Representatives of more than 30 African countries have converged in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls resort town for the inaugural African Union and United Nation’s Wildlife Economy Summit. One of the outcomes of the summit is the launch of the African Wildlife Economy Initiative, an Africa-led vision of conservation aimed at linking the private sector with national authorities and local communities in the design and financing of conservation-compatible investments that deliver sustainable economic and ecological benefits to countries, people and the environment.
Voices of the Communities: A New Deal for rural communities and wildlife and natural resources
We, the over 40 community representatives of 12 countries across Africa have met prior to Africa’s Wildlife Economy Summit, to tell the stories of our experiences of living with and among Africa’s wonderful wildlife that our forebears watched over and cared for from time immemorial as an integral part of their societies’ culture, traditions and economies. We have discussed the role of communities in managing wildlife resources on their land – bearing the costs of living among them sustainably over centuries, despite the continuing legacy of dis-empowering colonial laws and policies. We are the front line of defence in protecting natural resources and combatting illegal wildlife trade.
A key component of Africa’s economic potential lies in its biodiversity and wildlife economy, as a unique competitive advantage, for fighting poverty and building resilient communities. Given rapid changes facing Africa in terms of growing poverty and inequality, impacts of climate change, and increasing land transformation that have the potential to destabilize economies of the continent, urgent attention needs to be paid to these threats.
We are not helpless communities. We have strong capacity to take this New Deal forward ourselves, if our rights of ownership, governance and use of our natural resources are recognized and respected, as share-holders and not mere stakeholders.
We therefore implore you the Heads of State and governments in Africa together with the private sector and international organizations to recognize the role of communities in the ownership, management and conservation of natural resources that drives the wildlife economy across Africa and to address our concerns, in the spirit of environmental and economic justice. Let us move from a raw-deal to a New Deal.
Noting increasing rural poverty across the continent, loss of wildlife and habitat, lack of inclusion of communities in decision making and lack of rights, our goal is to reset the agenda for community based natural resources management to:
- Reduce poverty at household level;
- Turn wildlife into a rural economic engine;
- Achieve self-determination and security of rights and tenure; and
- Develop strong community institutions to govern wildlife sustainably.
Solutions and way forward
With consideration of the above arguments, we the communities of Africa propose the following as the way forward to achieve a New Deal:
- Recognize community rights over the ownership, management and use of resources
- Strengthen community governance and institutions
- Build and enhance local capacity of communities to govern and manage natural resources
- Recapitalize the communities and their natural resources including across boundaries
- Ensure that community voices are heard in shaping policy and decision making – from the local to the global level
- Strengthen evidence-based adaptive management, incorporating indigenous knowledge
- Promote investment partnerships in a community-owned wildlife economy.
- Ensure that a full and fair share of benefits from the wildlife economy flow directly to the communities.
- Change the development model from doing things for communities to financing well-governed communities to do things for themselves
This is an invitation to Heads of State and governments of Africa, the private sector and international organizations to work with us to allow our continent’s communities to achieve a New Deal that will become a stronger foundation of Africa’s Wildlife Economy. We trust that this is the first step in a meaningful process bringing us together as communities, government, private sector and international organizations as equal partners to conserve our biodiversity into the future. We call on the global community to support this initiative as our biodiversity is a global asset.
It is our request that this Declaration be part of the formal record of this Summit.