Community participation in the management of protected forest areas in East Africa: opportunities and challenges

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There is a move in East Africa from centralized and state-driven forest management regimes towards decentralized and mainly community-based regimes. The paper points out some of the opportunities and challenges. Structural changes in forest policies are seen as a contributing reason that decentralization is more in tune with the prevailing ethos of governance. Similarly, economic and political crises have now discredited service delivery systems based on central bureaucracy, forcing theorists of development administration to shift their focus from hierarchy and control to participation and empowerment. Moreover, the accelerating retrenchment during the 1990s, often to comply with structural adjustment policies, occurred together with the realization that centrist management strategies need reformulation. Erosion of the legitimacy of local institutions has been cited in the paper as one of the challenges. Local institutions have no real authority to decide on the management of forest resources. Another challenge is with regard to the stratified communities. In all stratified communities, interests of some actors are represented only inadequately. Lack of political will at the centre to give powers to communities and grassroots organizations is also a challenge to community based forest management initiatives in the region. It is also important that benefits must be significant if the community is to go to the trouble of establishing and enforcing the rules about resource use. This begs the question on whether community based forest management programmes/projects in East Africa have sufficient value to stimulate community participation. This remains a puzzle. The paper concludes by pointing out that “Rural communities in the region are undergoing rapid social, economic, and political change, as the development and modernization process spreads and deepens”. Even if effective and viable user groups exist or can be put in place today, will they survive and persist in the face of modernization pressures? Much more need to be known about the institutional context in which users now find themselves and the type of support that will increase the probability of sustainable management of our forest resources.



Community participation, Protected forest, Protected forest areas, East Africa