Tanzania is known for its tapestry of lush forests, expansive grasslands and tropical beaches, and abundant and diverse wildlife. Its coastal forests are part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa biodiversity hotspot – a place recognised for its wealth of wildlife but threatened with destruction, making it a high priority for conservation efforts.
These forests are home to hundreds of endemic plant and animal species – ones that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. For example, there are five endemic mammals – including the Zanzibar Red Colobus – five endemic birds, six endemic amphibians and three endemic reptiles, as well as 325 endemic plants. More than 300 other species are shared only with the nearby Eastern Arc Mountains.
In our paper we found that biodiversity – and the level of endemic species – is exceptional by global standards. We show that many endemic species are threatened with extinction. This is due to increasing human-use pressures as well as emerging mining, gas and oil exploration. Habitat loss and degradation has continued and the space remaining for the endemic species is shrinking. It’s now often confined to government protected areas and lands managed for conservation by villagers.
The region epitomises the challenges of conserving forests in a developing country with a rapidly expanding population, many of whom are dependent on subsistence farming and biomass for cooking. Both have a direct impact on forest habitats.
The forest habitat where these endemic species are uniquely found has continued to be lost and degraded over the past two decades. Between 1990 and 2007, coastal forest cover decreased by more than a third, and has continued to decline ever since. This is largely as a result of agricultural expansion, charcoal production and logging for timber and firewood.
Endemic species are only able to survive in forest. The loss of their habitat is therefore a direct threat to their survival.
By mapping forest loss we can see that there are areas that are some distance from the major coastal towns – Dar es Salaam and Lindi. The lack of recent forest loss closer to these cities is because it’s already been cleared and replaced with urban areas or farm land. Clearance of forest has spread like a wave from these cities into more rural areas.
Millions of people in Tanzania rely on natural resources – clean freshwater, healthy forests and abundant wildlife – for food and income. And, the destruction of Tanzania’s coastal forests to support the growing population is putting huge pressure on the natural environment.
The main use of forests by people has been as a source of farmland. Tanzania’s economic development in the coastal region is highly dependent on agriculture. Freshly cleared forest is more fertile than established farmland. This has led to more clearance of unprotected forest patches. The need for fertile soil that is close to water courses puts coastal forest patches under even more pressure. Now, almost no forest patches remain in the coastal areas of Tanzania unless they are protected in government – or village-managed reserves, or are within sacred forest or burial sites for local villagers.
The forests and woodlands in the coastal areas have also been used as a source of timber and poles for construction, and as a source of energy – either as firewood in rural areas or converted to charcoal for transport to the growing cities and urban areas. About 90% of Tanzania energy generation comes from wood and charcoal and is a vital source of income to some rural villages. But this has an impact on many of the endemic species.
To deal with these challenges – protecting this unique habitat while ensuring people have the resources they need to survive – reserved areas have been created by central and local governments, as well as local communities who are promoting better management. There is also a gradual movement towards private ownership of land.
Between 1995 and 2014, the total area of protected lands increased by more than 20% and now covers 1,233,646 hectares. Much of this is community managed village-land forest reserves – over 140 of these reserves have been developed in recent years, covering many important habitats.
In comparison, the state managed reserve network has not expanded much over the past two decades, and the forested areas within these lands have become more degraded – especially close to major cities.
Reserve managers working along the coastal region of Tanzania are using a simple score card to determine how well their reserve is managed. We also found that the best managed reserves in this area are national parks and village-land forest reserves. This means that these are the places where forest habitat, and hence the endemic species confined to that habitat, are most likely to survive.
What does the future hold?
These challenges will only be solved if the right framework – from policy through to on-the-ground actions – is put in place. Building partnerships with global communities, national stakeholders and involving local communities could improve the effectiveness of managing forests and biodiversity, as well as supporting the country’s development priorities.
Peter Sumbi, independent environmental consultant and Isaac Malugu, former forest officer were co-authors on this article.
Foreign nationals have, yet again, been attacked, displaced and had their shops looted in South Africa. This is an unfortunate – but entirely unsurprising – way to mark the anniversary of the 2008 xenophobic attacks during which tens of thousands were displaced and more than 60 people killed.
Even before 2008, a handful of scholars and activists were urging the government to do more to protect those targeted for violence because of their geographic origins. Only after the 2008 melee did the government join civil society and international organisations in committing to ensure that such bloodletting would never happen again. But, it has.
Why? Firstly, both the government and civil society are culpable. The government continues to sideline xenophobic violence the same way it does most violence affecting poor South African communities. It has naturalised anti-outsider violence by blaming it variously on criminality or the natural resentment poor South Africans feel towards those they perceive as “stealing” opportunities from them.
Civil society efforts have fared little better in arresting the violence. Many organisation, foreign and domestic, have responded in a classic “garbage-can” fashion, matching ready-made solutions to problems they only poorly understand. The results include innumerable marches, education campaigns, rights awareness symposiums, and social cohesion summits. Various bodies, including the one I work for, regularly document the abuse of migrants at the hands of police, authorities and neighbours.
The solution doesn’t lie in simply doing more of the same. What’s required is to recalibrate how xenophobia is covered, particularly how stories are told about migrants – their rights, suffering, and their relationship to the citizens around them. The way it’s currently done is doing more harm than good.
South African coverage of migrants falls into what the president of the global Ethical Journalism Network, Aidan White, recently noted was a trend towards “victim journalism” in global migration coverage.
But changing course means going against the grain of the dominant narratives. It means destabilising the language and approaches used to speak about violence and immigration. This is as true in South Africa as it is elsewhere in the world.
When one does this, as Tanya Pampalone and I have tried to do in the book I Want to Go Home Forever: Stories of Becoming and Belonging in Africa’s Great Metropolis. the stories are often difficult to digest. They are uncomfortable because they upset easy binaries and accusations. They also point to new opportunities to build communities that are inclusive and safe.
The accounts of migrants described in White’s article are very recognisable in South Africa. Many of the accounts offered by South African civil society and scholars rapidly descend into a parade of miseries and indignities. As if the more people suffer, the more deserving they are of not only sympathy, but a place in a hosting country. It’s as if the only way one is allowed to stay is if you completely deserve pity.
Miriam Ticktin, a leading migration scholar, similarly observes how migrants need to ensure they are read as helpless, needy and innocent to secure access to protection and help. While such claims may get you “in”, they also feed perceptions that migrants are wards, stealing resources.
The problem of focusing on migrants’ rights and victimisation is that it does little to hold the political and criminal elements leading – and benefiting – from the violence against migrants responsible. It also prevents empathy from citizens grappling with the competition for scarce resources such as houses, or for jobs, as well as the ethical dilemmas of migration. Migration is a complex process that by its nature transforms communities. It introduces new languages and customs. It creates new forms of economic and social exchange. These can be unsettling and disorienting, especially during times of economic hardship and political transition.
Framing xenophobic violence as a question of immigrant victimisation invites divisions between neighbours. There are multiple examples, such as accounts of immigrants as somehow superhuman people who have suffered violence and persecution across a smorgasbord of sites, yet heroically continue commerce to feed their families.
Journalists and scholars overlook or suppress unsavoury elements of migrants’ histories and activities. This is often for fear of feeding anti-immigrant reactions. Perhaps more importantly, migrant-oriented journalists and activities too quickly condemn South Africans as thoughtless purveyors of violence.
Both sides become caricatures, people without politics or the complexities that are inherent to all humans.
It’s true: there are many stories of victimisation. But there are a host of other accounts that reflect a complexity often ignored in the simple narratives.
There are the geriatric refugees from Ethiopia who fear reprisals for political actions taken decades ago. There are conflicts among immigrant families far more vicious than anything South Africans are offering. There are immigrants who make court cases against them disappear.
There are also thoughtful, patriotic South Africans convinced xenophobia is socially just. For them, overcoming apartheid’s legacy means redirecting resources and opportunities to the citizens who most suffered from it. For them, sharing the country’s wealth and urban space with “others” can only frustrate a transformation agenda that has been too slow to bear fruit.
There are also stories – seldom told – that can salve and offer direction. They remind those willing to listen that while immigrants live in almost all South African townships, violence against them is remarkably infrequent. It’s not random or driven solely by rage, but calculated, purposeful, and directed.
What is more, there are poor, black South Africans who know that foreigners are not the problem. They are perfectly aware that foreigners aren’t the reason they are jobless, homeless, and frightened to walk the streets. Better than most, they know that it is officials’ false promises and unwillingness to counter corruption, violence, incompetence and institutional incapacity that are to blame.
These are problems with no easy solutions. Yet that is precisely the message that scholars, activists, and concerned citizens need to hear.