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"Poaching was our Identity": Identity Politics & Ecotourism in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Authors: MK Speth*, Yale University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa
Keywords: Identity Politics, Ecotourism, Environmentality
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since the creation of national parks, protected areas and ecotourism have been synonymous. Thus, peoples living adjacent to protected areas are not only subjected to conservation ideologies but they also readily interact with ecotourism discourse (Flectcher 2014). The perspectives and ideologies that comprise the ecotourism discourse create and rely upon simplified narratives of local peoples and their relationship to the land. Scholars widely acknowledge these simplified narratives as problematic in terms of implementing sustainable development policies and practices (Belsky 1999, West 2006, Ferguson 1990), yet there has been limited research focusing on the response of local peoples to the ecotourism discourse. This paper aims to take up this challenge through exploring the effects of ecotourism’s narratives on the identity politics of local communities. Specifically, the paper attempts to understand why a community would readily uptake these simplified and often inaccurate narratives as central to their identity. Using Akagera National Park (ANP), located in Rwanda, as a case study, this paper will combine theory and ethnographic field research to examine the construction of ecotourism narratives that present local communities as ex-poachers turned environmental stewards, even though there is evidence that contests their destructive past. Moreover, the paper will explore potential reasons for why the communities surrounding ANP not only accept but actively publicize the ex-poacher / current-environmental subject identity. This paper aims to surpass a critique of community-based conservation schemes and, in turn, return agency to local communities in order to understand the dialectic relationship between ecotourism narratives and local identity.

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