Rising out of the Dissertation – Governance in Transboundary Protected Areas

With luck I will have a new publication coming out soon on governance in Southern African transboundary protected areas, commonly known as ‘Peace Parks’.  The gist of the piece is that there are some common assumptions made in conservation and development literature.  Without going into specifics, I’d like to comment on some of these simplified arguments that often lead to erroneous conclusions.  A few of the common ones:

  • Decentralization is good and centralization is bad (or bottom-up processes lead to good results and top-down processes lead to bad)
  • It’s either about conservation or development (win-win solutions are rare)
  • Once a success (or failure), always a success (failure)

I hope to write a bit more about each of these.  For now, let me start with the first topic.  There is a tremendous amount of literature on the benefits of decentralization.  Let me comment first, that I’m an advocate as well, but my support is quite conditional.  Conditional support may be anathema to a politician, but to a scholar it seems necessary.  Unless we can understand the context in which decentralization works, we have little chance to get it to work in new arenas in the future.  There has been some wonderful work on decentralization and the conditions under which it does work as well as how it works – Krister Andersson, Frank van Laerhoven, among others.  Likewise, there has been a noticeable surplus of dogmatists that push for decentralization without a full understanding of the full notions of polycentricity and the strengths of centralization.

In my work, I look at the different outcomes between bottom-up governance structures and top-down structures.  In the cases most familiar to me, one (the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) is often viewed as an unqualified success while the other (the Great Limpopo) is often viewed as a failure.  This portrayal presents a short-sighted, partially informed view of reality.

I also find it interesting that the “bottom-up = good, top-down = bad” view is often led by people that would be against an American conservative-style political agenda of less government/push power down to the states and away from centralized government.  That’s a discussion for another time, but a topic worth pursuing.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jonathan Aronson on October 23, 2012 at 2:49 am

    Hi Michael

    I am really interested in this topic and I hope you can get that paper out because I would love to read it.

    Could you please ellaborate on why Kgalagadi got it right but Great Limpopo is failing?


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