P111 – Nature, Warfare and Technologies – the Militarization of Conservation in Africa
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Lenggenhager Luregn / University of Zurich
Merron James / University of Basel


Contestations over the protection of flora and fauna in Africa have intensified dramatically over the last few years. This is particularly evident within and around the newly proclaimed trans-frontier nature conservation areas in southern and eastern Africa, a point that follows from a detailed history of entanglements between military intelligence and nature conservation. In the name of protecting charismatic animals, such as rhinos and elephants, militarized law enforcement units are patrolling and controlling large border areas, using high-tech weapons and reconnaissance technology to track down poachers. This war on poaching is not only conducted through open fights, but is increasingly producing detailed knowledge of the area using technologies of modern warfare, such as satellites and unmanned drones. The language used to legitimize these efforts bares a resemblance to other strategic issues that are articulated and imagined through ‘the war against climate change’ and the ‘war against alien species’. This panel aims at drawing attention to the importance of military technology and practices in protecting nature and wildlife. Through this we are looking for new forms of contestations and resistance emerging within these increasingly violent practices of environmental management.

Natureza, guerra e tecnologias -a militarização da conservação na África

As contestações pela protecção da flora e fauna em África têm vindo a intensificar-se dramaticamente nos últimos anos. Este facto é particularmente evidente nas recentemente chamadas áreas transfronteiriças de conservação da natureza e arredores, no Sul e Este de África, uma região que continua de ter uma história de conflitos entre inteligência militar e conservação da natureza. Em nome da protecção de animais carismáticos, como rinocerontes e elefantes, extensas regiões de fronteira estão a ser patrulhadas e controladas pelas unidades especiais militares de cumprimento da lei,  que usam armas hi-tech e tecnologias de reconhecimento para detectar caçadores furtivos. Esta luta da caça furtiva não só é conduzida por guerras abertas, mas produz crescentemente também um conhecimento detalhado da área pelo uso de tecnologias da guerra moderna, tais como satélites e zangões. A linguagem usada para legitimar estes esforços apresenta semelhanças com outras questões estratégicas que se articulam no imaginário através da “guerra contra as alterações climáticas” e da “guerra contra espécies exóticas”. Este quadro visa chamar atenção para a importância da tecnologia militar e das práticas levadas a cabo para proteger a natureza e a vida selvagem. Assim procuramos novas formas de contestação e resistência emergentes destas crescentes práticas violentas de gestão ambiental.

Paper 1

Marijnen Esther / Institute for European Studies, Free University Brussels

Militarisation of nature conservation, daily practices and symbolic violence: the case of conflict in the Virunga National Park, DR Congo

This paper examines how the militarisation of nature conservation practices influence the interaction between guards of protected areas and their neighbouring communities in conflict-affected areas. The paper is based on an in-depth analysis of the creation of a ‘new security service’ to protect the Virunga National Park in north-Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The current management of the park is increasingly reinforcing the boundaries of the park and expulses people living ‘illegally’ in the park. The expulsions are executed by mixed-brigades of guards of the park and soldiers of the Congolese army. They also conduct joint patrols. It is argued in the paper that the current militarisation is causing increasingly open confrontations between population and the park guards. However, these conflicts are not ‘new’ but were rather latent before. Analysing the violent interactions between the guards and population through Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence, parallels are drawn between the way the park was created and managed under Belgium colonial rule and how the current management of the park enforces its authority over the territory of the park by applying militarised strategies. In the existing literature on the Virunga National Park the destructive impact of armed conflict upon the environment and wildlife is often emphasised, however, in this paper the emphasis lies on the dialectical relation between the Virunga National Park and conflict.

Paper 2

Schroeder Richard / Rutgers University

Remote Control: Conservation Surveillance and Technologies of Power

Power is increasingly being deployed by well-placed conservation actors over species and spaces of concern through sophisticated – in many cases modified military – technologies which seek to manage, govern, and produce knowledge about habitats and the bodies of non-human subjects; for example, see the use of conservation drones, camera traps, real-time monitoring, satellite based remote sensing platforms, microphones/bioacoustic sensors, critter cams, radar applications, subcutaneous internal monitoring, and dna forensic sampling. Additionally, computers running state-of-the-art programs, complicated algorithms, and ecological models, are increasingly being called upon in conservation for predictive purposes, in effect distancing researcher from subject as the latter are made virtual objects of management. In my presentation, I will review technologies being deployed at the frontiers of conservation, and I will discuss the meaning of these changes for how researchers relate to non-human species. I will analyze how and where power is expressed through these new techniques, and consider potential consequences of such modes of governance for both humans and non-humans.

Paper 3

Connor Teresa / University of Fort Hare

Conserved spaces, ancestral places: conservation. history and identity among farm labourers in the Sundays River Valley, South Africa

Combining a rich ethnography with social and political history, this book examines 300 years of social conflict over land in the frontier-like Sundays River Valley, the scene of multiple displacements and the location of the extended Addo Elephant National Park. Conserved Spaces, Ancestral Places tells how the historical relationships among farm workers, owners and conservationists have produced a dynamic, uniquely hybrid zone”. The book seeks to contribute to four overlapping themes, and these include; (a) the political ecology of conservation and protected areas (b) the agrarian history of South Africa and the Eastern Cape, (c) the geography and anthropology of space, place and identity, and (d) applied anthropology and population displacement. Overall, the book argues that despite the gains offered to residents around new conservation zones in South Africa, particularly through models of co-management, the question remains whether people have really benefited through their continued displacement and exclusion from reserves. William Beinart has written that the “book is simultaneously a major contribution to debates about conservation and a vivid and eye opening discussion of rural society”.

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