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Community-Based Natural Resource Management and Global Climate Change in Namibia

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Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) is a system of resource governance that has developed across much of southern Africa as a way to protect certain resources such as freshwater, forests and forest products and wildlife populations and their habitat while empowering local populations. It is intended to do so by devolving control from central government to local communities so that they in turn become responsible for both the costs associated with managing resources but also any possible benefits that can be accrued from doing so. The literature on CBNRM generally approaches this form of resource governance as an apolitical domestic policy tool within a framework of local environmental conservation. My recent fieldwork in the Namibia, however, has pointed to two important points that the existing literature has not yet adequately accounted for. First, CBNRM should be understood as a global phenomenon, and that even conservation activities that take place in the most rural African community are intimately tied into broader issues in global environmental governance. This occurs as rural communities lack the capacity to benefit from projects through ecotourism in the way they are intended and must partner with a vast network of NGOs that have developed in order to administer funds from a variety of donors within the international community. This has a great affect on how power is rearticulated on the ground and leads to a blurring of the local, the national and global as well as the public from the private. Second, Climate change has profoundly changed the role that CBNRM plays in Namibia.

While not all environmental/conservation issues are directly related to climate change and CBNRM was not developed with climate change in mind, the two have become intricately intertwined and CBNRM can now not be understood outside the broader effects of the changing climate in Namibia. This has resulted as rural Namibian livelihoods which relied traditionally on various forms of subsistence agriculture have become severally threated due to the drought. As a result, many communities now rely solely on income derived from the CBNRM programs and its economic offshoots. Beyond this, the Conservancies themselves have grown and developed into governance apparatuses that provide important public services that are now needed more than ever.

Reviewing Key Details in Namibia’s Historical Context

Like many countries on the African continent Namibia has a challenging history of resource governance that largely saw colonial administrators and white settlers benefit from the unsustainable extraction of resources while black populations were restricted from utilizing resources they resided close to. In Namibia, the colonial legacy including Apartheid rule under South Africa, a protracted drought in the 1980s and a long and violent armed struggle leading up to independence in 1990 contribute to wildlife populations being in steep decline. Following independence, the newly elected Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) government began exploring ways to correct the wrongs of the past and to give land and resource rights back to the people. Increasingly it became evident that this could realize greatest success if local residents were able to benefit economically while organizing to be locally empowered as well. These ideals came from development discourse at the time that suggested that development efforts should be focused on the ideals of participation and ownership. From this came the 1996 Nature Conservation Amendment Act that was to reform the oppressive and unfair Nature Ordinance of 1975 passed by Apartheid leaders at the time. The legislation outline provisions for communities to come together, decide on a group size and territorial boundary and to outline a constitution for local elections to take place as well as resource sharing plans. Once communities met these strict criteria they could be officially gazetted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) as a Conservancy. Once gazetted, Conservancies would be granted the rights to manage local wildlife populations and through joint-venture agreements with private tourism companies could benefit economically through ecotourism. From this its three broad goals were 1) inclusive economic development; 2) environmental conservation; and 3) community empowerment through the development of local level institutional capacity. Simple enough in theory, though as the next section will begin to outline, the implementation and management of these programs is quite........

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