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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderEnvironmental management and social equity
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe key notions
View the documentThe political-economic context of contemporary environmental management
View the documentSocial equity and environmental management: Some examples
View the documentThe way forward
View the documentReferences

Social equity and environmental management: Some examples

Examples of inequitable environmental management practices abound both in the field and in the literature (see Enghoff 1990; Hallward 1992). The majority of these examples relate to major differences in environmental management approaches between the ordinary peoples and the elites, whether foreign or local, who determine policies and politics.

Environmental management of the orthodox type covers a wide range of inequitable practices that can be found in both urban and rural areas. In this paper, I consider the manifestation of inequitable management practices or prescriptions mainly with regard to three environmental issues: pastoralism and wildlife conservation, the population question, and urban poverty. For each of these the significant property of the inequitable management is that it alienates and often represses and oppresses the people it is meant for. It is also distant from their own approaches and forms. As Paul Richards (1985) has pointed out, orthodox environmental management strategies are often not more effcetive and sueeessful than those that eome from indigenous teehnieal knowledge, although they often tend to be contemptuous of them. More often than not, the orthodox practices are sectoralist in design and implementation as well as repressive and enforcement oriented. There is also a deep-seated mistrust and suspicion of the motives and activities of the people being managed. Perhaps of greater significance is that these practices are built and controlled by specific vested interests, sueh as those of tourism, plantation and other large-scale agriculture, commercial forestry, or ranching, or those of orthodox environmental managers sueh as urban planners, sanitation engineers, agronomists, and wildlife conservationists.

Of course, the claim to superior scientific and technical knowledge, a great deal of which is ethnoeentrie, is often used as legitimation for the imposition of the practices and techniques. Yet there is very little integration of the ecological, cultural, and sociological reality of the contexts of concern. But this is how reality is defined for most indigenous and ordinary peoples, ranging from the Peul of the Futa Djalon highlands to the urban poor of the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Inequitable management practices often include the following:

· violations of fundamental rights sueh as: the right to life, the right to livelihoods, the right to shelter, the right to freedom of movement and association;

· violations of access to the basie human needs identified by Abraham Maslow, such as: safety, other physiological needs, self-esteem, and actualization needs.

The strategies and tactics often utilized include:

· evictions without compensation and adequate resettlement in both rural and urban areas;

· restrictions on mobility, such as entry and exit into traditional zones of operations such as game reserves and forests;

· restrictions on traditional or popular environmental management activities and livelihood strategies sueh as range burning, grazing patterns, cultivation, hunting, fishing, gathering, and street trading.

· the imposition of culturally alien practices, an example being extraordinary family planning strategies such as involuntary sterilization;

· deliberate and systematic neglect in the provision of services as they affect the poor, such as those of public health or those of effective crime control.

Such measures ensure the continuity of high mortality risks for the poor.

Various aspects of these broad strategies express themselves in the three areas of environmental management identified above.

Pastoralism and wildlife conservation

NEST (1991) described the Fulani pastoralists of Nigeria as a culture threatened by modernization. This seems to be the case for most pastoralists of the African continent. The economic development process, the forces and institutions of the modern state, and the introduction or enforcement of wildlife conservation practices and reserves threaten both the cultures and the livelihoods of these people. Evidence abounds for this in the experience of countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.4

In fact the experience of the Masai pastoralists in Kenya and Tanzania exemplifies clearly the inequitable environmental management approach that focuses on wildlife conservation while threatening the very livelihood and essence of the Masai pastoralist culture.

Martin Enghoff (1990), in a study of parks and peoples in East Africa, clearly shows the origin of this form of inequitable environmental management and its current patterns. The colonial imperatives of wildlife conservation negatively affected the Masai and other pastoralists, first and foremost involving the alienation of their land and the imposition of various limitations and prohibitions on their activities.

As Enghoff points out, the pastoralists lost important grazing lands to the creation of national parks, which greatly restricted their mobility over their traditional range lands. Their systems of bush burning, grazing patterns, and cultivation activities were also equally restricted. An important element of their loss of control was the creation of a negative image for them. They were accused of being responsible for the wide incidence of environmental degradation, which was said to be related to their overstocking and overgrazing of pasture lands. However, the accusations and analyses were one-sided because pastoralists also suffer greatly from contacts with wildlife. For example, their stock have been infected with wildlife diseases. Moreover, some of the practices carried out by the pastoralists such as bush burning contain positive implications for the regeneration of grazing lands and the control of both tick-borne diseases and the spread of non-edible grass species.

The sad fact, however, is that pastoralists are not offered either the chance or the opportunity to defend themselves, while the inequitable management strategies imposed on them continue to attack the very basis of their existence. The intention here is neither to romanticize nor to idealize the culture of the pastoralists but to point out that the pattern of external interaction with it, particularly with regard to wildlife conservation, contains strong elements of inequitable environmental management practices.

The population question

Discussion of the population question can be very sensitive, in particular because the issues touch on fundamental values related to sexuality and the physical and social reproduction of peoples. Also present is the possibility of racist interpretations of other peoples and cultures. But perhaps the strongest cause of distrust is the question of religion and the religious definition of the purpose and basis of procreation. All of these issues extend the population question beyond mere science to the realm of values, ethics, and politics. But science indeed has a role to play, not in defining what is to be done but in pointing out the increasingly delicate balance between population, ecology, and natural resources. The extension of the conception of "carrying capacity" beyond its formal usage to making it the basis of prescribing public health policies demonstrates this delicate balance. As a result, the population question becomes an environment and development question that has to be addressed. However, this must be done with serious consideration of ethics and issues of social equity.

Several specialized agencies, particularly in North America, have developed to address these issues.5 These have used every opportunity to bring the "population question" to the fore. The intensity and urgency of the problem in fact raise serious ethical questions about whether or not inequitable or socially unjust management strategies and practices should be used. In this particular context, does the end justify the means, however unjust and inequitable these are? These are questions that most of science by its very positivist nature does not and cannot answer. But they are questions that environmental managers and some scientists try to answer.

An interesting position with far-reaching implications for environmental management is that of Maurice King (1990), who introduces the idea of the "demographic trap" and "ecosustainability." Concerned with the implications of current population trends for future generations, King advocates a new global strategy that will impose "extra-ordinary family planning" strategies: the "one-child family" option and the need no longer to promote reduced child mortality as an element of public health strategy for countries described as caught in the demographic trap. King criticizes what he considers the unsustainable orientation of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which both provide what are perceived as desustaining measures, such as oral rehydration therapy on a public health scale. To the discerning reader, what King is advocating is a particular form of environmental management strategy. The problem here is that on closer examination it denies the "right to life" and advocates a deliberate and systematic neglect of the provision of collective services, particularly in the area of public health.

This is the problem with some of the orthodox environmental management strategies advocated for family planning and as responses to the population question. They often breach the right to life and contain the tacit acceptance of involuntary mechanisms that are defined as unacceptable to "civilized" Western culture.

Urban poverty

Contemporary urbanization in many parts of Africa contains many unsavoury features that threaten the urban environment. As discussed in another work (Aina et al. 1994), the urban condition often includes large-scale poverty, overcrowding in the low-income settlements, inadequate provision of basic services such as water, roads, drainage, schools, and health centres, blighted dwelling places, insecurity of tenure of both land and shelter, and a generally poor quality of life. The urban environment in most low-income settlements often suffers from deliberate systematic neglect of the most basic services and infrastructure, resulting in extensive pollution from poor waste management and industrial and other economic activities, perennial flooding, and the exposure of the populace to a wide variety of environmental and health hazards.

In this context, the life of the ordinary low-income urban dweller is difficult, oppressed, and miserable. It is not made easier by the wide range of policies, institutions, and legislation utilized in the course of urban management, which contribute to blaming the victims and penalizing them for the very condition in which they find themselves. In a study of the environmental problems of Metropolitan Lagos, it was found that most of the indicators utilized by governments and planning authorities to determine the extent of blight in low-income settlements can be traced to government neglect and/or inaction, such as the failure to provide basic services or to plan the settlements (Aina et al. 1994).

However, the image of the "underdog" remains consistent in orthodox environmental management, whether in the urban settlements or in rural areas. Although the urban poor contribute extensively to the building and maintenance of their settlements and have over the years generated a wide range of strategies and practices for organizing and managing these settlements, orthodox urban environmental managers continue to ignore or/and despise these efforts and knowledge. These are often not integrated in any meaningful way into city development and planning strategies. Rather, a specifically urban variant of the inequitable management practices such as denial of the fundamental human rights identified above and the violation of access to the fulfilment of basic human needs continues to constitute the essence of urban environmental management. Thus the lives of the urban poor in Africa are characterized by large-scale evictions and demolitions such as that of the Maroko slum on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria, in 1990 and those of Nairobi, Kenya, in the same year.

As pointed out elsewhere (Aina et al. 1994), the policies and laws that govern urban environmental management seem to be oblivious to the notion of sustainable development. The emphasis is on enforcement and policing of breaches of environmental sanitation laws and the provisions of public order and the criminal code. Even then, the state and the level of the institutional capacity of the agencies of urban environmental management - the shortage of skilled manpower, funds, and capacity, coupled with corruption and the manipulation of these institutions - have rendered the enforcement of laws generally problematic. What currently happens is that city authorities and their agents focus on the lines of least resistance, which are the urban poor and their settlements.