Contesting Views on a Protected Area Conservation and Development in Ethiopia
This article discusses the contention between the state and local Guji people on issues of development and conservation of a Protected Area—Nech Sar National Park in southern Ethiopia. The park, which covers over 514 square kilometers, is a contested space between different actors, not only for its economic values, but it is also an arena of contestation over development and conservation perspectives. Since its inception as a national park in 1974, it has been administered with strict protectionist conservation approach, and later in 1990s, the ‘modernist’ development program was introduced in the form of ecotourism. On the contrary, the Guji people had strong determination for conservation embedded deep in their worldviews and beliefs. By tracing the genesis of the philosophies behind protected areas in Africa, particularly how it was adopted by the Ethiopian state and its implications, I argue that contrasts in environmental cosmologies between the western and indigenous perspectives have ultimately resulted in unsustainable resource management and also disrupted local livelihood conditions. Despite its existence as an independent country, Ethiopia also experienced similar conservation models that were imported to colonial Africa. In this article, I argue that conservation, particularly in the form of protected areas, is a form of hegemonic control over territories, people and their spaces (historical, economic, cultural and political spaces).
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