Peace Parks: how the green map of Africa is evolving

14 Mar 2018 - 08:45

Professor Susan Bourne, Dean of Science with Professor Maano Ramutsindela and Professor Sophie Oldfield, Department of Environmental & Geographical Science at the Inaugural Lecture.

The map of Africa has been a subject of debate for a very long time. The focus of the debate has been on colonial borders and their detriment to African people, and to the development of the continent. Since the end of apartheid and the Cold War, peace parks have emerged as the latest cartographic device for redrawing the map of Africa. The earlier maps of peace parks were drawn in red and the colour was immediately changed to green. It was feared that the red colour was associated with British colonialism. Peace parks are also touted as one of the mechanisms for decolonising the continent. Where do these parks come from and what future do they hold for Africa’s natural resources? Professor Maano Ramutsindela addressed these questions in his recent inaugural lecture, ‘Remapping Africa through Peace Parks: what future for the continent?

Peace Park on Desert mountains on Namibia-South Africa border.  Photo:  Maano Ramutsindela

Professor Ramutsindela argued that the current geography of peace parks on the continent has a colonial history, which should be considered in any analysis of peace parks in Africa. In his lecture he showed that conservation was integral to the colonial enterprise. For example, the concentration of British immigrants in East Africa was accompanied by the creation of British national parks for Africa. Some national parks were actually created through the translocation of wildlife to areas where there was not much to protect. He showed that some of the areas where peace parks are found today were developed as trans-border conservation areas in the 1930s. The spatial delimitations of peace parks such as the Great Limpopo on the Mozambique-South Africa-Zimbabwe border are not significantly different from those of colonial trans-border conservation maps of 1935. Given this evidence, peace parks as cross-border nature conservation areas are not a post-1990 phenomenon in the region. Their description as a post-liberation project led by businessman Anton Rupert and supported by people like former President Nelson Mandela does not paint an accurate picture of their historical roots.

Local Zimbabweans who rely on the Limpopo in the Greater Mapungubwe Peace Park.  Photo:  Maano Ramutsindela

With regard to question of what future peace parks hold for Africa’s natural resources, Professor Ramutsindela gave three answers; the first of which relates to the migration of wildlife across political boundaries. Peace parks change the ways in which international boundaries function as a barrier. They open these boundaries to allow the movement of wildlife across the borders of nation-states, and this is one of the main reasons why they have been created. While wildlife can move freely, this is not the case with local people living within or adjacent to peace parks. Professor Ramutsindela remembers how his visit to the Kgalagadi Peace Park with his UCT students opened his eyes. He was excited to meet the Khomani San leader Dawid Kruiper at the boma built inside the Kgalagadi.  It is believed the boma is built on the site where he was born. ‘Oom Dawie’, as he was fondly called, had visitors from Botswana and Namibia. The movement of his visitors was highly restricted and they were to hide at every site of tourist vehicles. This happened irrespective of their successful land claim on the South African side of the Kgalagadi. Whose peace are we talking about in peace parks? Oom Dawie and his people asked. This and other experiences of local people suggest that peace parks do not decolonize borders for African people.

The second answer relates to the ownership of wildlife. Before international boundaries were opened through peace parks, each country owned its wildlife in national parks. Now that national parks have been amalgamated into a transnational park, no single country can claim the ownership of wildlife. Professor Ramutsindela used this example to argue that peace parks denationalises Africa’s natural resources. While such a process sounds good for the joint management of natural resources, it raises questions about the ownership of wildlife and other resources. He asked: does this mean wildlife becomes ownerless?

The third answer is that peace parks have huge implications for land rights, especially land claims in South Africa. People who were forcibly removed from areas on which national parks such as the Kruger and the Kalahari Gemsbok are allowed to claim their land in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 passed by the Mandela government. Government departments and environmental non-governmental organisations have oppose land claims in South Africa’s national parks on the ground that these national parks are part of peace parks. Professor Ramutsindela made a point that peace parks are not only used to oppose land claims in South Africa’s protected areas but also influence the outcomes of land claims, where such claims are successful. Landowners view peace parks differently. For some, they are a threat to their hold on land hence they are determined to resist any attempt to take or buy their land. For others, peace parks increase the value of land through ecotourism.

The Orange River as a boundary in the Richtersveld Peace Park.  Photo:  Maano Ramutsindela

Professor Ramutsindela cautioned that peace parks are not about nature conservation only. They are also established in areas of significant cultural values. Some peace parks such as the Greater Mapungubwe on the Botswana-South Africa-Zimbabwe are established on the basis of cultural heritage. World Heritage Sites located in Africa’s borderlands are therefore new potential sites for the spread of peace parks across the continent. As a result of these cultural heritage sites, some existing peace parks are beginning to expand. The case in point is the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Park between Lesotho and South Africa, which is being expanded in an effort to incorporate sites of Rock Art into this peace park. This effort will result in more than half of Lesotho becoming part of the peace park, with huge implications for land use.

The main message from Professor Ramutsindela’s Lecture is that peace parks further alienate Africa’s natural resources. The more they spread and expand across the continent, the more the question of resource rights and ownership will become crucial for scholars to answer.