A summary article by Robin Orr, University of Vermont
Since ecological boundaries don’t necessarily correspond with geopolitical boundaries, no jurisdiction acting alone can protect these shared natural resources. At last week’s International Conference on Environmental Diplomacy and Security, a trio of experts shared insights they have gained from years of boots-on-the-ground work across the African continent, offered strategies for dealing with Africa’s many unique challenges, and painted a hopeful picture of Africa’s future.
The African exceptionalism in the panel’s title refers to a collective notion that Africa’s present-day problems are the direct product of its pre-colonial and colonial history and are therefore too well established to be easily solved. The panel offered examples of success in their own as evidence that these issues, although real, can be overcome.
Fenda Akiwumi, Assistant Professor at University of South Florida, spoke of the critical need to balance indigenous knowledge systems with western cultural perspectives to achieve culturally sensitive policies for the governance and management of the ecological resources base upon which development depends. Countless well-intentioned efforts have failed because the solutions were essentially being imposed on the local communities, rather than evolving out of the local communities. African researchers must continue to work to integrate the wealth of local knowledge with western science to help Africans forge solutions that are appropriate to their needs.
Allard Blom, Managing Director of the Congo Basin Project for the World Wildlife Fund, described how the shared value of conservation can form a bridge between nations that can agree on little else. The need to protect the Congo River Basin – the second largest block of rainforest in the world, spanning much of central Africa – was the catalyst that led to the adoption of the first region-wide conservation treaty in Africa. The Brazzaville Treaty, signed by 10 heads of state, several of which are enmeshed in armed conflict, recognized COMIFAC (Central African Forests Commission) as the primary decision-making body on forests in the region. One example of this transnational cooperation is the Sangha River Tri-national Protected Area, which includes portions of the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Within the conservation area, the geopolitical boundaries between the three nations are essentially erased. Enforcement and management duties are shared by the three countries and patrols, staff, and equipment can be moved freely from one part of the park to another without regard to the invisible national boundaries.
Panel Chair Mark Freudenberger, from Tetra Tech ARD, described his extensive work on forest corridors in Madagascar and summarized the lessons offered from the entire panel. To be successful, transnational conservation efforts require long-term commitment and coalitions among multiple public and private partners. Popular support is absolutely necessary for success; to develop that popular support, it is critical to incorporate both indigenous knowledge systems and the needs of the community, including the resource rights and revenue streams.
With those strategies in mind, perhaps we can hope that in the future “African Exceptionalism” will refer not to the continent’s seemingly intractable underdevelopment, but instead to the continent’s exceptional biodiversity.
http://www.omvs.org/ (French language)
http://www.cilss.bf/ (French language)