David Mwesigye Tumusiime 2007/2011. The political ecology of

The political ecology of conservation of the mountain Gorilla at Bwindi
Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Proposal for start up seminar
David Mwesigye Tumusiime, PhD student
Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Noragric
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Postboks 786
1432 Ås
Assoc. Prof. Tor A. Benjaminsen
Assoc. Prof. Espen Sjaastad
February 2008
1. Background
“…when the areas (current Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks) became Forest and
Game Reserves in 1930s, with human occupation and hunting formally banned, these (the
Batwa) forest dwellers began to shift out of the shrinking forest area and began spending
more time as share croppers and labourers on their neighbours’ farms. However, they still
had access to many forest resources and the forests continued to be economically and
culturally important to them. The gazetting of the areas as national parks has virtually
eliminated access to these opportunities for all local people, but the impact has been
particularly harsh on Batwa because they are landless and economically and socially
disadvantaged, and have few other resources and options” (GEF, 1995: Annex 4, pp4)
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) together with the neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla
National Park used to be the home area of the Batwa people. The Ugandan group of Batwa are
part of a larger group that lived across the Great Lakes region for centuries, almost exclusively in
and around the region’s most dense rain forests. They based their livelihoods on hunting and
gathering in the forest. Around BINP also lives a sedentary group of people, the Bakiga who
have principally lived as cultivators, but with an occasional dependence on the park’s resources
such as medicinal plants.
Bwindi forest became a forest reserve in 1932, but the Batwa continued to live within the reserve
and together with their Bakiga neighbours they depended on the forest’s resources even after the
official eviction in the 1960s. However, in 1991, when the area was gazetted as a national park
they had to move away. The Batwa left the park and their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settled
among their sedentary Bakiga neighbours outside the park boundary. They became share
croppers and labourers, often exchanging labour for food, and slowly made the transition to a
sedentary life and integrated into the market economy. At the same time the Bakiga neighbours
also lost access to the park resources.
In 1995, the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) created the Mgahinga and
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT) to oversee the creation and
management of Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. The trust funds community
development activities around both parks and has bought between 1 and 2 acres of land outside
the park for about 58% of the Batwa households.
MBIFCT together with other Non
Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as CARE Uganda have been involved in a number of
community activities to benefit the Bakiga and Batwa households settled adjacent to the parks
and helped in the establishment of multiple resource use zones in BINP where the local people
are allowed access to selected park resources for subsistence.
It seems irrefutable that the elevation of Bwindi to national park status has benefited biodiversity
conservation. As early as 1300 BP, forests around Bwindi were being cleared and signs of severe
soil erosion were visible (Hamilton et al. 1989). Today none of the forest areas originally left
around Bwindi when it was first declared a forest reserve exist (Hamilton et al. 2000). Yet, BINP
itself remains the country’s most important forest area for conservation of biological diversity
(Howard 1991) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ecological uniqueness and
natural beauty. Bwindi and the nearby Virunga volcanoes are the world’s last remaining refuges
of the mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei), the largest of the living primates, last member
of the ape family and the most endangered of the gorilla subspecies with only about 630
individuals remaining. Over half of this population lives in Bwindi (Hamilton et al. 2000). From
a biology and ecology viewpoint, the conservation benefits suggest a well balanced equation, but
when another variable, the welfare of the households living around the park is taken into
consideration, it is not difficult to see that this is an imbalanced equation. Local people continue
to be among the poorest in the country (Plumptre et al. 2003).
Within the framework of political ecology, this study will track the web of factors that have
shaped the conservation policies of BINP and their associated poverty and conservation
outcomes. These factors are embodied in the views, ideas and power held by the different actors,
how these are perceived, but also the benefits and costs sustained from proximity to the park. In
this way, the study will identify and examine whether conservation of BINP has contributed to
poverty alleviation or turned the area into a ‘poverty trap’ and thus will hopefully contribute to
the current debate about people and parks.
2. Objective
This study aims at capturing the web of factors that have shaped the conservation policies of
BINP and their associated poverty and conservation outcomes. This will be achieved through
the pursuit of two objectives:
1. to contrast the narratives of the different actors and their perceptions of local landscapes
and conservation in Bwindi;
2. to establish the impact of the park on local livelihoods and the degree to which the park
has led to marginalisation of the people.
3. Theoretical framework
The study will be conducted within the framework of political ecology. In political ecology,
the interests, power and values of different actors operating at different geographical scales
(local, national and international) tend to be studied, with a particular emphasis on the
hegemony of the powerful actors, but also on the contestations of power (Peet & Watts 1996;
Robbins 2004). Often, the actors face different realities partly due to the differences in
geographical scales but also due to differences in the normative positions and cognitive
knowledge held about the environment.
Due to the above differences, the actors will differ in the way they apprehend the world of
conservation. In political ecology, different ways of perceiving landscapes and environments
have been studied through the related, but different concepts of “discourse” and “narrative”.
Following Benjaminsen and Svarstad (2008), in this context “discourse” and ”narrative” are
both seen as the shared ways in which the conservation of the mountain gorilla is understood
and presented by the actors involved, but whereas a discourse here is a wider concept referring
to the way the ontology of conservation of the mountain gorilla is socially constructed and
interpreted, a narrative is (as Benjaminsen and Svarstad paraphrase Roe; 1991, 1995, 1999) a
story on conservation of the mountain gorilla, told by actors, “with a beginning, middle and
end, or when cast in the form of an argument, with premises and conclusions”. Both
“discourse” and “narrative” are creations of the actors, but the discourse provides a structure
within which a narrative is interpreted. Different actors might have different narratives that fit
into different and often competing discourses. And as a result these actors will look at
conservation in different and often incommensurable ways. This in a way explains why actors
often talk past each other (Demeritt 1994).
In the first objective of this study, narratives and the discourses into which they fit will be
analysed for an insight into the interests and values of the actors, arguments used, and power
distribution and its contestation. The analysis will help reveal the underlying assumptions of
the different narratives, the nature of struggles between competing interests and values as well
as the overt and covert practices resulting from power relations. These are key determinants of
the conservation and poverty outcome of any conservation endeavour and fit directly into the
ongoing and growing debate between “pro-parks” and “pro-people” camps (e.g. see Adams &
Hutton 2007; Fisher 2004; Githiru 2007; Inogwabini 2007; Sanderson & Redford 2003;
Sanderson & Redford 2004 for an insight into the debate). This debate is mainly about the
social impacts of conservation, which ideally starts with the situation as seen and felt by those
actors involved. And these are reflected in the narratives of these actors.
Central to this debate and as captured by my second objective is the need to look into generally
uneven distribution of costs and benefits of conservation practices. The nature and amount of
these costs and benefits will impact on local livelihoods. The magnitude of this impact will
depend among other factors on the extent of dependence on park environmental income by
these livelihoods. In cases of extreme dependence, restricted or denied access often
disproportionately affects the poorest members of the community and might lead to
marginalisation of some groups (Tumusiime et al. Forthcoming; Tumusiime & Vedeld
Forthcoming). The Batwa, the former occupants of Bwindi, are today regarded as “one of the
poorest and most marginalized communities in the Great Lakes region of Africa” (Jackson
2003) and it is not unnatural that one wonders to what extent the conservation of the gorilla has
contributed to this situation.
The impact – in nature and magnitude – of PA establishment on local livelihoods is perhaps the
single most important determinant of local attitude towards the establishment of these areas.
The relationship between a national park and communities living adjacent can at its best be
symbiotic, but can also be perilous if the costs that are borne locally become too big (Hjerpe &
Kim 2007). Negative impacts such as those related to human-wildlife conflict often result into
covert and sometimes overt resistance (Norgrove & Hulme 2006). The nature and magnitude
of the resistance so imposed is ideally proportional to that of the impact, at least as perceived
by the resistors. On the other hand, a positive impact such as the creation of new jobs and
payrolls often elicits cooperation, which again depends on the extent to which the benefits are
localised. In 2006 it was estimated that “every individual gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable
National Park earns Uganda US $100,000 (sh180m) per year and creates employment for 30
people”1. A relevant question here is to what extent do these benefit the local economy and
how are these benefits spatially distributed between the heterogeneous communities living
adjacent to the park? But also, to what extent are these benefits retained within the local
economy? Analysing these questions, as Hjerpe and Kim (2007) note, “can help land managers
design policies that will increase the regional benefits of recreation and tourism projects”.
As can be seen from a recent World Bank Meta study (Vedeld et al. 2004), dependence on
natural forest resources has been fairly studied as has been the cost of living adjacent such
areas. But also notable in this study is a general lack of studies on the impacts of PA
establishment on local economies and by extension to national economies, which constrains
financial and management decision-making processes. This study will examine the impact of
BINP on the local economy. Creation of jobs in a local area and generation of tourist receipts
(that are shared between the central government and local people) are perhaps the two most
important benefits used to sell to the local people the idea of establishment of PAs. Estimation
of these therefore is a good measure of performance of any PA. And here it is important to take
into account the spatial distribution of these benefits and the extent to which the local people
are made aware of the benefits. Also, in instances where the central government compensates
the local people by investing the latter’s share of tourist receipts in local infrastructure to what
extent do the local people have a say in this. This also raises fungibility issues as the local
people’s share of the benefits subsidises the government’s expenditure on infrastructure.
Quite fundamental in determining the real local benefit of a PA establishment is the extent to
which tourist receipts leak to other economies other than the local. Leakages occur for example
when the park management hires people from other areas, buys inputs from outside the local
area and when it sends a share of these receipts to the central government. Leakages in effect
diminish what can be distributed in the local area. The larger and more diverse the local
The New Vision (Kampala), 15th Aug. 2006.
economy, the more likely that expenditures are made locally – and money leaks out at a slower
rate and the reverse is true. This study will therefore, as its second objective, establish the
impact of BINP on local livelihoods and particularly if and to what extent the establishment of
the park is responsible for marginalisation of the Batwa.
The study will be conducted within the framework of political ecology. Political ecology
studies are often single case studies that “can be framed at various levels from the local to the
national and beyond” (Benjaminsen et al. Forthcoming) and this study is a detailed
examination of the conservation practices of the mountain gorilla at Bwindi, but with relevance
to local, national and, I believe, the global level particularly as it relates to the “people and
parks” debate.
4. Methods
The methods are presented here in two sections following the two objectives. And it is in order
to note here that the fieldwork will be conducted in two phases each addressing an objective.
The aim is to write two peer reviewed articles based on each of the fieldwork periods.
4.1 Contrasting the narratives and perceptions of actors
The methodology to be used here draws its inspiration from grounded theory, particularly the
theory’s characteristic open-ended coding and category building (Glaser & Strauss 1967).
Following the approach of Benjaminsen and Svarstad (2008), using open-ended interviews the
narratives of the various actors will be identified via the identification of key narrative
elements. These narratives will then be compared with broader national and global discourses,
for example as defined by (Adger et al. 2001) or (Svarstad et al. 2008).
I envisage to identify the narratives from different actors; local communities adjacent to the
park, low level park managers, officials of civil society organisations operating in communities
adjacent to the park, conservation officials and politicians at the national level. The possibility
of finding more than one narrative at any given level is not ruled out.
To arrive at household level narratives, five sample villages that directly touch the park will be
selected from each of three administrative districts (Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro) spanned by
BINP. A few sample households will be randomly selected from each sample village. The
number of these households will be decided in the field and will be a function of the various
groups of villagers identified, their livelihood and involvement with park issues. Individual
household semi-structured interviews will be undertaken but also focus group discussions
among villagers in the sample villages will be carried out. I will decide at a later stage whether
to record the interviews at all levels and which ones. In the same way, the number of
individuals drawn from the other levels will be determined in the field based on such factors as
their extent of involvement in park issues. The fieldwork will take place during AugustDecember 2008 and the main supervisor on this part will be Assoc. Prof. Tor A. Benjaminsen.
4.2 Impact of the park on local livelihoods
This constitutes the second phase of fieldwork to be conducted during March 2010 – May 2010.
The very first step in evaluating the local economic impact will be carrying out an inventory of
the kind of benefits accruing and how they are distributed among different social groups (locals
or immigrants, men or women, young or old, rich or poor, Batwa and Bakiga). An inventory
will be made into benefit sharing, job creation and “business opportunities” before quantitative
estimates of the number of people involved and the associated incomes. Related to these are
leakages which denote the share of total benefits or revenues created by the park that escapes
to “outside” areas such as the wider regional, national and international economies. This will
be estimated as well. Records from park management and conservation NGOs working with
the communities adjacent to the park will be consulted. Individual interviews and focus group
discussions will be conducted among the identified beneficiaries. Own survey data will be
supplemented by the official cost and benefit estimates.
Input-output (I-O) modelling is the main economic tool that I will use to assess the local
economic impact of conservation of the mountain gorilla at Bwindi. A “regional I-O model
provides a detailed “snapshot” of a local economy and is one of the best approaches for
revealing the interactions of various sectors of a regional economy and linking these sources to
economic stimuli” (Hjerpe & Kim 2007). In this case, the economic stimuli are for example
represented by local expenditures by the tourists, remittances from park management in form
of benefit sharing and payment in form of wages and salaries to individuals from the local area
that are directly employed by the park. The main supervisor on this part will be Assoc. Prof.
Espen Sjastaad.
5. Expected outputs
The main output of this study will be a PhD including four peer-reviewed articles and an
introduction to be submitted to Noragric in May 2011.
6. Time plan
Time Period
Aug 2007 - July 2008
July 2008 – Aug 2008
Sept 2008 – Dec 2008
Jan 2009 - March 2009
April 2009
May 2009 – June 2009
July 2009
Aug 2009 – Jan 2010
Feb 2010
March 2010 – May 2010
June 2010 – Sept 2010
Oct 2010 – Jan 2011
Feb 2011 – March 2011
May 2011
Detailed proposal development
Course work
Essex summer school
7th-11th July: Introduction to Discourse Theory: Meaning and politics
14th-18th July: Applying Discourse Theory: Logic of critical explanation
4th-8th August: Narrative and discourse theory
Fieldwork (I)
Exploratory Data Analysis
At University College London (Begin writing Paper I)
At Noragric, Ås
Guest researcher at Nordic African Institute (Paper I continues)
Paper I completed
Paper II
Fieldwork (II)
Paper III
Paper IV
Write introduction to the thesis and submit
Defend the thesis
7. References
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