Africa Today 52.4 (2006) 149-152
For more than a decade, community-based natural-resource- management and community-conservation programs have been introduced across the Third World, attracting funding from bilateral aid agencies, the World Bank, and all manner of international NGOs and private foundations. Enough time has now passed to take stock, and scholars in increasing numbers are publishing critical assessments of community-conservation initiatives (e.g., Agrawal and Gibson 2001; Brosius et al. 2005). Christine Walley's Rough Waters stands out in this important and growing body of work for its empathetic vision, ethnographical and historical depth, and critical insights on globalization and development. In combining a theoretically informed analysis with an engaging narrative style, Walley has established a standard against which future studies of community conservation can be measured.
Walley's study is set in the Mafia group of islands, off the coast of Tanzania. In 1995, a portion of the archipelago was set aside as the Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP). Unlike most African parks, where mass evictions have been the rule, the enabling legislation for MIMP incorporated preexisting communities within its boundaries. Community participation and development, primarily in the form of ecotourism, were thus added to the traditional conservation mandate of the protected area. Walley was present at the creation, so to speak, and her experience gives her a particularly valuable perspective from which to observe the dynamic unfolding of social relations among various actors over the course of nearly three years. Drawing from the work of Victor Turner and Max Gluckman, Walley, an anthropologist, refers to the day-to-day interactions in the MIMP communities as a "social drama," which she characterizes as an exploration of the "ways in which conflicts and alliances among different categories of actors can serve as a map of broader power relationships." The primary stage for the social drama is the island of Chole, located within MIMP. The actors include the local residents, representatives of the World Wide Fund for Nature (which was providing technical and financial support), officials from Tanzania's Ministry of Tourism, Natural Resources, and the Environment (which had jurisdiction over the park), and various elected and appointed government officials.
Walley's work speaks to the field of political ecology, but is more clearly situated within critical-development studies (e.g., Ferguson 1994; Escobar 1995). At the core of her argument is the idea that place-history continues to inform and structure power relations in the present in complex ways. She suggests that MIMP demonstrates the complex intermingling of the modern and premodern "in a way that contests totalizing narratives of both modernity and globalization." In particular, she emphasizes the centrality of premodern models of patron–client relations for Chole residents' efforts to forge a relationship with the powerful actors involved in implementing MIMP.
The book's seven chapters, excluding the introduction and epilogue, are divided into three parts. In actuality, there are two main parts, II and III. Part II combines oral histories, ethnography, and archival research to construct a local perspective on place-history, community, and nature. Most of the oral histories are infused with a moral commentary on the conditions of slavery, which persisted until 1922, and focus on the rise and fall of Chole as an urban, cosmopolitan center in the Indian Ocean trade. The chapter on community addresses a complex set of tensions in Chole that revolve around gender and generational differences. The chapter on nature uncovers local understandings of marine fisheries and concerns over dynamite fishing by "outsiders." I found the chapters in part III, where she turns her attention to the park and its interactions with the residents of Chole, to be particularly compelling. There is no other work that approaches the intimacy and immediacy of Walley's account in these three chapters of the unraveling of a community-conservation project. The conflicts, alliances, hopes, and bitter disappointments of the various actors are chronicled with a literary flare that keeps the reader turning pages.
The materials in parts II and III...