Christophe Nsengiyumva

The Linkage Between Wildlife, Governance, and Economic Growth in Africa



Wildlife resources are reliable sources of livelihood and survival for many people in rural and remote areas in Africa. For wildlife economies to effectively contribute to the mitigation of livelihood issues around key biodiversity areas, governance mechanisms should be re-designed and strengthened to accommodate the needs of indigenous people and local communities and to facilitate a good working environment for wildlife economies. Whether economically or ecologically, wildlife resources are indispensable to human beings, and so, they provide economic opportunities. Although there is a great effort from scientists to expose and disseminate the values wildlife resources add to the economy, development, livelihood, etc, there are issues connected to disregarding the role of stakeholder engagement and participation in the governance of wildlife resources which continue to make the effort futile. This is, however, a conservation challenge many scholars believe could be addressed by engaging indigenous people and the local community throughout the development, implementation, and enforcement of legal policies regarding wildlife resource management.

In many places –particularly in Southern Africa– where economic activity based on wildlife is successful, indigenous people and local communities have a say over wildlife resource use and are involved significantly in decision-making (Snynam et al., 2021). The Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme in the Republic of Namibia, for example, allows indigenous people and local communities to acquire rights to use wildlife and drive decisions regarding their management. An inclusive governance system –as indicated in the 2018 state of community conservation in Namibia –contributes to the increase in the elephant population (MET/NACSO, 2020). In fact, the recent Great Elephant Census (GEC) reveals that the elephant population in Namibia increased from 7,500 elephants in 1995 to about 22,800 elephants in 2016, with local communities having a significant role in this achievement (MET/NACSO, 2020; Gail, 2021). Another report on the state of communal conservancies in Namibia released in 2019 reveals that in 2017 conservancies generated cash income and in-kind benefits of more than N$ 132 million (MEFT/NACSO, 2021). The same source indicates a 99% increase in benefits compared to N$ 1 million generated in 1998. These benefits are partly used as conservation incentives to the stakeholders and affected communities.

For the wildlife economy to thrive and reciprocate with wildlife conservation objectives, policymakers and enforcers must ensure sustainable engagement and participation of indigenous people and local communities in legal policy developments and in the governance of wildlife resources.

How governance of wildlife resources affects wildlife economies​

As it is described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), governance is; “an interaction among structure, processes, and tradition that determine how power and responsibilities are exercised, how decisions are taken, and how citizens or other stakeholders have their say.”

State governments that allow, engage, and consider the landowner perspective in decision-making processes over wildlife, have achieved some level of sustainable wildlife conservation, generated revenue from conservation, and supported an alternative way to rural development. In South Africa, for example, a report released in 2021 by Snyman et al., states that supportive policy and legislation in South Africa facilitated landowners in choosing what is best for their land. This is clearly seen in changing the agricultural land with no production potential (arid and semi-arid areas) into game ranch farms. This strategy for land use has become a successful economic sector. For example, a study conducted by Kitshoff-Botha Adris in 2020, shows that, in 2018, the direct economic value from game processing in South Africa was estimated at USD 340 million. Today, game farmers operate various wildlife economies including ecotourism and game meat among other activities which contribute to wildlife conservation, sustainable wildlife use, and national economic growth.

Sport hunting is another economic activity that strengthens sustainable wildlife use and promotes wildlife conservation while contributing to poverty alleviation, job creation, and stewardship of wildlife. Nevertheless, the largest market for sport hunting in Africa is in jeopardy. In the past years, a number of European countries including the United Kingdom and the Republic of France have developed policies banning the shipment of trophies from Africa (The Guardian, 2022; 2021; 2015a; 2015b). Despite European condemnation of sport hunting's role in the conservation of wildlife and development, many scholarly articles show that “sport hunting is an effective conservation tool” contributing to wildlife conservation in sub-Saharan Africa (Deborah., 2022; Lindsey et al., 2006; Brian., 2006). Conversely, the testimonial by Catherine Semcer to the U.S House of Natural Resources Committee on the CECIL ACT in 2019 shows that 15 out of 40 African countries that ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, agreed to use sport hunting as a conservation tool. Programmes such as the CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe; CBNRM in Namibia; ADMADE in Zambia; PDZCV in Central Africa; ZICGC in Cameroon; GEPRE-NAF use in West Africa; and many others generate revenue largely from sport hunting. The above programmes are likely to be affected by the trophy ban policies emerging in Europe as users of sport hunting services are partly from Europe. In the CAMPFIRE programme of Zimbabwe, in particular, between 2010 and 2015, sport hunting was accountable for 90% of the incentive programme (Catherine, 2019). A study conducted by Lindsey et al., in 2006, reveals that sub-Saharan Africa generates USD 201 million in gross revenues from 18,500 sport hunters annually. The above community-based conservation programmes have one thing in common, (they put indigenous people and local communities at the center of the decision-making process and ensure they provide economic incentives). Although it could be argued that decentralized systems are effective in the management of protected areas, there are still some governance challenges being reported by beneficiaries, for example, transparency in the revenue allocation and lack of proper management of community conservation areas.

Based on the IUCN definition of governance, it is clear that imposing a governance system over the right-holder (indigenous people and local community) of wildlife resources is not a path to adequately conserving wildlife and/or facilitating wildlife economies. Using the Namibian CBNRM programme as an example, the engagement and participation of indigenous people and local communities in the management of wildlife resources led to a positive conservation outcome.


Governance and conservation of wildlife resources differ in objectives but one feeds the other. Often, when governance is not adequate, wildlife resources suffer from unsustainable use. Moreover, in consideration of the level of human dependency on wildlife resources for livelihood and development initiatives, governance is important to regulate the consumption level without compromising the importance of wildlife in terms of ecology and livelihoods. The creation of policies banning trophies from Africa among member countries in Europe is an example of weak international collaboration on conservation matters. Therefore, to control the negative effect associated with bad governance, there is a need for a governance system that applies appropriate partnership and cooperation between shareholders and stakeholders over wildlife resources in the development, implementation, and enforcement of the legal policy. In conclusion decentralization of power is not a one size fits all solution to conservation challenges.


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