Viewpoint: Western Nonprofits Are Trampling Over Africans’ Rights and Land
By Aby L. Sène
The accelerating deterioration of the natural environment has manifested in devastating loss of biodiversity and extreme weather events posing existential threats to our world. As a concerted effort to address the twin issues of climate change and biodiversity loss, climate scientists and conservationists are advocating to double the coverage of protected areas by setting aside at least 30 percent of terrestrial cover for conservation by 2030.
The plan, known as Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, was initially proposed by Western non-profit conservation organizations, pushed by corporate donors, and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Indigenous and human rights activists, however, are sounding the alarm, noting that the plan would further dispossess Indigenous lands for commodification under the guise of conservation. They are comparing the so-called 30×30 plan to the second scramble for Africa and a “colossal land grab as big as Europe’s colonial era” that will “bring as much suffering and death.”
Protected areas are all the national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, and myriad other places and spaces where states evict their original inhabitants to provide special protection from human interference. They already cover 15.73 percent of the world terrestrial surface—and two-thirds of that is within the global south. Within Africa, countries such as the Republic of Congo, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Guinea have each set aside between 36 to 42 percent of their national territories exclusively for wildlife and biodiversity conservation compared to nearly 13 percent in the United States.
Political ecologists Dan Brockington and Rosaleen Duffy point out that the most dramatic growth of protected areas in Africa was between 1985 and 1995, which coincides with the continent’s wave of global neoliberal economic policies. During that period, powerful institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, imposed structural adjustment plans all meant to reduce the power, reach, and interference of government and give industry greater freedom and less red tape surrounding natural resource use. As such, protected areas became a means to deliver, under coercive pressure, economic development through wildlife conservation and tourism that significantly contributed to the national economy.
Photo courtesy of CIF Action.