Environment Seminar Series: The complexities of biodiversity conservation in East Africa with Kariuki Kirigia

When and Where

Wednesday, January 17, 2024 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm


Kariuki Kirigia


About the Seminar

While the 1990s saw global efforts towards sustainability coalesce into the quest for “Our common future” as articulated by the Brundtland’s Commission (1987), the last two decades have seen unflinching efforts made to bring in indigenous knowledge into global biodiversity conservation debates among scholars especially within the discipline of anthropology (Berkes, 2009; Escobar, 1998; Mulrennan & Scott, 2005; Nadasdy, 1999; Todd, 2015). A growing agreement in these debates is that global conservation has for a long time neglected Indigenous conservation knowledge in attempts to address the challenges of an epoch that some have termed the Anthropocene and others the Capitalocene (Büscher & Fletcher, 2020; Haraway, 2015; Hetherington, 2018; Moore, 2017; Yusoff, 2018). Efforts to incorporate indigenous knowledge have been glaringly absent in the African context despite the continent holding biodiversity of global significance. According to many scholars and activists, African Indigenous communities are experiencing grave oppression mainly through militarized conservation (Lunstrum, 2014; Mbaria & Ogada, 2016; Peluso, 1993). The major culprits in these oppressive regimes have been conservation organizations and African national governments who, in stark contradiction, perpetrate human injustices while ostensibly practising conservation (Brockington, 2002; Lunstrum, 2014; Mbaria & Ogada, 2016; Peluso, 1993). There are growing and justified concerns that conservation on the African context is largely synonymous with violence against local and indigenous communities. In fact, conservation in Africa has been labelled as “CONservation” on various social media platforms, a locution that labels conservation as a deceptively oppressive practice. Mbaria and Ogada (2016) have entitled their work “The Big Conservation Lie” in reference to the scepticism that surrounds conservation in Kenya. This discontent with conservation risks creating deep antagonism between indigenous peoples on the continent, who are the stewards of key repositories of rich biodiversity, and organizations and states engaged in biodiversity conservation. These patterns of oppression are not new having begun during the colonial period when swathes of indigenous African lands were expropriated and made into state protected areas (Hughes, 2006; Mwangi, 2006). The entry of conservation NGOs, often associated with bringing development projects to indigenous communities especially following the rolling back of the state in the 1980s, is juxtaposed with increased plight of indigenous communities under the cloak of conservation (Peluso, 1993). As such, many African communities in areas rich in biodiversity have experienced militarized oppression and alienation of key resources. In the rare event that indigenous participation is sought, discussions about conservation have often entailed incorporating the voices of men while the voices of women remain muted (Agarwal, 2001). Yet, women interact extensively with the landscapes where conservation efforts are directed through activities such as grazing, fetching firewood and water, and crop cultivation. What is deemed local or indigenous, therefore, is often not fully encompassing. This seminar will focus on the complexities of biodiversity conservation in East Africa especially on the nature of violence against African Indigenous communities.

About the Speaker

Kariuki Kirigia (PhD, McGill University) is an assistant professor within the School of the Environment and African Studies Centre at the University of Toronto. Kariuki's research lies at the intersection of climate change, biodiversity conservation, land governance, African epistemologies and pedagogies, and sustainability in Africa. Previously, Kariuki has carried out research on the alienation of African Indigenous communities from biodiversity conservation and land governance, the nexus between floriculture investments and food security in Eastern Africa, youth, agriculture and food security in Ghana, vocational education and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Tanzania, payment for ecosystem services (PES) in Uganda, and community-driven hydro-electricity projects and micro-finance loans among small-scale entrepreneurs in Central Kenya. Dr. Kirigia is currently working on a book manuscript titled "Promises of Property: The Expansion of Capitalist Relations on an African Indigenous Frontier".


Contact Information