Contesting the Elephant: Community-Based Conservation and Environmental Justice in Namibia

Richard Dimba Kiaka, Research Associate of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Universität Hamburg, will deliver the lecture “Contesting the Elephant: Community-Based Conservation and Environmental Justice in Namibia”.

The seminar is open to all, including bachelor and master students. No registration is required. After the seminar, drinks and snacks will be served in our lunchroom.


Natural resource management in rural, arid Namibia has profoundly changed since the early 1990s. After independence, and in accordance with global environmental policies, responsibility for managing communal land, game, and water was transferred to local users through formalised associations. Here, I use the concept of environmental justice as a theoretical guide to explore the combined effects that these new water, land, and wildlife policies have had on issues of equity.

I find, firstly, that partly due to conservation efforts, the elephant population has significantly grown. While this supports exclusive, international tourism, elephant populations increasingly cause destruction and raise financial costs for pastoral communities. Only a fraction of the revenues from community-based tourism remains on site. Secondly, as the new community-level sharing institutions for water emerge, those pastoralists who are economically marginalized subsidize their wealthy neighbours and the tourism industry at the same time. Looking at the combined effects of different community-based natural resource management policies, this case reveals that the outcomes are likely to lead to better resource management but greater economic inequality.


Richard Kiaka was born in Bondo, western Kenya and has an interdisciplinary academic and career background. In 2007, he graduated from Kenyatta University in Kenya with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development. Thereafter, Richard, through an NGO, worked with communities at the Kenyan coast to promote sustainable fishing through participatory fisheries resource governance and as activist for chemicals safety.

In 2010, Richard was awarded a scholarship by the Dutch government to pursue a master’s degree in International Development Studies, at Wageningen University, with specialisation in Sociology of Development. For his master’s thesis research, Richard studied a fishing community in Shimoni near Kenya/Tanzania border and explored the dynamics of identity politics in political ecology of coastal fisheries in Kenya. He would learn how identity politics was used as a an everyday struggle tool in Shimoni to negotiate and contest social justice between local small scale artisanal fisherfolk on one side, and medium scale fishers, foreigners and government on the other.

Upon graduation in 2012, Richard joined an NGO in Namibia to work as a junior researcher to assess the living conditions of the San People (Bushmen) in the face of land reforms in the country. In 2014, Richard joined, as a PhD Fellow, the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Hamburg, in Germany. His research focuses on community-based conservation and environmental justice in Namibia. He carried ethnographic fieldwork in north-western Namibia between October 2014 and January 2016. Richard is now at advance stage of writing his thesis. He has also co-authored a manuscript, not yet accepted for publishing, with the working title; “Contesting the elephants: community-based natural resource management and environmental justice in Namibia”.

Published Sep. 25, 2017 9:05 AM - Last modified Oct. 27, 2017 1:07 PM