Ecology and Society (Jun 2020)

Historical insights for understanding the emergence of community-based conservation in Kenya: international agendas, colonial legacies, and contested worldviews

  • Kasmira A. Cockerill,
  • Shannon M. Hagerman

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 25, no. 2
p. 15


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Community-based conservation (CBC) has emerged as a practical and ethical governance approach for seeking to balance development and biodiversity objectives. Yet, despite the important role of CBC for successfully meeting these objectives across scales, the historical context from which CBC arrangements arose is often underexamined. Critically examining the roots of current dilemmas, such as relating to knowledge, participation, and representation, informs current efforts to address the future of CBC. This article presents a historical analysis of the governance framework from which CBC arose in the context of wildlife conservation in Kenya, where over 60,000 square kilometers of land now falls under CBC. Based on document analysis, expert interviews, and six years in the field, we trace a set of key governance attributes from 1895 to 2016 and examine how and why they have changed (or not changed) through time. Attributes include governing authorities, policies, and legislation, actors involved, regulated user rights, and protected areas initiated. Through this analysis, we delineate five governance eras. Three interrelated findings are notable. First, colonial worldviews that perpetuate the idea of civilization separate from nature have persisted through the present and impact the role communities are granted within conservation. Second, the agendas of international conservation actors, often rooted in colonial worldviews, drive the conservation agenda and governance approaches via financial and political influence. Third, restricted representation and donor dependence continues to limit community authority in conservation decision making despite increased legal recognition. Despite these and other complexities relating to unreconciled issues of colonialism, elitism, and centralized control, CBC in Kenya continues to increase in conservation importance and total land contributed toward conservation. Although CBC holds promise for securing biodiversity objectives in human inclusive landscapes, historical legacies continue to shape how CBC is defined and experienced in local contexts and thus requires further attention to ensure long-term success.