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Western Nonprofits Are Trampling Over Africans’ Rights and Land

July 1, 2022
Foreign Policy

By Aby L. Sène, an assistant professor in parks and conservation area management at Clemson University.

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.”[…]

Amid a drastic ecological crisis, the world needs immediate best practices. The Oakland Institute published a report in 2021 showing that many community conservancy schemes in Kenya devastate wildlife and pastoral livelihoods as state agencies and their partners prop up CBC to serve outside private interests. The existence of a legal framework to protect Indigenous rights from state and private capture plays a foundational role in strengthening CBC capacity to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity and its people. Decades of research—with case studies from NamibiaPeru, and South Africa, where several communities were the beneficiaries of newly defined communal land policy—show that beside restoring justice and promoting development, it also created a stable investment environment while providing communities bargaining power against predatory and ecologically damaging practices. In some instances, this policy granted them tenure rights to include all renewable natural resources on the land, including wildlife and tourist attractions.

Privatizing and militarizing the commons to protect biodiversity should have no place in our world. Instead, land should be restituted to their original owners by birthright, where they can exercise traditional rights that have proven to be central in global conservation. The struggle to protect land, water, and wildlife from destructive forces is deeply entangled with the decolonial struggle. Survival International has been at the forefront battle to decolonize conservation by working with Indigenous communities to protect their land and livelihoods. The Red Deal, a manifesto and movement borne of Indigenous resistance and decolonial struggle, offers a vision that calls for nothing less than a radical transformation of our relationships with one another and the land that we should all draw lessons from to save the last remaining biodiversity hot spots.