pl. malapa (independent individual households). The number of these households varies considerably with the size of the family living in a village. The village usually consists of the members of one family who are directly related (consanguineal or affinal kinship relations) to the induna (the village headman). Thus, a village may consist of two households (which averages about 10-12 people in total), or it may consist of 30 households or more (which may contain more than 150 people).

On a higher level of organisational structure, two further units can be identified: the area (thikiriti; which is also often translated as community, but adheres more to spatial characteristics than to social ones) and khuta (the legal institution). The area (e.g., Lizauli) consists of a number of villages. These also belong to the local khuta and are represented by their respective induna. The khuta deals with all social and legal matters that are in the hands of the local authorities (and under control of the traditional authority—in this case Chief Mamili). This includes the access to land and the allocation of land-use rights, and the adjudication of disputes between individuals. Established units such as the Mashi conservancy comprise a larger number of local legal units (for instance, multiple khutas exist inter-pares in the Mashi Conservancy), which also compete for resources and positions within the 'conservancy community'.11 Moreover, beyond the management level, the 'community’ disintegrates into an assemblage of many different elements, as can be seen in the example of customary land tenure.

Conservancies themselves do not entail a formal tenure reform (Mosimane and Silva 2014), but in most villages along the Kwando River, village heads have customary land rights and decide on access to land. Land rights are allocated by the traditional authorities (TAs) and can be statutorily registered as customary land rights through the regional Communal Land Boards (Nghitevelekwa 2020). Registration of customary land rights can only take place after consent and confirmation has been acquired from the traditional authorities—in this case, the local khuta. In the same light, land rights allocated by traditional authorities that have not been ratified by the regional land boards have no legal effect. Customary land rights are registered for the use of residence as well as farming (MET 2010; Nghitevelekwa 2020).

In our case, we focus on customary land rights and land that is not legally registered in one's name. This can also be observed as access to designated pieces of land which are often inherited within the nuclear family and passes from one generation to the next. The access to land is also organised on the village level (except for disputes, which are resolved in the khuta) and has a long history of occupation and often belongs to family members (or is inherited by descendants). Therefore, land that was once occupied cannot be easily occupied by others or by one family member alone, without consent, as the following quote illustrates: “People keep their land because of their grandchildren and for the upcoming generation, so they would have enough land where they can build and do whatever they want. So, they cannot give the land to another person; that is the problem” (Anonymous, March 18, 2019).

Even without any land use applied, many families sustain their customary rights to land in order to secure their children's access to land. This de facto reservation of land, with or without current land use, constitutes an orientation towards the future that assures potentialities for the next generations, but restricts possibilities for current development efforts. The organisation of land tenure and access to land is another example of inconsistencies between CBNRM's intentions and local realities. The allocation and use of land are constrained by its local organisation on the one hand and on the other by the regulations enacted by the CBNRM (i.e., defined areas without offset eligibility).

The notion of the 'community’ has met with much criticism. Koch (2004: 79) argues that “the 'C’ in CBNRM is nebulous, fluid and elusive and often a figment of the imagination of project managers and donors seeking quick fixes.” Kumar (2005: 282) even describes community as “an enduring dilemma,” and the implementation of a 'community’ approach in CBNRM often lacks the perspectives of conservancy members and is also subject to the detrimental effects of politics and power (Dove et al. 2019). Pellis et al. (2016) also discuss the character of conflicts in a Namibian conservancy and unfold the narrative of “a local conflict” and show its multiple layers and its roots in historical events and former conflict situations. In their case of the Anabeb and Sesfontein Conservancies they also point to the set of problems that arises around the homogenising 'community’ concept and the shifts in the organisation of local and traditional authorities that come with the implementation of a conservancy, but that might also steer further conflicts.

Also Thomsen et al. (2021) discuss the role of trophy hunting for local communities in Bwabwata NP and the multiple layers of empowerment that are associated with it. They conclude that local community perspectives are only to a limited extent included in the trophy-hunting activities, and highlight how members of the local communities are to varying extents empowered and disempowered, highlighting the heterogeneity of communities from an insider's perspective.

In accordance with these authors, our examples also point to greater social differentiation in the localities portrayed as communities. Thus the CBNRM concept, with its stereotypical idea of a homogeneous community, is not able to access local realities and that these dissonant relationships between conservancy members cannot be used to create positive experiences with community conservation that will legitimize CBNRM practices in the future. The 'communities’ consist of a large number of local administrative units, often including people from several ethnic groups, who, in turn, feel that they belong to different traditional authorities (even within one conservancy). Acknowledging this heterogeneity is essential in order to be able to improve the CBNRM concept. Furthermore, the concept of a 'community’ does rather reflect the premise of the CBNRM concept, but not local realities, in terms of power relations and social stratification, which we argue are paid little attention. The dissonance here lies not in the community's desires for homogeneity, but in that the new CBNRM structures compete with existing, layered structures, such as legal institutions, the social organisation at the village levels, the land tenure system, and the conservation management, among others, and fosters a reorganisation of these structures (see also Kalvelage et al. 2021b).

   Conclusion: Resonance as a Political Vision and Dissonance as a Local Reality Top

CBNRM programmes are built on the anchoring of travelling conservation ideas from the global sphere in local 'communities.’ However, the practice and future of conservation in the Zambezi Region, and also in the KAZA TFCA at large, strongly depends on smallholders in the region and their resonance with conservation as a viable future vision. Resonant relationships imply an awareness of one's own role (conservancy member) in a conservation context, the recognition of institutions (e.g., conservancy as an institution, MEFT, IRDNC, NACSO, traditional and local authorities, etc.), and the acceptance of rising wildlife numbers (with positive and negative effects) over the long term. It also comes with the limited but nevertheless powerful promise that funds are generated and jobs created and that community conservation will enable some form of self-determined participation.

We examined three levels of dissonances: 1) the unequal distribution of revenues; 2) the effects on agricultural livelihoods; and 3) the intrusion into existing social organisation by CBNRM institutions. First, CBNRM has the potential to generate high revenues but research shows that not all members are equipped to benefit from these novel opportunities. Second, agriculture and animal husbandry are exposed to strong negative consequences due to restrictions in land management and especially the negative effects of HWC. Last, the CBNRM concept assumes homogeneity at 'community’ level and it does not take into account existing differential power and social structures.

A perspective that focuses on dissonances can contribute to CBNRM literature by identifying linkages and interactions between different scale levels. By doing so, we move beyond success and failure debates that highlight the responsibility of institutions implementing CBNRM, as well as realise the importance and the particularities of local structures and realities in this debate, in turning a dissonant relationship into a resonant one over time.

CBNRM is not perceived to be the only development trajectory of the region and was never designed to be so. But the expectations are still high, especially with the political communication that promotes CBNRM and thus increases local residents’ awareness of the large revenues generated. In contrast to earlier fortress-conservation approaches, integrative community approaches promise to be an essential part of the future of conservation at large that help to distribute benefits more justly. If one acknowledges the fact that a 'community’ is not a homogeneous entity, it is easier to understand why benefits are not adequately distributed in conservancy communities.

Conservancy members’ current discontent with community conservation measures is comprehensible when nature and animal conservation and their 'use’ by wealthy consumers is given priority and do not translate into some kind of benefit for the conservancy members themselves. Compared to other regions on the African continent the Zambezi Region, with its conservancies and the strong involvement of government organisations (GOs) and non-government organisations (NGOs), is well equipped for participation and involvement. Yet, the improvement of CBNRM requires a continuous dialogue between members and policymakers, with the aim of developing a common vision of the future.

   Acknowledgements Top

Our gratitude goes to the people in the Zambezi Region, especially the members of the conservancy communities, who got involved in our research in various ways. For their research assistance, we are grateful to Fabian Litota, Gloria Kutembeka, Rovinda Dimba, Venety Sikili, Mubuso Saba, Makata Mayando and Sofia Nifuma. A profound thank you to Michael Bollig for his constructive revision and encouragement during the writing process. We thank Carolin Hulke for her engagement and helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are similarly indebted to two anonymous reviewers whose comments were instrumental for improving this work. We thank the Universities of Namibia (UNAM) and Cologne for their support and express our deep appreciation to all our colleagues. We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of Namibian Research Council for granting the research permits and the German Research Foundation that facilitated the establishment of the Collaborative Research Center TRR 228/1.

Declaration of competing/conflicting interests

The authors declare no competing interests in the conduct of this research

Author contributions statement

Conception of the work: HPV; Data collection: HPV, LK; Data analysis: HPV, LK; Drafting of manuscript: HPV, LK, RN; Critical revision of manuscript: HPV, LK, RN; Final approval of the version to be published: HPV, LK, RN; All authors contributed critical, intellectual content to the drafts and gave final approval of the version to be published.

Financial disclosures

  1. This research was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) who provide financial support for the project CRC228 “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation” funding code TRR 228/1.
  2. HPV, LK, RN

Research ethics approval

This research was carried out in accordance with University of Cologne's Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Academic Practice and Dealing with Academic Misconduct and the review of the DFG-funded project CRC228 “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation” by the Ethics Commission of Cologne University (reference number 18-057).

   Notes Top

  1. We use the term 'conservation debate’ to refer to the wide-ranging controversy among various actors (from practitioners, to scientists, to local stakeholders and GOs, NGOs, international non-government organisations) in the field of conservation and, in our case, especially about its manifestations in the southern African context and the CBC approaches that have gained widespread prominence in that region. This includes the strong lobby for an expansion of conservation and protected areas on a global scale (including representatives such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), or the Peace Parks Foundation and African Parks, to name a few) as well as the proponents of more critical conservation studies with a wide range of scientific voices from around the world, as epitomised for instance by the recent Routledge book series of studies in conservation and the environment.
  2. The term concordance, however, is not further elaborated here, and we consider the term 'resonance’ as adequate in our analysis.
  3. What in Wikan's terminology is called 'resonance.'
  4. The Tsetse Fly Control Programme (TFC) was founded in Botswana in 1943 and the efforts to control and eradicate the tsetse fly population lasted until the early 1980s (Bollig and Vehrs 2021).
  5. The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) was formerly known as the Ministry of Tourism and Environment (MET).
  6. In KAZA-TFCA (2016: 11) the authors estimate the world's largest elephant and wild dog populations in the KAZA TFCA to be “about 250,000, and about one quarter of the African wild dog population”, respectively.
  7. Which is slightly more than USD100.
  8. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare offers old age and disability grants of NAD1,250 monthly, while the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare offers NAD250 in the form of a foster care grant or maintenance grant.
  9. In the category 'self-employment’ 69% of the respondents mention that it does not contribute to their income at all. Respectively, this holds true for 74% of the respondents in the category 'employment.'
  10. All vernacular term listed here are in Thimbukushu, the language of Hambukushu people in the region. As regional variations frequently occur, we refer to the spelling in the research region. In addition to villages inhabited by Hambukushu people, there are also villages in the conservancy inhabited by people belonging to the Mafwe or Mayeyi ethnic groups.
  11. The khuta authority however has little control over illegal activities conducted within the CBNRM framework: the misuse of money in the conservancies occurs repeatedly (Lubilo 2018), and the limited ability to sanction and then enforce irregularities reduces conservancy members’ confidence in the viability of CBNRM mechanisms.

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