Community based natural resource management (CBNRM) programs presently proliferate across the Global South. In Southern Africa, CBNRM overwhelmingly focuses on wildlife conservation in areas adjacent to national parks and game reserves. The objects of these development activities are remote communities that exhibit the highest levels of poverty in the region, the consequences of which are sometimes resource degradation. CBNRM seeks to empower and enrich the lives of these communities through the active co-management of their natural resource base. Almost without exception, however, CBNRM projects have had disappointing results. Common explanations lay blame at the feet of local people who are seen to lack capacity and will, among other things. This paper contests this explanation by subjecting the particular case of Botswana to a deeper, critical political ecology analysis. Drawing on insights from Homer-Dixon regarding resource capture and ecological marginalization, and from Acharya regarding the localization of global norms, the paper argues that CBNRM is better understood as a discursive site wherein diverse actors bring unequal power/knowledge to bear in the pursuit of particular interests. In Botswana this manifests at a local level as an on-going struggle over access to land and related resources. However, given that CBNRM is supported by a wide array of international actors, forming perhaps the thin edge of a wider wedge in support of democratization, good governance and biodiversity preservation, locally empowered actors are forced to adapt their interests to the strictures of emergent structures of global governance. The outcome is a complex interplay of activities whereby CBNRM is realized but not in a form anticipated by its primary supporters.

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Author notes

Associate Professor, Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre, University of Botswana, swatukla@mopipi.ub.bw.