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Green materialities
How are ‘the past’ and constructions of ‘pastness’ being fashioned into new green materialities that act to perform ‘green economy’ responses to ecological crisis?

Enduring fear that the landscape of west Namibia is on the brink of ecological collapse and catastrophe – associated with ‘desertification’, climate change, species loss and industrial development – can stimulate apocalyptic framing that invite innovative sustainability interventions. Global ‘green economy’ discourses and policy approaches – wherein market solutions are sought so as to problems frequently caused by the extraction and manufacture of products for markets, i.e. 'market failures' – are key to understanding approaches to ‘sustainability’ in west Namibia. At the same time, Namibia has been a global leader in some aspects of developments in broader ‘green economy’ approaches (see, for example, Brown 1992).


Put simply, the landscape of west Namibia is indelibly entwined with a key international concern to generate a global ‘green economy’ that seeks to produce both economic growth and environmental sustainability. The specific combination of ways in which this is unfolding here provides a rich setting for exploring in detail the production of ‘green economy’ discourses, policies and interventions. Key dimensions include drawing into the open the versions of past relationships between people, landscapes, and associated organic and inorganic entities on which interventions are built, as well as elucidating the versions of future relationships that these interventions seek to amplify.


Simultaneously, these interventions can be brought further into dialogue with the sometimes rather ‘other’ versions of ‘sustainability’ and ‘culturenature’ relationships embodied in what is becoming known as the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of some of the region’s variously indigenous inhabitants. Opening up the circumstances through which particular green economy and sustainability proposals (have) become uttered and established can thereby deepen understandings of the historicity – the actuality of contexts and events, as well as their inclusions and exclusions – structuring the unfolding of conditions in the present (de Certeau 2010: 26).  


In this dimension of Future Pasts research, then, we are interested in exploring how exactly environmental ‘sustainability’ is understood to be generated through the production and circulation of particular objects and commodities produced in west Namibia and asserted to be ‘green’. Relevant sources of information include discourse analysis of policy and other texts, interviews with key actors, and participant observation. Through these engagements, we seek to clarify and juxtapose proposals by different actors associated with the west Namibian landscape for generating ‘sustainability’ into the future, focusing in particular on:

1. the ways in which new ‘green’ commodities and the institutional contexts guiding their production are understood and projected to produce sustainability into the future;

2. the ways these ‘green economy’ responses intersect with understandings of ‘sustainability’ and of ‘culturenature’ relationships expressed in the intangible culture heritage (ICH) of indigenous and local ecological knowledges.



Brown, C.J. 1992 Namibia’s Green Plan (Environment and Development) (Draft). Windhoek: Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism (MWCT).

de Certeau, M. 2010 Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. by B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


For more detail on specific lines of enquiry pursued through this research thread see below:




























































































































































See the UN Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) at


i.e. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries,


The ‘vet. fence’ or ‘Red Line’, established so as to control the movements of livestock and people and thereby to control the spread of disease whilst protecting commercial (white) farming areas in southern Namibia and containing African economies in the northern areas under communal land tenure, dissects Namibia from east to west (World Bank 1992: xv). In the west, this boundary extends through southern Kunene Region, having shifted from, for example, following the line of the Omaruru / ≠Eseb River south of the Brandberg in 1937 (Hartmann et al. 1998: viii) to its present location north of the Huab River (see Figure 8 below). For a detailed historiography of the Red Line, see Miescher (2012)., last accessed 28 February.


Conservation frictions, frissions and futures in west Namibia

West Namibia is a stronghold of the country’s ground-breaking CBNRM programme under which a patchwork of communal-area conservancies has been established. CBNRM in Namibia tends to be reframed in line with shifts in global discourses regarding environmental management. Thus it has recently been presented as one of the world’s longest standing Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, through which consumers of environmental benefits compensate through payments those who bear the costs of producing and maintaining them (Naidoo et al. 2011). Communal area conservancies (the core management unit of the CBNRM programme) have also been revisioned as ‘carbon conservancies’ that might gain from global discourses and accumulated funds for carbon management under REDD+ (Barnes and Quail 2011: 96). More broadly, CBNRM and associated initiatives are conceived as a modernisation programme generating improvement (following Murray Li 2007) in the management and governance of natural resources in rural communal areas. This improvement is considered to be multifaceted, producing multiple wins for environmental conservation, local development and business opportunities. Positive conservation and development outcomes are thereby seen to be produced through supporting business opportunities, and vice versa (NACSO 2014). Indeed, a communal area conservancy is described in the following terms as:

a business venture in communal land use… although its key function is actually to enable business [such that conservancies] do not necessarily need to run any of the business ventures that use the resources themselves. In fact, these are often best controlled and carried out by private sector operators with the necessary know-how and market linkages’ (NACSO 2014: 25).


CBNRM is thereby clearly positioned as a state-, NGO- and donor-facilitated process of outsourcing access to significant public natural/wildlife resources and associated potential income streams to private sector (frequently foreign) business interests, a governance arrangement associated with neoliberalism. CBNRM in Namibia strengthens market-based approaches to biodiversity conservation in particular by increasing income sourced from international tourism travel and trophy-hunting (Lapeyre 2011; Naidoo et al. 2016). Recent research, however, introduces complexity into analyses of CBNRM success in Namibia, highlighting discontent with CBNRM as a development strategy (Silva and Mosimane 2012; Silva and Motzer 2015); insufficient, i.e. low value and low volume, levels of incentives (Suich 2012); concerns regarding the long-term financial viability of many communal area conservancies (Humavindu and Stage 2015); a concentration of skilled knowledge, resources and decision-making power in the hands of tour operators and NGOs (Newsham 2007; Lapeyre 2011b, c and d); and the exacerbation of local differences through privileging particular local constellations of people over others with similar claims to conservancy opportunities and resources (Pellis 2011; Pellis et al. 2015; also Sullivan 2003).


Future Pasts research (Sullivan in prep.) seeks to complement such analyses by drawing on several months of ethnographic engagement to illustrate ways in which CBNRM as a powerful instrument of ‘improvement’ (Murray Li 2007) may be destabilised through particular combinations of historically and culturally embedded frictions and resistances (cf. Tsing 2005). Here, local desire for land and natural resources is set within a complex history of eviction of peoples from ancestral homes in the course of manufacturing the west Namibian landscape as a ‘world-class pristine, unspoilt wilderness’. Memories of peoples’ different relationships with landscapes prior to eviction linger and thus haunt the present, constituting a basis for on-site oral history research through journeys back to places experienced and remembered as homes by remaining elders now living on the periphery of tourism concessions and conservation areas. Through ‘recovery’ of invisible(ised) experiences, the alterities haunting present and past land appropriations (de Certeau 2010(1981): 24; also Hoffman 2009a and b) can be brought further into dialogue-across-difference, so as to pay ‘attention to the multiplicity of knowledge claims’ regarding land, places and natures (Tsing 2005: 81). The 'affective geographies' (cf. Dragojlovic 2015) of former dwelling places and the continuing resonances for people in the present of broader cultural landscapes are explored in more detail here.


This situation is further complicated by the fact that in practice, pastoralist aspiration for access to grazing and water sources often renders conservation area boundaries more porous on the ground than the lines on maps may signify. Furthermore, since 2012 international demand for rhino horn (cf. Mason et al., 2012) has brought significant rhino poaching to west Namibia, which, given the current role of rhinos in the region as a critical source of economic value for CBNRM and associated tourism business ventures (NACSO 2014: 14-15), constitutes a significant destabilising factor. An associated increase of military security strategies for anti-poaching in the region (see discussion in Muntifering et al. 2015), accompanied by proliferating accusations of witchcraft and even murder associated with rhino poaching in the region, contributes socio-cultural dynamics that are a far cry from the projections of modern, rational management associated with indicators of CBNRM success. Given such complexities, humanities-inflected research can perhaps contribute nuanced interpretations, drawing on observations of the complex socio-cultural dimensions that can intersect productively and unpredictably with the linear projections of progress, improvement and development assumed by market-oriented conservation interventions.



(Barnes and Quail 2011: 96)

de Certeau 2010(1981)

Dragojlovic 2015

Hoffman 2009a and b

Humavindu and Stage 2015

Lapeyre 2011a

Lapeyre 2011b, c and d

Mason et al., 2012

Muntifering et al. 2015

Murray Li 2007

(NACSO 2014)

Naidoo et al. 2011

Newsham 2007;

Pellis 2011; Pellis et al. 2015;

Silva and Mosimane 2012

Silva and Motzer 2015

Sullivan 2003

Sullivan in prep.

Sullivan and Hannis 2016; Sullivan 2016; Ganuses and Sullivan in prep.; Rohde and Sullivan in prep; Sullivan et al. in prep. a and b

Suich 2012

Tsing 2005

Killing nature to save it?

In this context of a general marketisation of biodiversity conservation, commercial hunting of selected indigenous fauna species is promoted as one route towards conserving regional populations of wild animal species, at the same time as contributing to economic growth. Hunted trophies - parts of animals (heads, skins, horns, ivory, bodies) that become tangible reminders of a hunted charismatic animal - constitute paradoxical sustainability objects. Viewed and promoted as supporting biodiversity conservation through the controversial killing of individuals of valued species, they effectively signal a ‘killing for conservation’ as Duffy (2000) has put it (discussed further in Hannis in prep.). In west Namibia, commercial trophy hunting has taken place for decades. As Owen-Smith (2002: 2) writes, in 1978, the former Dept. of Bantu Administration:

granted a ten-year trophy hunting concession to Volker Grellman of ANVO Safaris in the still game-rich and largely unoccupied area to the south of the Hoanib River (formerly the western Etosha Game Park). Apart from common game, ANVO’s annual quota included two trophy elephants north of the ‘Red line’ veterinary cordon fence and problem elephants as they occurred anywhere in Damaraland. Between 1977 and 1981, a total of 18 bull elephants were shot, mainly south of the vet. fence.


In recent years, trophy hunting in the conservancies and concessions of west Namibia has been organised through non-Namibian booking agents, who offer commercial tented safari hunts in a north-west Namibia marketed as ‘pure, un-touched, un-fenced Africa’ so as to contribute to the management of MET hunting quotas on conservancies. Globally, the promotion of commercial trophy hunting is in some tension with socio-cultural dimensions of local and indigenous hunting practices (Aiyadurai 2011; illustrated for west Namibia here), even whilst income from trophy hunting might also be critical to local communities through negotiated joint tourism ventures and hunting safaris (Naidoo et al. 2016). At the same time, insights from theorists of human-animal relationships (see, for example, Whatmore 2002; Lorimer 2007; Haraway 2008; Kohn 2013) can assist with thinking through how animals as objectified trophies come to be brought into being as such. In sum, the production and consumption of hunted trophies as objects containing and producing conservation outcomes has controversial ethical dimensions, particularly when involving rare and even endangered populations and/or species whose commercial and charismatic value is enhanced by their very scarcity (Hannis in prep.)



Aiyadurai 2011

Duffy (2000)

Hannis in prep.

Haraway 2008;

Kohn 2013

Lorimer 2007;

Naidoo et al. 2016

Owen-Smith (2002: 2)

Whatmore 2002;



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May 28, 2023

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