Conservation, Neoliberalism, and Human Rights in Kenya’s Arid Lands

In the last century and a half, over 105,000 protected areas (PAs), encompassing about 11 percent of the world’s land, with different levels of “protected” area status, have been established on every continent.1 The establishment and operation of these PAs have resulted in numerous human rights abuses.2 Literatures on the relationships between human rights and conservation are rich with theoretical and empirical examples that typify two main waves of conservation over the last fifty years. In this essay I describe how a third but less well-known wave of conservation practices in East Africa is resulting in the continued disenfranchisement of local peoples who reside around PAs. By relying on a case study from southern Kenya and drawing on theoretical insights from people-environment geography, I demonstrate that this type of conservation practice—one that supposedly distances itself from the coercive and violent histories of previous approaches—has continued to dispossess local peoples in new ways and with (un)intended consequences.

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About Bilal Butt

Bilal Butt is an assistant professor of natural resources and environment and a faculty affiliate of the African Studies Center at the University of Michigan. He is a people-environment geographer with regional specialization in sub-Saharan Africa and technical expertise in geospatial technologies. His general research interests, which lie at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, track questions of how people and wildlife are coping with and adapting to changing climates, livelihoods, and ecologies in arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa. His current projects investigate the spatiality of livelihood strategies among pastoral peoples under regimes of increasing climatic variability and uncertainty.