Wildlife Management Areas, or WMAs, which comprise the legal framework for community-based conservation in Tanzania’s wildlife sector, have been a source of controversy for the past decade, since the first regulations providing for WMA establishment were issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in 2002. While WMAs, first formally described in the 1998 Wildlife Policy of Tanzania, have always been presented by the Tanzanian government and key donor supporters such as USAID, as a mechanism for empowering communities to manage and benefit from wildlife on village lands, a range of legal and conceptual characteristics of WMAs have often undermined that ostensive aim.
The main criticisms of WMAs, chronicled in a fairly exhaustive body of literature (for one of my own past overviews, see here), focus on both critical legal provisions, as defined in the 2002 regulations (and subsequent regulations that basically just re-issued the 2002 version without making any substantive reforms), as well as the ways in which WMAs are conceived, facilitated, and marketed. On the legal front, several critical weaknesses of the WMA regulations undermined their contention to be devolving authority to local communities.
First, the 2002 regulations did not define the proportion of revenues from wildlife that communities with established WMAs would receive. This ambiguity around the critical issue of benefit-sharing made it difficult for communities – or organizations facilitating WMA establishment – to make a justifiable economic case for devoting large areas of village land to WMAs. It also lent credence to the argument that WMAs were just a government strategy to coerce communities into setting aside conservation areas on village land, without really receiving commensurate benefits in the bargain.
Secondly, the WMA regulations did not give communities who had established WMAs authority over tourist hunting concessions (or ‘blocks’). This has been a critical issue in debates over WMAs, since, the main logical purpose of establishing a WMA is for communities to gain control over tourist hunting concession management and revenue capture from hunting activities taking place on village lands. Hunting is the main wildlife-based form of land use throughout western and southern Tanzania, where little photographic tourism is established (and this was even more the case when WMAs were first being established a decade ago). Originally the 2002 regulations stated that hunting block allocation would remain under the authority of the Wildlife Division; it was thus difficult to understand how WMA establishment could be presented as giving communities control over wildlife on their lands, when neither the main form of wildlife use (tourist hunting), nor the proportion of revenues accrued from wildlife uses, were clearly granted to communities who had established WMAs. This formed the crux of a decade’s worth of criticism of WMAs by Tanzanian activists, local communities, and a variety of national and international scholars.
Within the last few years, perhaps partly due to wider changes occurring in Tanzanian in the political and policy realms, it began to be apparent that WMAs, at least in some parts of the country, were at least showing some signs of promise. In 2011, Maliasili Initiatives oversaw a review of three WMAs in northern Tanzania, including one (Burunge) which had been one of the first WMAs formally gazetted back in 2006. This review, published by the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum, confirmed that at least some WMAs in northern Tanzania were now earning significant revenue from a combination of tourism and, to a lesser degree, hunting. However, the review also pointed out that it was difficult to know if the WMAs were actually a net benefit in terms of revenue capture, since many of those same communities had been earning revenue from tourism before they established WMAs, through individual contracts between tourism operators and Village Councils. The review also highlighted some of the enduring weaknesses of the WMA framework, including the continued ambiguity and confusion around benefit sharing and governance of tourist hunting in WMAs.
In 2012, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism released new WMA regulations, the first new WMA regulations issued under the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act. For the first time in more than a decade, the WMA regulatory framework has been significantly reformed, as a result of several important provisions within these new regulations.
Both of the long-standing weaknesses of the WMA regulations – the issue of benefit sharing and control over hunting concession allocations – have been addressed, at least partially, by the new WMA regulations. As with previous editions of the WMA regulations, these 2012 regulations state that ‘Authorized Associations’ – which are the community organizations or associations established to serve as the local management agent of WMAs – may enter into investment agreements for use of wildlife in the WMAs:
34. (4) An Authorized Association that has acquired user right, in consultation with the Director and the District Council, may enter into contracts or agreements with investors for the purpose of utilizing the wildlife resources.
Section 52 of the regulations states that the Authorized Association (AA) may then apply for the designation of a hunting block in the WMA, based on the zoning plan done according to the regulations’ requirements:
52.-(1) An Authorized Association shall apply to the Director for designation of a Hunting Block in a Wildlife Management Area at the time of submission of the Resource Zone Management Plan.
(2) The Director shall designate a Hunting Block in a Wildlife Management Area at the time of approving the Resource Zone Management Plan.
The really important changes, though, come in Section 51, which provides the specific provisions for the AA to enter into an investment agreement with tourist hunting firms – a right that the AAs did not have at all under previous WMA regulations, where the contracts for hunting blocks, even in WMAs, remained between the company and the Director of Wildlife.
51.-(1) An Authorized Association shall in accordance with section 31(7) of the Act and subject to subregulation (2) have the authority to appoint a tourist hunting company to conduct tourist hunting activities in its Wildlife Management Area.
(2) An Authorised Association intending to select potential investors for tourism hunting blocks shall advertise the hunting blocks in a wildly [sic] circulated news paper.
(3) The Authorized Association together with the representatives of the Director and the District Council shall scrutinize and assess tourist hunting companies intending to operate in a Wildlife Management Area in accordance with the criteria as prescribed in regulation 10 (2) of the Wildlife Conservation (Tourist Hunting) Regulations, 2010 and the requirement of Sections 38(7), 39 (3) and (5) of the Act.
(4) The Authorized Association shall after selecting and conducting negotiations with a potential tourist company,submit to the Director copies of all the relevant application documents together with a draft investment Agreement for vetting.
(5) The Director shall, within thirty days from the date of receiving the document referred to under subregulation (4), vet and accordingly advise the Authorized Association.
(6) The Authorized Association shall, upon receiving advice of the Director, appoint and sign an investment agreement with the successful tourist hunting company.
(7) An investment Agreement to be signed between the Authorized Association and the successful tourist hunting shall be in the form prescribed in the Eleventh Schedule to these Regulations.
(8) The Authorized Association shall ensure that any modality or system used in appointing the hunting company under this regulation is transparent and in line with the principles of good governance.
(9) The income generated from tourist hunting activities in a Wildlife Management Area shall be shared as prescribed in the Twelfth Schedule to these Regulations.
(10) The tenure of ownership of a hunting block in a Wildlife Management Area shall be for a period of five years subject to renewal, provided that no renewal shall be made unless the applicant has attained a minimum score as prescribed in the Wildlife Conservation (Tourist Hunting) Regulations.
Section 51(9) refers to the Twelfth Schedule of the regulations, which sets out how revenue earned from hunting in a WMA is to be shared; again the specific provisions of the regulations, while still leaving plenty of room for improvement, at least resolve the ambiguity around benefit-sharing that has pervaded WMA management for the past 10+ years. Under this regulatory schedule, the WMAs receive 75% of the block fees, which provide the majority of the fees paid for hunting (25% of the block fees go the Wildlife Division’s Tanzania Wildlife Protection Fund). Of the other lesser fees (game fees, observer fees, conservation fees), the WMA gets 45% while the rest is divided between Wildlife Division, Treasury, and District government. At the end of the day these divisions mean that in total the WMAs probably get around 60-65% of the total hunting revenue. Notably, the regulations also specify that while the AAs cannot set the block fees and other charges to the hunting investor at a lower rate than the legally prescribed hunting fees, the AAs can charge more than those minimum rates for hunting in the WMA, if the market will bear it.
In recent months it has been reported that a number of AAs were in fact tendering for hunting blocks in their WMAs for the 2013-2018 period, although there is no publicly available information or reports on whether or not that tendering process is completed or what the outcomes have been. In any case, this increased community-level role in tendering for managing and capturing revenue from tourist hunting is a significant change in the legal and governance framework of WMAs. For the first time since WMAs were legally created in 2002, there appears to be some legitimate momentum within Tanzanian government circles for reforming WMAs in ways that enhance local rights and benefits.
A range of wider developments in Tanzania may be influencing these WMA reforms. The Wildlife Division, as with much of the government, has been under greatly increased public and parliamentary criticism during the last several years. Scandals and allegations around live animal exports and the allocation of tourist hunting concessions have contributed to a number of leadership changes in both the Wildlife Division and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism during the past several years (see for example this article on parliamentary debates on wildlife issues in 2011-2012). Parliamentary debates, often led by the opposition parties, continue to play a prominent role in wildlife and natural resource issues, such as the scandal around payments from uranium mining company to a hunting operator in a WMA in southern Tanzania. The communities who have established WMAs are themselves more active and organized, including through a ‘AA Consortium’ which has been supported by the WWF Tanzania office and which has played a prominent role in arguing for more community-level control over hunting in the WMAs.
In sum, it seems that after more than a decade of widespread frustration around WMAs, and their failure to adequately devolve rights over wildlife to the community level in a number of fundamental ways, the 2012 WMA regulations have finally addressed some of the key shortfalls and may provide a much more robust basis for strengthening the linkages between local interests and wildlife conservation. A wider set of policy and governance trends may also facilitate continued engagement and influence from local communities and civil society to further reform WMAs in positive ways; the ongoing constitutional reform process may even be one opportunity for doing this through enshrinement of certain community-level rights to land and natural resources in the constitution. The framework provided for WMA governance in the 2012 regulations remains far from perfect, but it’s a positive and much-needed break from the long-standing shortfalls of WMA policy over the past decade.