The impact of institutions of governance on communities’ livelihoods and sustainable conservation in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP): the study of Makuleke and Sengwe communities
Southern Africa region is experiencing a multiplicity of transfrontier conservation projects, which simply put in its metaphorical name ‘Peace Parks’. The rapid growth of transfrontier conservation areas present the fulfilment of a vision of a ‘boundless’ and ‘borderless’ Southern Africa, straddling geo-political boundaries of once colonially imposed cartography of sovereign statism. The ecological amalgamation of these vast conservation areas are underpinned by various social, political, ecological and economic fundamentals envisioned by governments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region together with conservation partners to transform the life of people and enhance sustainable management of natural resources. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) that involves Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, was born out of this vision. Equally so, from its conceptualisation, the GLTP sought to achieve sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, promote economic growth, support rural development, be a building block for peace and regional economic integration. The planners also criticized inappropriate geo-political boundaries imposed by colonialism, which historically separated biospheres and the people of identical culture. The artificiality of boundaries, therefore, obstructed cultural links of communities and restricted wildlife migration as well. This affected natural dispersion of fugitive wildlife. Thus, the GLTP’s ambitious conservation plan address these issues. In so doing, the GLTP governance architecture as it stands today produced multi-level governance institutions whose approaches were found in this study to be at variance with local people’s livelihood expectations and conservation processes. It is in this view that this research sought to examine the impact of governance institutions on communities’ livelihoods and sustainable conservation of natural resources in the GLTP. Using various methods of empirical research such as interviews, household questionnaires, focus group discussions (including using the Schutte Scale), field observations and secondary data analysis, the researcher found that the current GLTP institutional configurations and its resource governance philosophy are at variance with local natural resource governance processes, and contradict local resource needs. Thus, there is inherent mistrust and conflict over skewed natural resource benefits. Most of them benefits accrue to government entities and the private companies that invested in tourism. Furthermore, it was found that the GLTP administrative governance architecture from the onset, presented complex competing environmental interests among conservation stakeholders against those of communities. The GLTP resource governance as it stands, is conspicuously not inclusive with the local communities playing a minimal role to leverage on the abundant natural resource for to support local livelihoods. One thing that came out clearly from the research is that they are not included to participate in conservation of the GLTP natural resources. This study therefore argues that there is potential to jeopardize prospects for the GLTP to achieve its objectives of sustainable conservation, promoting rural development and reduction of rural poverty. Empirically, it was also confirmed that the GLTP is at cross-purpose with the expectations of the communities. Local participation in sustainable conservation is consequentially subdued and weak. Perhaps, if the lofty aims of the GLTP are to be achieved, this study noted that the local people prefer the natural resources governance, conservation decision-making processes and conservation stakeholder relationships to be fair and acceptable to a cross-section of stakeholders. This includes ascertaining broad participation of the local people in conservation and environmental decision-making as crucial ingredients in guaranteeing local livelihoods and motivating communities to support conservation initiatives through use of wildlife proceeds for the development of communities. In addition, a concern was raised that powerful state agencies and conservation organisations are at the fore in defining institutional processes and resource governance systems with no regard to the local institutions. Thus, the envisaged win-win situation in conservation to transform rural communities is far from being realised. The GLTP governance structure forecloses the local people from participation. Consequently, local conservation morale and collaboration has adversely diminished, with overt preponderance of multi-level institutional processes over local processes in terms of natural resource management. This has tended to marginalise local institutions and prevent the local people from complementing conservation efforts. Manifestly, there is deep-seated livelihood insecurity, local environmental conservation marginalisation. This led the study to question the sustainability of the GLTP considering its exclusionary governance approach when dealing with communities. Another major concern is that planning of eco-tourism projects are paternalistically government led processes and exclusively private sector driven than being community oriented. Concerns arise that the much-lauded and publicized promise of eco-tourism benefits to the communities, have not materialised in the last ten years since the GLTP establishment in 2002. This has led local communities to question the GLTP’s economic benefits and impact on their lives. Instead of working with communities as equal stakeholders, the GLTP governance architecture has isolated them from playing an effective collaborative role in conservation and reaping of benefits. It was observed that the attendant GLTP governance trajectories reflect a narrow web of contesting conservation interests at variance with communities’ expectations. The heavy-handed administrative role of multi-level institutions and that of conservation agencies, have therefore, not fostered synergies for local residents’ participation in the management of natural resources. The elusiveness of the GLTP governance therefore puts it far from ensuring that the local people are part of conservation processes, hence falling short of capturing local contributions and local buy-in. Such governance injunctions complicate guaranteeing equal opportunity of resource access and equity, and it is less enabling for communities to hold together, cooperate and collaborate in conservation. Perhaps, an ideal situation would be to have a resource governance system that prevents the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and at the same time preventing the ‘tragedy of the local common man’. In this regard, this research made proposal in chapter 8, suggesting a synergised governance, decision-making and an a cocktail of an amalgam economic framework that can be adopted to solve the problems identified. These frameworks enable local people’s resource rights to be realised and the fusion of local expectations for conservation sustainability. This study aimed at examining the GLTP governance process impact on Makuleke and Sengwe communities in terms of their livelihoods, local participation in natural resource conservation and participation in natural resource decision-making process in the governance of the GLTP.