Conservation governance: crucial to community conservation
Governance is about power, relationships and accountability. The creation of communal conservancies has granted effective power over natural resources to previously disempowered rural Namibians: conservancy members to whom their conservancy committees and managers are accountable. Namibian community conservation governance, only two decades old, is increasingly recognised as the key element in enhancing effectiveness, equity and sustainability in conservation, in CBNRM programmes, and especially in communal conservancies.
In Namibia, CBNRM is strongly rooted in post-independence policy and legislation that granted rights over wildlife and tourism to communal conservancies. These legal entities are administered through a community governance structure that is shared governance where two or more groups share authority, i.e traditional authorities and external powers such as the MET.
It is therefore important to uphold the principles of good governance to ensure that Conservancy Management Committees (CMCs) and community members recognise and respect each other’s rights; promote the full participation of all groups in decision-making processes; are transparent and accountable to each other and to external powers; and distribute benefits from income equitably.
Governance and management
Although governance and management are closely related, they have different purposes. While governance is about who makes decisions, how these decisions are made, and how participants have their say and hold those in power to account; management is about defining, prioritising and implementing strategic decisions and objectives.
Therefore, a balance between strengthening management structures and promoting good governance in conservancies is needed to ensure that CMCs are held accountable, while at the same time conservancy managers are empowered to take day to day decisions.
Recognising that good governance is essential for the long-term institutional stability of conservancies, the MET has set out five essential conditions that must be complied with.
- AGMs: All conservancies must hold annual general meetings according to their constitutions. Many conservancies also hold district, village or block meetings to increase representation and to give a voice to members unused to speaking in large meetings. However, the AGM is essential to hold committees and managers to account, to elect new committee members, and to present financial reports and budgets for approval.
- CMCs: Conservancies must ensure that Conservancy Management Committees are elected according to conservancy constitutions and terms of office. Conservancy activities should be implemented according to agreed plans.
- Financial management: All conservancies must produce annual financial statements. These are to be presented, discussed and approved at the AGM, and are to be made available to the MET to be monitored.
- Benefit Distribution Plans: Every conservancy should have a BDP and should aim to disburse at least 50% of its income as benefits. The conservancy AGM should decide on the distribution of benefits.
- Wildlife management plans: All conservancies should manage their wildlife as per the Game Management and Utilisation Plan (GMUP) and submit a Wildlife Utilisation Report annually.
Support to governance
The IDWG has conducted several training courses at conservancy and national level, as well as implementing mentorship and induction sessions for newly elected committees. Training has included financial management and gender mainstreaming. Although training targets CMCs with the hope that the results trickle down to conservancy members and improve governance, this has not always been the case. There is still often a disconnect between members and the CMC, disengaged community members and poor support for conservancy activities. Increased capacity within the IDWG and the MET is required to address this issue.
Efforts have been made to ensure that conservancy members are aware of their rights and responsibilities and feel empowered to engage in decision making about sustainable natural resources management.
The MET, NACSO’s IDWG and other partners including German Development (GIZ) have developed support tools. Three pilot projects on ‘Membership Engagement’ are currently running in northern Kunene, north-central regions and in Zambezi. Various tools including community radio programmes, village meetings, household surveys, and youth-centred activities are used to engage members. Dashboards – simple spreadsheeds – have been developed to assist both conservancies and NGO support staff to understand and manage governance issues.
It is still early to draw definitive conclusions. However, preliminary results indicate optimism about support to the governance programme, with a need to continuously engage members, and to better understand challenges, strengths and opportunities from the broader conservancy membership.
Beyond the current interventions
Although the IDWG and MET have made notable progress towards improving governance in conservancies, several challenges continue to hamper progress, including: poor information flow between CMCs and conservancy members, weak financial management, and inequitable sharing of benefits in conservancies.
These challenges also undermine the wider sense of conservancy members’ ownership over natural resources. Hence, more still needs to be done, including dedicating human and financial resources to strengthen both management and governance structures in conservancies, strengthening the enforcement of Standard Operating Procedures, and providing targeted support to conservancies based on their needs as identified in annual reports including audits, compliance and financial reports.
Finally, efforts to promote good governance must always consider the voices of all conservancy members, including marginalised groups, women and youth.