Theorizing CONservation and Conservation in Africa



What is the difference?

 I first saw the term CONservation in a tweet by Al-Amin Kimathi. I think it is a brilliant concept. Whoever who came up with this term should be congratulated.  Kenyans and Africans at large are interrogating the practice of conservation, and that is VERY, VERY good and important. We have decided to define what these two terms  mean to us, before somebody swoops in and “discovers” them!

Many times bitten, plenty of times shy!



To achieve this, I reached out to my fellow Africans and others via facebook so that we could think through these two concepts.  It is our attempt to control the narrative of what is happening in our landscapes and intellectual spaces. I am happy to share some of their views below.

What is your understanding of conservation?

  1. Conservation is safeguarding resources for posterity.  It is saying NO to any kind of destruction. Conservation is planting trees…and not just any trees, but trees that are friendly to water sources.                                                           – Anthony Odera-


 2.  Conservation is about whether you live or die. That is my basic understanding of conservation. It is about whether you have water or not. Whether you have food or not. Conservation is about understanding that you have to balance what you take from the bounty of the land with the needs of others in the present and in the future. In other words, it is about kindness, selflessness, love, compassion, etc. Conservation is about celebrating cultures in dynamic landscapes – cultures inform conservation practices e.g., sacred sites protect key water sheds in some communities. Conservation is about deep understanding of ecosystems – understanding that humans exist in a complex web of life, and that everything is interdependent. It is about justice for all inhabitants of earth – if you pollute the air, you harm both plants, animals, and humans. If you pollute rivers, you do the same, and that is injustice.

-Kendi Borona-


3. Conservation is anchored on restoring what has been destroyed. Our native agenda of protecting our environment and wildlife is based on both the utility and spiritual purposes which ensures that we live in harmony with nature. 

-Miheso Israel-


What is your understanding of CONservation?

1. A systematic and forceful displacement of Kenyans from their ancestral land, erasing their wildlife heritage before claiming ownership. CONservation (of the wildlife with the primary goal of serving the white race).

-Salma Wakanda Ghaddafi-


2. I came across conservation a long time ago while reading a book called ‘The IceMan Inheritance’ by Micheal Bradley. In it he explained that Melanated Beings had relationships with what the white man regards as animals. To us and our ancestors, wild life were our cousins and we would talk to them. The reason the San People talk in clicks is because they communicated with Whales and Dolphins. The reason we were banned from Beating drums by the white man is because drumming was a form of tongue click which would be understood by Elephants. Drums Spoke and thus the term Talking Drums. We never regarded our cousins as animals, but Whites always did… Note the paradigm shift. When they came to Africa the Caucasians were so incensed at finding advanced civilizations and men that lived and spoke with “beasts” that they burnt down all our cities, took our leaders as slaves to torture for information and left behind the traumatized and weak (100 Cities Of Africa). They then renamed Africans as Animals and Beasts (check old English) and tried to prove we were related physically via DNA to monkeys in a Theory thought of by Darwin. We were treated as animals during the entire slave trade…unable to think and soul-less…
In the late 1930’s they realised that there was a drop in the population of Wild Life (which they then re-named game) due to their own vicious killing of these gentle beings, and introduced CON in servation. Service. Servants of? Rubbish. The real reason they introduced “conservation” was to kill our wild life behind Parks and Zoos, to have unlimited access to all forms of life, to kill it, experiment and use it. Eg, ivory is used to make dentures for the uber rich and who knows what they will do with #SUDAN‘s Semen? When Africans realise the depth of #thebigwhitelie, @errantnatives they shall begin to speak to their Cousins and find ways of restoring our land.
Eating Game?
That’s the biggest CON.

-Najar Nyakio Munyinyi –



3. Today,  South African Boers are working with the American trophy hunting lobby to pimp Africa’s wildlife to rich psycho Americans. They have infiltrated CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and IUCN so that these two institutions can say that trophy hunting is good for conservation. The Kenyan white ranchers are desperately trying to bring in the Boers To Help them commoditize our wildlife.  Game ranching is the new money minter because of the demand for wildlife body parts (bones, skins, tusks, feathers, blood etc) in Asia. Also, these ranches are running at a loss because the whites can’t compete with the low production costs of pastoralists and Botswana continues to dominate the export market for beef into the EU.

-Violet Matiru-

Image source: eLimu

4. CONservation is characterized by the following: 1. Narrow conceptualizations of ecosystems and their functions – like saying wildlife is only important for tourism
2. Gross injustice – dislocating communities for their landscapes in order to create pristine wildernesses 3. Dislocating communities from their landscapes by telling them they do not know what conservation is. 4. Neoliberal policies and capture of nature by capitalists and philanthrocapitalists 5. Militarization of conservation and turning conservation spaces into war-like zones – guns, fences, military uniform, dogs, mean spiritedness, etc! 6. Stinking stenchy racism – associating whiteness with conservation, and erasing Africans from conservation areas 7. Economic sabotage and economic hitmanship – growing fabulously wealthy from natural resources at the expense of the inhabitants of the land 8. Shooting animals for fun – trophy hunting 9. Criminalization of livelihoods for communities – e.g., An African cannot hunt an animal for food, but a white hunter can shoot a buffalo and then throw the carcass to Africans. 10. CONservation is about hate, hate of African peoples. It is about contempt for African peoples. It is about locking Africans in a permanent quest for social justice. CONservation is about plunder of Africa and about plunder of African peoples.

-Kendi Borona-


5. CONservation is  simple to explain, because it is based on 3 simple premises with no intellectual depth; 1. All African wildlife is in grave danger. 2. The source of this danger is black people. 3. The only importance of these animals is the money white people will pay to see or kill them. 4. Because of premises 1,2,3, and 4, white people MUST save the wildlife.

Conservationists Move 10 Rhinos By Air In Largest Relocation In History

6. Any kind of CONservation that extinguishes a culture, it’s language and most devastating, community and communal values, is no conservation at all rather an invasive practice destroying the true natural resources that have the talent and knowledge to preserve and protect the most precious components necessary for all survival.

-Alycya Rambin Wilsey-

Rhinos 2
Image source: Rhinos without borders

7. CONservation is about green grabbing – the capture of huge swaths of landscapes, waterscapes, associated biodiversity and other resources by way of annexation, questionable purchase deals, expulsion of communities from their landscapes, and  so much more. This is being done by ultra wealthy people, NGO’s, and private agencies. Read more here and here. 

Foreign conservationists have a dreadful record in developing countries. First colonialists took control of countries and communities in order to expropriate their resources, then the conservationists came and did exactly the same thing – this time, in the name of saving the environment. Tens of thousands of people have been evicted in order to establish wildlife parks and other protected areas throughout the developing world. Many people have been forbidden to hunt, cut trees, quarry stone, introduce new plants or in any way threaten the animals or the ecosystem. The land they have lived on for centuries is suddenly recast as an idyllic wildlife sanctuary, with no regard for the realities of the lives of those who live there.

John Vidal, in an article in the Guardian (Link provided above).

These two articles (links above) were kindly shared by Violet Matiru


Who is and who isn’t indigenous in Africa?

So, we are in Ethiopia. Addis! A group of Africans from 13 countries. We are discussing nomination of African heritage into the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of discussions about community engagement in heritage matters opens up an interesting topic: who is and who isn’t indigenous in Africa? An intense debate ensues. The debate is cut short due to time constraints.We do not arrive at a conclusion.

Ethiopian Cuisine

There is no universally accepted definition of indigenous peoples. The most cited one however,  was was produced but Jose Martinez Cobo, the special rapporteur of the commission of prevention of discrimination and protection of minorities. More here.

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.”

This definition is quite clear as to who is indigenous in countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Preparation of Ethiopian coffee/buna

When the world discussed the ‘universal declaration  on the rights of  indigenous peoples’ the politics of indigeneity in Africa came up. To everyone’s utter amazement the Afrikaners claimed to be indigenous. Afrikaners are the architects of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Let us refresh our memories, shall we? Apartheid was  anchored on a most virulent form of racism.  The Afrikaners claim to indigeneity was founded on the fact that they had lived in Africa since the 16th century. Now,  isn’t this making a mockery of the whole process since the subjugation of indigenous people all over the world  is  understood through  racial discrimination. But I guess Afrikaners want us to  forget all the horrors (both past and present) of apartheid..rainbow nation  -Viva!  The Africans in South Africa could not even be referred to as Africans since that was too close to Afrikaner. They were collectively known as “Bantu”.


So, we have to ask ourselves  – why is it that we need a declaration on the rights of  indigenous peoples when we have the  UNIVERSAL Declaration of  Human Rights of 1948. This was meant to offer “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” Aren’t indigenous people human enough to be encompassed in this universal declaration?  Ideally yes but that obviously did not happen. That is not surprising because, most of the African continent was under severely oppressive and dehumanizing colonial rule up and  until the 1960’s through to the 80’s . Weren’t Africans human? So, maybe the universal declaration on human rights does not apply to these groups?



So, Afrikaners have claimed indigeneity . What to do?

The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee(IPAC), a body that  advises the the UN on these matters, recommends that indigenous peoples in Africa will be those communities that are marginalized, either economically (especially because they are not agriculturalists), and or politically. We are talking about pastoralists and hunter-gatherer communities.

This  definition locks out majority of peoples on the continent who might be equally marginalized and in some cases even more marginalized than the hunter-gatherer or pastoralist groups. Sometimes, I think that agriculturalists are even more marginalized that pastoralists. Pastoralists have more autonomy than than say, agriculturalists who are growing cash crops for export – there is no self-determination  in cash crop farming because the farmers do not control the prices of crops.  They are glorified slaves that feed the global capitalism industry much to their detriment, that of the environment, their country and the continent at large.

Maasai Pastoralists 
Agriculturalists – tea farming 

From the face value of indigeneity (originating from a certain place), this IPAC definition does not make sense because, well, Africa is the cradle of mankind and this makes Africans more indigenous than anybody else.  In addition, given the complex migration routes around the continent there is no evidence to say that the Maasai people (pastoralists), arrived in Kenya before the Agikuyu people (agriculturalists), for example.

Naro bushman (San) women walking, Central Kalahari, Botswana
The San people – These ones are considered indigenous


One of the colleagues who contributed to the debate in Ethiopia argued that the IPAC definition is an attempt at “tarzanization of Africa”.


Is this issue worth any debating or are we trying to pound African peoples into categories into which they do not belong?  Does the categorisation of pastoralists and hunter and gatherers  as indigenous not create further schisms in a continent that is already battling with all kinds of divisions?

I am of the view that  all African peoples who cannot trace their origin to anywhere else but on the continent are indigenous.