Conservation, Neoliberalism, and Human Rights in Kenya’s Arid Lands
Abstract

Prior efforts to conserve biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa have resulted in numerous human rights failures. In an attempt to move beyond this troublesome past, new initiatives increasingly consider the participation of local peoples in the conservation and development process. Part of this movement has resulted in the creation of “new” conservation areas carved out of former communal areas, which ostensibly provide better social and economic benefits of wildlife to local people who reside around protected areas. A concurrent shift from communal to individual land tenure has attracted the attention of investors who seek to create private conservation spaces (i.e. conservancies) outside neighboring state management protected areas. These investors invoke neoliberal tenets where privatization and market exchange are presumed to hold the key to the sustainability of people, wildlife, and livestock in a fragile ecosystem. By drawing on a case study from southern Kenya, I demonstrate that such initiatives dispossess people by: 1) relying on coercive tactics on land leasing, and 2) discounting the geographies of indigenous resource use, access, and control. In particular, I highlight how the resource managers fail to adequately consider the varied spatiality and temporality of local livelihood production systems and how the land leasing process is fraught with difficulties. I argue that dispossession leads to the further displacement and marginalization of local people, and hampers the sustainability of people, livestock, and wildlife in dry lands.


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