The University of Arizona

Navigating constricted channels: local cooption, coercion, and concentration under co-management, Mweru-Luapula fishery, Zambia

Christopher M. Annear


In theory, natural resource governance through co-management promises a rich array of benefits for local populations, from representative decision-making to legitimately equal and open access to natural resources. Anthropologists, social geographers and other practitioners of political ecology will not be surprised to learn that such theory rarely bears out in practice, but that instead sociopolitical relationships are forged in the niches created by reoriented power structures. These reconfigured relationships exhibit not only shifts in peer networks but also in relationships of scale, for example, among local fishers and chiefs, and chiefs and government agents. Recent application of a co-management system of enforcement in the Zambian portion of the Mweru-Luapula fishery shows how well-intentioned policy fails to produce expected results: leading to spoils for some and reduced value of access for others. This paper focuses on one among several case studies derived from this region. It describes how a small group of roughly fifty lake island residents gain advantage from the dubious legality of their incursion into a perpetually closed fish breeding area because, while legislative statute restricts all fishers from these fecund common-pool resource grounds, comanagement empowers "traditional" modes of authority with the de facto clout to rebuff civil officers charged with evicting these potentially destructive occupants. For their part, the recent immigrant squatters argue a moral imperative to residence by claiming autochthony. By doing so they leverage the comanagement prerogative intended to protect indigenous rights, while bolstering their own campaign to entrench themselves in the most valuable waters of the fishery.

Keywords: co-management, fishery, commons, autochthony, Zambia, Mweru-Luapula fishery, Kanakashi Island

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