Curriculum Guide: What Do We Know About Africa?
by Deborah Smith Johnston
Lexington High School, Lexington, MA
African Studies Center
Activity #1 Mental Maps of Africa
Have students draw a map of Africa without referring to any sources. They should add to it any political (cities and countries), physical (mountains, deserts, rivers, oceans, vegetation types, etc.), economic (resources, crops…) and historic (religions, events, wars, people, current events, leaders…) details that they know of. Encourage them to use symbols and adjectives. Follow this up by looking at the map of Africa from Africa Today titled “Would You Believe?” (See bibliography for more information.) Discuss the relative position and size of the African continent.
You may wish to have students draw another map after completing their work on Africa and then ask them to compare their two maps.
Activity # 2 Sources of Information
Brainstorm with students about where the information they put on their mental maps comes from. Assess the quality of the sources and discuss ways of confirming and denying information that they hear about Africa. Appendix A contains a list of stop words that helps you as well as your students assess the quality of materials on Africa. Encourage students not to reject all popular media as sources on Africa but to question the sources.
Activity #3 Language
Using the stereotypes chart in Appendix B (which will be used in the video), have students assess which of these words they associate with Africa. They can then compare their own assessments with what the 12th graders in the video thought. Then discuss a list of problematic words such as tribe, hut, natives, non-whites, non-western, superstition (when referring to a religion), primitive, underdeveloped, dialect (when referring to a language). Ask students in small groups to discuss the problems one or more of these words represents and to propose alternative words. If this activity seems difficult for your students, you as the teacher may want to model how to respond to one of the words, regarding what the problems are and what some alternative words usages might be. Appendix A will also be of assistance in this activity.
As students watch the video, have them add things to their maps and/or cross things off, as appropriate.
Post-Viewing Follow-Up Activities:
Activity #4 News Search (headline collages on Africa)
Have students look through a supply of newspapers and news magazines for a given period of time and gather headlines from any story on Africa. Be sure to include a variety of sources or you may wish each group to have only one source and compare them after (i.e., one group may have the New York Times, another the Christian Science Monitor, the local paper, Newsweek, Time, World Press Review, etc.).
This activity will be not only a geography lesson, as they will have to make determinations of what places are in Africa, but will also bring up the issue of what types of stories get reported on in Africa. Have the students make collages based on theme, source, or positive/negative stories and discuss them in small groups. They may wish to add photos, maps, graphics, symbols, or color to their collages. Compare the perceptions the video created with the perceptions one would gather from the news.
Activity #5 Picture Analysis
Have students examine the pictures of 20th-century Africa in their textbook, in the newspaper, and in other sources (if possible African postcards with images—for example: animals, nature, urban, rural, people, traditional, modern, problems, good news, etc.). Once they have cataloged a wide number of sources (the pictures themselves aren’t necessary as long as a short phrase is written to describe the content of the photo), have them brainstorm what kinds of pictures are missing. What images do we NOT see when the media and others photograph Africa?
Activity #6 Alien Invasion
To help students consider ceremonies from other perspectives, have students read the story Nacirema. See Appendix C.
Afterwards, discuss what civilization this might be—is it somewhere students would consider living? What make the ceremonies described different? After divulging the fact that this is a description of American culture, have half the students write similar stories that describe a particular African ceremony they research and the other half write descriptions of American rituals. Separate the stories after making sure there are no “clues” and present them to another class to read. Instruct the other class to describe the civilizations each of these sets represents.
Afterwards, have students write about their own ceremonies and rituals in their religious or family traditions as if they were aliens having just arrived on Earth encountering them for the first time.
Activity #7 Religion
Traditional African religions were often treated as inferior by early European explorers and settlers in Africa. Understanding the importance of family and ancestors to the religions helps to negate these impressions and prove that the Africans were spiritual people. Use the poem by Birago Diop, a Senegalese poet, in Appendix D. This poem has been put to music by the group Sweet Honey in the Rock in a song titled “Breaths” on their Good News CD/tape.
Activity #8 Cartoon Analysis (Imperialism in Africa)
Use the cartoons in Appendix E to begin a discussion on the impact of European imperialism in Africa. Be sure to have students look closely at the symbols used. Students, after researching the resistance to African imperialism and the process of the Scramble for Africa, could draw their own cartoons to depict the historical events.
Activity #9 Great Zimbabwe (and Medieval Africa) Revisited (time-traveler’s diary)
Have students research Great Zimbabwe using any information available. They can then step back in time and create a diary of what life would have been like during the height of this civilization. The lesson could be extended to other African civilizations such as the East African coastal city-states of Kilwa, Mombasa, and Malindi or the West African empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai.
For an extension activity on Great Zimbabwe, ask students to act as 20th-century descendants of these people and write a journal entry responding to European colonial views that Africans were incapable of creating a place like Great Zimbabwe. (You might challenge students to investigate the nature of the historical evidence which refutes the colonialist claims.)
Activity #10 Art History (suggestions for using African art)
Use books that display African art. Consider the materials and techniques used to create these. Explain the difference in how western art is generally seen as decorative and how African art is often used within the society. What are some of the purposes African art has served? Students could research how 20th-century European artists have taken ideas from African art (e.g., Picasso, Miro, Modigliani, Brancusi). See the bibliography for suggestions on sources.
Activity #11 Shaka Zulu (Cruel Tyrant or Military Genius? Looking at Historical Bias)
Many of the sources available on this individual judge him harshly. Consider putting him on trial, forcing students to look at both his positive accomplishments (such as national unity, government formation, expanded land and territory of people, expansive public works) as well as his negative attributes (power hungry, cruel to his subjects and prisoners, demeaning to women). You may wish to use people such as members of his family, his state, or Europeans as witnesses.
Activity #12 Rock “n” Tell History
Cave paintings can tell much about a place and its history. The lesson “Another Look at the Sahara” in Appendix F is excellent in its ability to teach how important geography can be to understanding history. The activity specifically focuses upon rock paintings found in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara. Southern Africa is also rich in its prehistoric records. Extensive texts, published mainly in Africa and in Europe but available at good libraries here, show photographs of the rock faces in South Africa and also in Matapos National Park in Zimbabwe, named a national park due to its rock art. Comparisons can be made with rock art in the southwestern U.S. and in France or elsewhere.
Activity #13 Cycle of Land Use (interpreting charts showing deforestation, ecosystem destruction in Lake Victoria, and desertification in Africa)
Many possibilities exist to bring out the environmental consequences of changed lifestyles in Africa. One could have students research, for example, the Tuaregs and how their less-nomadic lifestyle has contributed to increased social problems and increased soil erosion. Or students could investigate the effects of war in Rwanda on the surrounding ecosystem, including the endangered animals and the rainforest of Zaire/Congo. One additional example could be looking at Lake Victoria and the effect of outside involvement on the ecological cycle. Use the diagram in Appendix G to explain how the cycle works and then predict what will happen next.
Activity #14 Point/Counterpoint (debate on tourism and conservation vs. farming and herding in East Africa)
Use the article in Appendix H to initiate a debate on land use in East Africa. Discuss issues of Africans deciding for themselves what should be done. Should other nations or organizations have the right to interfere in the decisions?
Activity #15 A Day at the Bazaar (a simulation on language)
Have students research what products might be sold in an open-air market in Zanzibar. Zanzibar has been known for years as a important place for spices and fruits. As an early Islamic trading port, it was from here that the Oman sultans ruled, and there remains a great deal of Arab influence. Today, as part of Tanzania, it is still an important trading port in East Africa, and its products are sold all over the world. It is possible to take spice tours of the island where you can see various spices like cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, etc. growing as well as many varieties of fruit including starfruit, lemons, oranges, mangoes, papaya, jackfruit, and others. You may wish to teach students the numbers 1–10 in Swahili, a trading language, and have them look up select words in a Swahili dictionary (available at local libraries or from resource centers and bookstores). Students can then take on various roles as merchants, customers, and traders in an attempt to make a profit by speaking Swahili and exchanging goods. Errors in saying the numbers may result in unwise shopping!
Activity #16 Diversity
It is important for students to recognize that Africa, composed of 54 countries, is not homogeneous. To generalize about Africa often leads to making incorrect assumptions. Have students, individually, in pairs, or small groups research one country in terms of a few of the topics referred to in the video and then compare the answers, putting the answers onto one big chart. For example, students research Mgeria, Niger, Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia. They discover that not every country has rainforest, or mountains, or has a hot climate. They discover that not every country is mostly Muslim or Christian; that the main food crop is different in Kenya than it is in Ethiopia; that some countries are mono-economies while others are not.
Students might then continue this exercise by looking for commonalties across countries. In this case, they are likely to find clusters of countries, i.e., clusters of Muslim countries, or Christian ones, of countries with a single dominant export, or with a high proportion of non-arable land. You may extend this to consider how the colonial experiences in these nations affected language and other things.
Activity #17 United Nations Simulation (a global exchange of ideas on worldwide issues like education, urbanization, refugees, conflict, calorie intake, energy use, environmental problems, etc.)
Students will each represent an African nation. From research, they will determine what issues are most important for their nations. Have students fill out a fact sheet that includes information like literacy, urbanization, refugee population, current and past conflicts, gross national product, calorie intake, energy use, and environmental issues. All of these types of statistics are available in facts sheets from the Population Reference Bureau and information from the World Bank. Many are also in almanacs. Based on the information found, students will then write a position paper on what they feel are the three most pressing problems facing their nation. At a meeting of the Organization of African Unity, an organization composed of African nations to deal with African issues, students can then present opening statements that encourage the OAU to deal with these issues. The nations will then vote on which is the most pressing problem they want to deal with first and try to write a resolution on how they might solve it. This activity will work best if students already have a strong understanding of what the United Nations does and how it operates. See the bibliography for information on the United Nations Association which provides materials on how to organize mock UN sessions.
Many materials are available at the African Studies Center at Boston University:
Outreach Program, African Studies Center,
232 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
617-353-7303 Fax: 617-353-4975
Atlas Project of the Arkansas International Center “Building Community West African Style” Denver: Center for Teaching International Relations, 1992. Middle school-appropriate curriculum which deals with community issues, geography and history, and the arts. Slides are included.
Clark, Leon ed. Through African Eyes. A good collection of primary resources with Teaching Strategy book for secondary students. It has several literary selections, including a passage from Sundiata and poems.
Harris, Joseph. Africans and Their History. Clearly written paperback that provides a clear and straightforward history of Africa.
Massachusetts Geographic Alliance. Global Geography: Activities for Teaching the Five Themes of Geography. Grades 3–9. Boulder: Social Science Education Consortium, 1990. This volume developed by teachers includes the lesson “Another Look at the Sahara.”
McKissack, Patricia and Frederick. The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.
National Center for History in the Schools. Ancient Ghana (Grades 5–8) and Mansa Musa (Grades 6–9). University of California, Los Angeles Moore Hall 231 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1521.
Needler, Toby and Bonnie Goodman. Exploring Global Art New York. American Forum for Global Education, 1991. Contains a unit on African art which can be taught by non-art teachers!
Ramsay, Dr. F. Jeffress. Africa Guilford. Dushkin Publishing Group, 1993. Part of the annual editions series, which is regularly updated. The volume on Africa always includes country profiles and maps as well as noteworthy articles covering current events, social issues, and scholarly discourse. Very readable materials for secondary students.
Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. London: Macmillan Press, 1993. Great basic source, easily understandable, a must for every library.
Were, Gideon S. and Derek A. Wilson. East Africa Through a Thousand Years: A History of the Years AD 1000 to the Present Day. London: Evans Brothers, 1984. A wonderful synopsis with lots of maps and photos from a largely African perspective of the history of East Africa at this time.
World Eagle. Africa: An Atlas of Reproducible Pages. 111 Kings Street, Littleton, MA. 01460-1527. Great source for statistics, resources, maps, and country background information (including the Would You Believe? map.) Updated editions regularly.
Africa Beyond the Myths. S.V.E 1-800-624-1678. Grades 2–4 or Grades 5–8. Comes with activity sheets. (As of 1995, on filmstrip; may soon be put onto CD-ROM).
Africa: Voyage of Discovery. Eight-part video series on African history, culture, and geography narrated by Basil Davidson. Excellent segments which can be used selectively. Available for rental from the BU African Studies Center.
Understanding Each Other. Beacon Films 1990. Time: 15 minutes. Appropriate for grades 6–12. Available from the BU African Studies Center. Excellent way to help dispel stereotypes about Africa. (Part of series.) Purchase from the Altshul Group, 708-328-6700.
|Appendix A||List of Stop Words|
|Appendix B||Stereotype Chart|
|Appendix C||“The Nacirema”|
|Appendix D||Souffle by B. Diop|
|Appendix E||Cartoons on Imperialism|
|Appendix F||Another Look at the Sahara|
|Appendix G||“Ecological Disaster in Lake Victoria,” Christian Science Monitor, June 1989.|
|Appendix H||Conservation article by D. Western|
Let’s Critique African Materials
How can we tell, when reading, if materials reflect bias, stereotypes, or inaccurate information? What should we look for? Listed below are some guidelines for critical reading. The subtle shadings of opinion and omission of relevant information are perhaps more dangerous than the use of outrageous words. Let’s examine some of these more carefully.
“STOP” words: when we see these words used, we recognize stereotypes or patronizing and degrading words. We can substitute less value-laden words.
|Jungle||rainforest||Only 5% of Africa is rainforest.|
|Tribe||people, ethnic group,nation||Do we call the Welsh a British tribe, The French a Canadian tribe?|
|Backward or Primitive||indigenous or traditional||These words are patronizing and are used to point out inferior status.|
|Bush||savannah||About 40% of Africa is grassland or savannah.|
|Savage, Native||African or Tanzanian, Kenyan||These words are patronizing and are used to point out inferior status.|
|Witch Doctor||herbalist, healer, traditional doctor||We call traditional medicine “home remedies”.|
|Native Costume||national dress, clothing||Incorrect use of the word costume|
|Pagan||traditional religion||These words are used to lessen the importance of religions and beliefs other than Christianity.|
|Juju or Superstition||faith|
|Hut||house||Hut is used to denote an inferior building.|
|Bantu People||Bantu language||Bantu is not the name of a group of people. It is a language group.|
|Pigmy, Bushmen||Mbuti, San||These are derogatory names given to these ethnic groups by Europeans. These two groups are tiny and their lifestyles are unrepresentative of Africa.|
by Merry Merryfield
Terms Associated With Africa
|By Seventh Graders||By Twelfth Graders|
|Wild Animals||87.25||Witch Doctors||92.78|
from Barry Beyer, Africa South of the Sahara, New York: Crowell, 1969.
Body Ritual Among the Nacirema
The magical beliefs and practices of a group of people known as the Nacirema are interesting because they are so unusual. The Nacirema have many magical beliefs, but the most interesting are those about their own bodies and how they should be cared for.
The Nacirema are a group of people who live in the territory north of the Tarahuamare people of Mexico. No one knows much about their origin, but traditional legends say they came from the east. Their customs have been studied for many years, yet their culture is still poorly understood.
The Nacirema have a highly developed market economy. They live in a rich natural habitat. The people devote much of their time to economic activity. However, a large amount of money and a great deal of time each day are spent on ceremonies. The subject of these ceremonies is the human body. The Nacirema are extremely concerned about the health and appearance of their bodies. They believe that certain rituals and ceremonies must be practiced to maintain and improve the condition of their bodies. Though it is not unusual for people to be concerned about their own bodies, the rituals practiced by the Nacirema are unusual and extremely time consuming.
The main belief of the Nacirema appears to be that the human body is ugly and that the only way to prevent it from growing weak and diseased is to practice powerful rituals devoted to this purpose. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this goal. The more powerful people in the society have several ritual shrine rooms in their houses. In fact, the wealth of the owners of the houses is often measured in terms of the number of such ritual shrine rooms in a house. The shrine rooms of the more wealthy people are walled with stone. Poorer families imitate the rich by applying pottery plaques to their shrine room walls.
While almost every family has at least one shrine in the home, the ritual ceremonies associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally discussed only with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries. I was able, however, to make friends with the natives and they allowed me to examine the shrine rooms. Though they were reluctant to talk about them, they finally described the rituals to me.
The most important part of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. The natives get the charms and potions from specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with generous gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curing potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm.
The charm is not thrown away after it h as served its purpose, but is placed in the charm box of the household shrine. Since the people believe that a new magical material must be obtained each time a new problem arises, and since the real or imagined problems and diseases of the people are many, the charm box is usually full to overflowing. The packets and containers of magical materials are so numerous that the people often forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again. While the natives are very vague on this point, we commonly assume that the reason for keeping all the old magical materials is that their presence in the charm box before which the body rituals are conducted, will in some way protect the worshiper.
Beneath the charm box is a small basin. Each day every member of the family, one after another, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm box, mixes different sorts of holy water in the basin, and conducts a brief ceremony of ritual cleansing. The holy waters come from the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure.
The Nacirema have another kind of specialist whose name is best translated as “holy mouth man.” The Nacirema have an almost extreme horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships. Several times each day, the natives rub the insides of their mouths with a small bundle of hog bristles. Those who neglect this ritual are forced to visit the holy mouth man who, as punishment, digs holes in their teeth with sharp instruments. Though small children must be forced to undergo this punishment when they neglect the mouth ritual, adults willingly accept it. Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. I observed that those nearing marriageable age even decorated their teeth with strips of metal which are believed to improve their appearance.
The medicine men have a special temple, or latipsoh, in every community of any size. The more elaborate ceremonies required to treat very sick patients can only be performed in this temple. The maidens who conduct the ceremonies move quickly about the temple chambers wearing special costumes and headdresses. No matter how ill the native may be or how serious the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client who cannot give a rich gift to the temple.
The people willingly go to the latipsoh even though they fear it. In fact, I observed that many people who went to the latipsoh for a cure died during the curing ceremonies, which appear to be very harsh. One curing ceremony which takes place at this temple involves allowing the medicine men to cut out and throw away parts of their bodies. The Nacirema believe that this ceremony will remove the evil from their bodies and improve their health. The medicine men who conduct these ceremonies own a large collection of special knives which the client is never allowed to see. The Nacirema also allow the maidens of the temple to place sharp wires in their bodies and to remove small amounts of their blood in order to cure them.
Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people. It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens they have imposed upon themselves.
*Reproduced by permission of the American Anthropological Association from American Anthropolo~ist 58:3, June 1956. Not for further reproduction. Excerpt of Horace Miner’s ‘Body Ritual Among the Nacirema”
Poetry and Music
(It is the breath of the ancestors)
Listen more often to things than to beings Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
Hear, in the wind, the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breath of the ancestors.
The dead are not gone forever
They are in the paling shadows,
They are in the darkening shadows.
The dead are not beneath the ground,
They are in the rustling tree,
In the murmuring wood,
the flowing water,
The still water,
In the lonely place, in the crowd;
The dead are never dead.
Listen more often to things than to beings.
Hear the fire’s voice
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the tress.
It is the breath of the ancestors.
They are not gone
They are not beneath the ground
They are not dead.
The dead are not gone forever.
They are in a woman’s breast,
A child’s cry, a glowing ember.
The dead are not beneath the earth,
They are in the flickering fire,
In the weeping plant, the groaning rock,
The wooded place, the home.
The dead are never dead.
Listen more often to things than to beings
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
Hear, in the wind, the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breath of the ancestors.
Translator: Samuel Allen
acknowledged to Presence Africaine
Another Look at the Sahara
This activity, which focuses on changes in the Sahara since 600 BC, introduces students to the idea that changes in the environment have been occurring for hundreds of years. Although modern technologies and population growth have increased the rate of environmental change, such changes are not an entirely new phenomenon. The activity uses art and a role-playing exercise as tools for learning about human-environment relationships.
Objectives: Students will be able to:
- Describe the impact of a changing environment on inhabitants of a region.
- Make inferences about geography using art as a data source.
- Understand that environmental changes have been occurring for hundreds of years.
Time Required: 2–3 class periods
Materials and Preparation: You will need copies of Handouts F2–F5 for all students. You will also need a map of the world on the wall for reference.
- Distribute Handouts F2 and 4–5. Tell students that the paintings on Handouts 4–5 are from somewhere in Africa. They date from 6000 BC to 600 BC. Ask students to make some educated guesses about what region in Africa the paintings might be from and why. Elicit several responses and explanations.
- Explain that the pictures were discovered in 1956 in caves on the Tassili Plateau, located 900 miles southeast of Algiers in the Sahara Desert. Have a student locate the Tassili on the wall map of the world; ask students to mark the location on their outline maps.
- Tell students they are about to embark on a research expedition to find out more about the mystery people in the pictures.
- Divide the class into groups of three to five and distribute Handout F3, which presents instructions for the role play.
- After the role play has been completed, each group should assign one person to present their findings to the class.
- Conclude by having students write essays making hypotheses about the presence of these drawings in the middle of the arid Sahara Desert. They might consider in their essays who drew these pictures and why.
Encourage interested students to research the gradual expansion of the Sahara in recent years. Ask them to map the changes and report on their causes.
Activity developed by Patience Berkman, Chair, History Department
Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Newton, MA
Consultant, Massachusetts Geographic Alliance
Archaeological Role Play
You are a group of skilled archaeologists. Your assistant is totally incompetent and forgot to take a camera along on your latest research expedition. Instead of photographs, therefore, he has brought the group these sketches, which are reproductions of cave drawings discovered on the Tassili Plateau in the Sahara Desert. Your assistant did remember to do his carbon 14 data analysis and has determined that these drawings were made between 6000 BC and 600 BC. You therefore do not fire him for total incompetence, but send him home to rest while you settle down to your task—pooling your knowledge about the mystery people in the pictures. From your observations and inferences about the pictures, formulate hypotheses about the following aspects of the mystery people’s society. You should write down all ideas suggested by group members, then decide which interpretations are most valid.
|1. Natural Resources
(vegetation, animals, water, sources of food, clothing, shelter)
(how they made a living)
(tools, inventions, scientific understanding)
(art, religion, values)
(leadership, poser, role of women, personal relationships)
African Mystery Drawings
Conservation and people
David Western looks beyond our national parks
A MAASAI IS GRAZING HIS cattle among the herds of zebra and wildebeest when a Toyota Landcruiser drives up. Three rangers jump out and order the herder out of the park. They shove him roughly. Legally, the rangers are within their rights. The herder is trespassing on government land and poaching grass reserved for wildlife.
The law is the law, you say, so let’s not get too upset. What about the next scene?
The herder drives his cattle back across the park boundary onto his own land. He spits on the ground in disgust. He then charges at a mob of wildebeest and hurls his spear, angrily trying to drive them back into the park. The rangers clamber hurriedly back into the Toyota and hurtle up in a cloud of dust. Again they threaten to arrest the herder, this time for poaching wild animals. The Maasai glowers resentfully and curses at them. Why, he mutters, do the rangers hustle his cattle out of the park, then threaten to arrest him for driving wildebeest off his own land?
Where do our sympathies lie now, with the herder or the wild animals? Does the law not protect the wildebeest’s rights more than the Maasai’s?
Emotions run deep on both sides of the park boundary. The antagonism comes down to the question of ownership. Who owns wildlife, and who has the right to use it? The stage is set for conflict wherever landowners lose forage, crops, or lives to wildlife and have no say in the matter. “First they told us we couldn’t kill wild animals, then they gave them our land”—you hear it said throughout Africa. “They” are always some outside authority—the colonials, the government, or a local district authority perhaps.
Conservationists like to appeal to our compassion in defending wildlife. Aren’t people increasing all over the world, destroying the land and eradicating wildlife? Surely, wildlife will not survive unless given protection and a piece of land to itself?
Beneath the sentimentality and the stirring preservation phrases like “African heritage” and “the good of future generations,” something was missing. That something was the rights of those who had to live with wild animals. What are the rights of the Maasai, harassed by rangers on his own land? Or the Wakamba farmer who loses her entire crop to buffalo, or the Taita villager whose child is trampled to death by an elephant? Conservation that ignores such human tragedies cannot work in Africa.
For decades, colonial preservation policies put animals above people and drew deep hostility. Foreign hunters shot wild animals the landowner was forbidden to kill. Tourists careered around on land snatched away from its traditional occupants for national parks. No one asked or compensated them. And when wildlife did become a valuable economic asset, everyone but the traditional occupants cashed in.
As the Maasai herder sees it, he who feeds the cow drinks its milk. Most of East Africa’s wildlife live outside the parks and reserves. Even animals living within parks migrate out to feed. The Maasai herder is rightly bitter about wildebeest poaching his “grazing and lions killing his cattle. Where is the fairness in conservation? Why is the much-vaunted compassion shown for wildlife not extended to those who lose their lives and livings to wild animals?
The inequities are not the only unworkable things about strict protectionist policies. Economics and biology have important points to make on the subject.
Over a billion tourist dollars a year flow into East Africa, much of it lured by the unrivaled wildlife pageant. How much more can tourism grow within parks? The answer is, not much. Our most popular parks are already congested. Visitors refuse to pay top dollar to see a lion hemmed in by dozens of minibuses and are looking elsewhere for “wild” Africa. As a result, per capita tourist earnings have been falling steadily for years. We are pushing through more and more visitors to earn the same profit.
Ironically, the greatest tourism potential lies outside parks. Use those lands sensibly, and wildlife income could double or triple without creating further tourist congestion. The landowner would be all too happy to turn pasture over to wildebeest rather than cows, if wildebeest were more profitable. The rancher would gladly stop poisoning lions if each one was worth $10,000 from tourism or hunting fees. The poacher would become as unwelcome as a stock thief.
The protectionist approach to parks is unsound on ecological grounds as well. Some 8,000 protected areas worldwide cover less than four percent of the earth’s surface. How much wildlife and habitat can this restricted area save? Millions of wild animals would die in East Africa alone if confined to parks. Even big parks like Tsavo and Serengeti are far too small to survive in ecological isolation. Dozens of species would go extinct. Intensive management would be needed to slow the losses. Nine-tenths of Amboseli’s elephants would starve and half the mammalian species would eventually go extinct if the park were fenced tomorrow. In short, our wildlife would be confined to megazoos. Our protected areas would become giant amusement parks for rock-bottom tourist safaris.
If preservation is blind to human suffering and ignores sound economics and basic ecological principles, what are the alternatives?
The same message is coming through loud and clear from around the world. We have to look beyond the confines of the parks if we are to avoid a spate of extinctions and nature confined to megazoos. We must put people back into the picture if we are to find a place for wildlife on their vast rural holdings. Once that happens, once rural communities get more from wildlife than they lose, the prospects for nature and the parks brighten considerably.
The first effort to involve local people in the benefits from wildlife took place in Amboseli in the early 1970s. The Maasai, given the opportunity to earn income from tourism and hunting, soon responded by discouraging poachers. Wildlife numbers recovered sharply in the following decade. Even the elephant, harried by poachers throughout East Africa, quickly recovered. Several other programs followed once Kenya changed its laws in 1976 to enable land owners to profit from wildlife. Today, lodges are springing up outside parks and revenues are finally filtering through to landowners. The distinction between parks and private lands is beginning to blur in Amboseli and Mara, where tourists and wildlife wander freely across the boundary.
Elsewhere in Africa, local groups are beginning to profit from conservation and protect wildlife. The ADMADE program in Zambia’s Luangwe Valley and CAMPFIRE programs in Zimbabwe are turning sport hunting and culling into profitable ventures on communal lands. In Niger, local communities are protecting indigenous forests after being given the rights to harvest various products on a sustainable basis.
Local conservation initiatives are not confined to Africa. In the state of Benal in India, villagers are claiming proprietary rights over forests destroyed by decades of open-access use. With the results of the efforts secure, the villagers are replanting trees to supply fuel-wood, fiber, forage, and other products. Indonesian fishermen on the Maluku Islands have revamped and transposed a traditional method of maximizing fish harvests to conserve their diminishing stock. The government now awards prestigious annual prizes to the villages with the best conservation record. In Peru, traditional farmers are reverting to ancient forest farming practices after watching their soils erode away under modern farming methods.
Local conservation initiatives are, in fact, becoming all the rage. As they do so, the old stigmas are dying. In a rather bizarre twist, the Earth Summit, which brought 120 heads of state together in Rio in 1992, endorsed the concept of conservation for sustainable development. Leaving aside the theatrics of the biggest political summit in history, conservation does strike a resonant chord with anyone who lives off the land. Once secure in the knowledge that they own the land and its resources, landowners have a reason to conserve. Conserving wildlife is no exception. The Maasai around Amboseli were willing to look after wildlife as their “second cattle” and rebuff poachers once they began to benefit from tourism and hunting.
Putting people back into the picture returns us to pre-Western African land ethics. The tough part comes in finding a place for traditional ethics in a world where land has become a commodity bought and sold like used cars, with wildlife an unwanted passenger.
Community-based conservation, conservation with a human face, rural based conservation: the new approach goes by several names. Whatever we call it, the central point is the shift in focus it brings. After decades of centralized control, the stress in conservation is moving back to rural areas and to local communities. Another change that it brings is the recognition that nature means different things to different people. Western preservationism is one cultural view. Other views of nature and ways of conserving nature often work better.
The challenge of conserving wildlife outside parks is formidable. Governments will have to take risks in granting the landowners the right to own and use wildlife. The top-down paternalistic approach will have to give way to roots conservation initiatives. International conservation organizations will need to support homegrown efforts, rather then force their own agendas. Financial institutions and donors will need to extend small-scale credit facilities to landowners engaged in wildlife enterprises, rather than focus solely on extensive national programs.
Community-based conservation is being taken seriously around the world. All too often, though, the new approach is steeped in the romanticism of an earlier, less-populated and more harmonious world. Times have changed. Traditional cultures have vanished. Africa’s population is mushrooming. Poverty and corruption are rampant. Giving landowners the right to treat wildlife like cattle may sound workable. But what happens when animals move from property to property? The safe bet is to fence them in or pot them off before someone else does. Finding a way for wildlife to move safely across many land holdings to the mutual benefit of all the landowners will not be easy. It will take imaginative solutions and a sense of responsibility on the part of landowners to maintain wildlife migration. Governments will still have an important if somewhat different role to play. They will need to introduce policies that encourage and reward innovative and responsible uses of wildlife. They will also need to add a restraining hand and arbitrate disputes.
New and imaginative solutions are already popping up in East Africa. Wildlife departments are beginning to rewrite their policies to provide incentives to conserve. Kenya Wildlife Service has established a Community Wildlife Service to encourage landowner participation in conservation. Ranchers on the Laikipia and around Mara and Amboseli are leasing land to tourist concessionaires. Elsewhere, lands are being leased out to hunters and wildlife culling operations.
Landowners are forming their own wildlife conservation organizations in Kajiado and Narok in an encouraging new trend. Olchoro Oirua, north of Mara, has formed a landowner association that has turned farms back to wildlife habitat because tourism is more profitable than wheat. Most conservationists had despaired of ever stopping the advance of wheat fields across the Loita Plains. In eastern Kajiado, 15,000 Maasai ranchers surrounding Amboseli and Tsavo West have come together as a conservation association to protect wildlife on their land and turn a profit. They have hired their own game guards and constructed electric fences to keep elephants out of farmlands. They also plan to leave open land between Amboseli and Tsavo for wildlife and fee-paying tourists to use.
If landowners do benefit from conservation, wildlife could move freely out of parks. Parks would be under fewer threats from tourism. National revenues would rise sharply as visitors diversify their interests and itineraries. Park vegetation would recover from the destruction of over-populous herds. The herds themselves would ultimately need less management because they have more space.
Leaving aside the ecological and economic benefits, we have no choice over conservation outside parks. Either we take up the challenge on terms acceptable to landowners, or watch wildlife disappear and our parks become megazoos.
SWARA March/April 1994 p.35-6