The most active and influential non-governmental organization (NGO) with regard to Peace Parks is the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), which was established by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - South Africa and the Rupert Nature Foundation in 1997. Its main (if not sole) area of focus is the African continent. The concept of PPs has gathered support from national governments, large NGOs, international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, civil society and the private sector. All of these elements have worked together to produce a powerful force behind the development of an ‘ecosystem’ approach to conservation (i.e. political borders ≠ ecological boundaries). The ‘solution’ proposed by PPs has been framed to attract donors and to draw attention from politicians and stakeholders. This is why it is crucial to examine the narrative employed in the advertising of PPs. It is important to uncover the relations of power that can take place through this marketing strategy.
According to the PPF, Peace Parks aim inter alia “to reconnect the shared cultures of tribal peoples, dislocated when colonial rulers arbitrarily imposed Africa’s borders”. The concept gathers popular support and legitimacy based on the recognition that African borders are artificial and superimposed colonial constructs, and that PPs would consequently ‘correct’ these mistakes of history. The underlying idea behind the creation of large transboundary conservation areas is thus to reconnect territories and ecosystems separated by international political borders.
The PPs narrative rests on the assumption that boundaries imposed by colonial powers were arbitrary. It is clear that they were neither defined nor decided by Africans themselves but this does not automatically mean that they were arbitrary (if surely unfair). Indeed, colonial powers drew borders based on natural limits (oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, etc.) or after diplomatic negotiations, treaties of cession, annexation, and exchange among colonial powers, or in taking into account old Kingdoms (which again does not make them any less unfair). Nonetheless, reducing African borders to a mere product of colonial arbitrariness is to overlook their multiple geneses. Before the settlement of European colonial powers, the attachment territory and land was absolutely relative. Indeed, strictly speaking, boundaries did not exist, but instead there was a web and imbrication of multiple spaces, often under several sovereign powers at once, and sometimes with no direct control or exclusive domination. Additionally, the PPs’ narrative pictures African (international) boundaries as marked by fences, which is false; African political boundaries are amongst the most porous of all. Not to mention that colonial imposed intra-state borders such as physical boundaries around farms (e.g. in South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe) are completely left out of the PPs narrative, although they can be an important obstacle to human and animal freedom of movement (and were part of the colonial policy and strategy of divide-and-rule).
In the process of pushing for Peace Parks, the nature and histories of southern Africa’s international borders are being generalised and thus promote a hegemonic perspective of the border and its problems. Nevertheless, the merits and originality of the concept should not be undermined. Despite the critical stance of this article, it is important to state that approaching cross-boundary ecosystems as an opportunity for cooperation is innovative and challenges the deeply rooted historical assumption that these conservation zones are a source of conflict. Yet, this concept has been largely (if not exclusively) controlled and marketed by governments and large international organizations, which tend to reproduce the colonial logic of domination. Some examples of this are the romanticization of the African continent (which coincides with the colonial vision of ‘tribal’ Africa), the fact that Africa is treated as an unconscious geographical entity; and the similar effects of (b)ordering and ‘othering’. Additionally, while Peace Park advocates urge for the removal of artificial colonial borders, the very state-centric approach of transfrontier conservation areas relies on the Westphalian conception of the state; which is undoubtedly a colonial legacy. This is even more problematic considering that most conflicts and violence in Africa are intra-state rather than inter-state.
*The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not represent those of The Political Analysis.