Everywhere getting a job done is the practised art of choosing priorities, delivering on them and then covering up later when some of the choices turn out to have been wrong. It is that sinking feeling we get realising, sometimes too late and sometimes just in time, that the boring and half forgotten memo from so and so in the field actually came wired to some undetected dynamite about to explode all over our corporate reputation and call our judgement into question.
It’s always that ‘how come I missed it?’ feeling that gives us all the answers long after they should have been delivered. Guilt mixes with ‘I can do better next time’ until in the morning we are once again submerged in the familiar juggling act of telephone, email, in tray, out tray and meetings. It is a wonder anyone can generate effective and accountable priorities while trying to stay afloat in today’s tsunami of information. That is the problem of being too busy.
I pose this as a possible explanation for the extraordinary silence from the conservation community to the recent flagrant abuse of ‘conservation’ by authorities in the Tanzanian Government. The interests of ‘conservation’ are currently inflicting yet more suffering and abuse on the Maasai of Loliondo to make life, easier and more profitable for the already rich Otterlo Business Corporation and their often sumptuously wealthy clients. Some of them are foreign royalty living off our taxes and others have money to spend and deals to be made. This is a company backed by Middle Eastern oil wealth with friends and clients that love to hunt; a runway that takes a Boeing 747 and a company spokesman with the gall to say that local people are "only" blocked from water resources during the July to December hunting season, which just happens to coincide with the dry season. I suppose they and their animals can wait until the rains come for a drink of water.
The Tanzanian Government has decided to create a wildlife corridor for the OBC at Loliondo right on the border of the Serengeti National Park. This will take away an additional 1,500 km² from the Maasai who claim that this and an earlier to 2,500km² lost to the OBC lease is land that is legally within their demarcated village areas. In the drought of 2009, this enforced restricted access to land and water resulted in greatly increased levels of hunger for these people and their livestock. It is inevitable that further reductions in access to land and water will result in increasingly unsustainable levels of overgrazing and the depletion of what little water resources remain. More hunger and starvation are inevitable if droughts are severe. Will OBC and the Tanzanian government be blamed for the results of this new increased pressure? I suspect not. The Maasai will be blamed for being poor managers of land despite no longer having the land that was once sufficient to sustain both their lifestyle and culture and that of the extraordinary wildlife with which they coexisted.
Where is conservation in all of this? So far publicly silent, while privately acknowledging, in some quarters at least, that things are not as they should be. An anonymous conservationist in Tanzania commented on JustConservation.org that: “In the case of Loliondo, however, the conservation message has been hijacked and this has initiated a debate that is neither helpful nor relevant. Again the Tanzanian government is using conservation as a smokescreen for its own opaque agenda.”
The cynical conservationist may say that the ends justify the means so, they may say, let ‘the Tanzanian government restrict traditional land use to the point that the Maasai lifestyle becomes unviable and eventually abandoned’. That will leave more space for conservation. At first sight this may look like a good result for conservation, But such an attitude goes against the stated policy of all the major conservation players because they are very conscious of how counter-productive this would be. They know they would lose allies and generate increased conflict that will ultimately damage conservation. So why are conservation agencies not condemning and distancing themselves from this shameful behaviour by the Tanzanian authorities?
It must be said that Tanzania is not an easy country to work in for an NGO that feels that it should take a line that contradicts that of the government. Sometimes this produces the NGO ostrich that hides its head in the sand burying both thought and engagement. Many NGOs work in far more complex political arenas in other parts of the world, and many do manage strategies for defending their operating space without being ejected. Do conservation NGOs liaise, learn from and share with these NGOs with a longer and broader experience of physical and political conflict? If so, it is not apparent.
And if conservation agencies cannot develop strategies for speaking out against abuses done in its name, then what are the hopes for fair, accountable and transparent solutions from conservation NGOs to situations where conservation’s role itself is contentious? Two examples currently under scrutiny in Kenya are Lekiji village (http://www.justconservation.org/lekiji-a-village-in-a-wildlife-corridor) and the eviction of the Samburu after the land purchase made by AWF with TNC and private donor support (http://www.justconservation.org/conservation-and-the-violation-of-the-rights-of-the-samburu). Here conservation has a direct engagement and interest in the two areas but would appear not to have implemented the basic rules of engagement espoused by international frameworks covering indigenous peoples before proceeding; at least I can find no reference anywhere to such a process having been engaged in.
Major conservation NGOs have organized and signed up to the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights whose web page is hosted by IUCN (https://community.iucn.org/cihr/Pages/default.aspx). This should have been a major milestone marking the development of a toolkit robust enough to deal with these types of problems. Their website appears moribund, but that is not to say that the process may not be alive and well within its membership. But so far nothing has been offered as a channel of communication for affected communities, nor are there links to a process of mediation or conflict resolution. Surely these are key steps if the NGOs involved in this initiative are to integrate “human rights in conservation policy and practice.” in ways that build credibility in this area.
There is a great deal at stake for conservation here. For example, biodiversity and indigenous peoples are jointly under threat from the Gibe III dam in southern Ethiopia. In this case, 113,000 hectares of National Park and 245.000 hectares of community land are jointly threatened by the powerful interests of agri-business. Communities and conservation agencies have not joined forces; instead they are each separately fighting their own corners. So far only UNESCO has raised a voice for both. If conservation is to be a means to sustaining bio-diversity in a way that is compatible with sustainable pastoral development, then conservation’s voice needs to be louder, clearer and much more consistent with its message. Surely this is what conservation should be ‘being busy’ with?
Nicholas Winer is the founder and an administrator of www.justconservation.org.