It last happened in June. Once again the Maasai should give way to an enlargement of the Serengeti Park: When they refused, the Tanzanian police fired live ammunition and killed a member of the legendary people, whose tall shepherds with long sticks are not missing from any Serengeti advertising brochure.
Since the park was founded, with the significant involvement of Frankfurt zoo director Bernhard Grzimek, the Maasai have repeatedly had to give way: most recently in favor of a hunting ground for Arab oil sheikhs, whose dollar banknotes beguiled the government in Dodoma. After all, the money needed to protect wild animals has to come from somewhere, they say.
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The incident is indicative of the absurdity of African conservation. A people that has lived in a natural paradise for thousands of years and has protected it is driven out for reasons of nature conservation. Arab oil sheikhs have paid for a hunting ground and are allowed to shoot a lion or two in return. The Maasai see nothing of the money: it goes to the government in Dodoma – and who knows where the petrodollars end up.
An “incomprehensible process”, says the managing director of the “African Wildlife Foundation”, Kaddu Sebunya in an interview with the Tagesspiegel: “We have to change the way nature conservation is carried out on our continent from the ground up.”
The Kenyan conservationist organized the “Congress for Africa’s Protected Areas” which took place in Rwanda’s capital Kigali last week. It was the first time that government representatives from 52 African countries and managers of around 8,500 nature reserves on the continent met in their own circle and not under the aegis of foreign nature conservation organizations.
African experts have long complained that the “First World” has sovereignty over nature conservation. They trace their way of thinking back to history. “The dominant concept for nature conservation dates back to the colonial era,” says Sebunya.
At that time, the Europeans would have driven the population off the land, which they then reserved for wild animals, and had it guarded by armed rangers. “African hunters became overnight poachers creating parks for foreign tourists. That’s how you alienated the Africans,” says Sebunya.
According to Sebunya, the “First World” sees Africa’s people as the greatest enemy of their continent’s magnificent fauna and flora. The inhabitants would therefore have to be kept away from the protected areas by forced resettlement, with firearms and barbed wire fences, so the way of thinking.
The fact that it was the Africans who preserved their animal and plant world (in contrast to the Europeans) for thousands of years goes unmentioned, as does the fact that it was the Europeans who, with their hunting guns, reduced the African wild populations by up to 90 percent reduced.
The Europeans are also accused of having set up the game parks less to protect nature than to protect their hunting and adventure interests: after all, Africa’s national parks are exclusively geared towards the needs of foreign tourists – regardless of whether they arrive with cameras or bolt-action rifles . On the other hand, Africans appear on the reservations primarily as dancing girls in raffia skirts, as waiters or at most as trackers.
The international nature conservation lobby is currently calling for at least 30 percent of the entire earth’s surface to be protected in order to counter global warming and species extinction. Tanzania has already reached its goal: a third of its area is under nature protection. A local rancher is not allowed to graze his cattle there, nor is the state allowed to search for mineral resources. If a dam is built in a protected area to supply the population with electricity, the rest of the world will scream.
As long as the interests and needs of the population are not taken into account, nature conservation can only fail, says Sebunya. Among other things, the economy in the regions around the parks must be coordinated with the protected areas, says the social scientist: Because nothing is more dangerous for wild animals than poor and dissatisfied people.
For some time now, international nature conservation organizations have been trying to find out what the coexistence of humans and wild animals could look like. It’s not easy, but it’s doable, that’s the core of their insight. “Conservation should not aim at simply increasing the number of lions or elephants. The measure of success must be the coexistence of humans and animals. For us, success is when an African considers a leopard more valuable than his chicken. The cost of the school or the bride can be paid with chickens, but not with leopards. Then why should you like the big cat?” asks Sebunya.
So far, almost exclusively foreign governments and nature conservation organizations have been in charge of the finances: that is about to change. One of the most important resolutions of the more than 2000 African delegates in Kigali was the formation of a pan-African fund, from which nature conservation is to be financed and into which foreign governments and conservationists can pay – and Africa is allowed to decide.