The study exhibits that Akagera wetland ecosystem has significant potentials resources such as fertile soils, wetlands, wildlife in Ibanda and Rumanyika national parks, River Kagera and its distributaries, and natural forest, just to mention the major ones. These resources serve the livelihoods of most people in the area, at national level and the entire east African region at large. Specifically, this ecosystem is a major source of energy (i.e. more especially wood fire and charcoal), water for domestic use and agriculture, meat from wild animals, tourism in Rumanyika and Ibanda national parks, and cultural practices, just to mention a few (Loibooki et al. 2002).
For instance, River Kagera is a source of hydro-electric power in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. There is a big shared Hydro Electric Power (HEP) project between Tanzania and Uganda along River Kagera. In Tanzanian side, this newly established HEP is located at Murongo Ward at the Cascade center. The produced energy serves several purposes in the landscape and the neighboring regions. One elder living near the Hydro-electric power asserted that “we will enjoy the electricity from this source, and this is quite important as most part of our district has no electricity”
In addition, River Kagera provides water for domestic and agricultural activities. The people living near this river have opportunities to enjoy from this benefit. This finding was supported by the Kyerwa District Agricultural and Livestock Development Officer who asserted that “about half of the vegetables and other horticultural products in the district are produced around the river catchment”.
Likewise, the river has been serving as a major source of fishes consumed in the landscape. According to community elders, the people have been enjoying protein from fishes harvested in the river. This is evidenced by the local market in Kaisho Village (in Kyerwa District) where fishes are sold. However, some of these fishes are allegedly been obtained from illegal fishing.
Generally, the management of the resources in the ecosystem is managed by a number of countries namely: Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. However, although the landscape has numerous resources with a wide range of diversity, this paper focuses on the involvement of Tanzania in that management. To be more precise, the most important resources in the area include wildlife in national parks, River Kagera, and wetland ecosystem, just to mention a few.
In this aspect, the community elders asserted that the management of resources in the landscape is mainly controlled by the government with some community involvements. For instance, the national park is under Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) while the management of wildlife in game reserves and open areas is under Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA). On other hand, the elders further asserted that Kagera River is managed by three countries, as it is a trans-boundary resource among Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. For example, an elder in Murongo Ward, an area near river Kagera asserted that “we are always told to avoid the encroachment to the river reserves in order to conserve the wetlands”
Private sector has also been equally involved in the management. More especially, this has been through investments in natural capital such as in tourism industry, hotels and camping. This sector has significant socio-economic contributions to the communities and national level as a result of investment in natural capital in the landscape. Therefore, the sector can boost the economic and social development of the area and the country at large.
In addition, the Director of Planning and Policy from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism asserted that; “The government has proper plan to involve private sector to invest in different sectors including natural capital. This is done through Public Private Partnership (PPP) which insists the collaboration between public and private sector in boosting socio-economic development”. As result, many private investors including tour operators such as Leopard Tour Safaris, and Rangers Safaris (interviewed), just to mention a few, have invested in tourism sector in the landscape.
However, in the Akagera Landscape, the change from Ibanda and Rumanyika game reserves to national parks has significantly affected the involvement of private sector in wildlife management in the area. Previously, there was a Big Game Safari; a private investor that was considerably involved in the management of wild animals in the area. The company invested in hunting and management of wildlife when the area was still a reserve.
An elder living adjacent Ibanda National Park and River Kagera said that “The Big Game Safari was closely working with the communities and it was helping the communities especially in building classes for schools etc.”
This statement was seconded by another elder (female) “living near Rumanyika National Park who asserted that: “Private sector has great importance to our lives as it contributes to development of our communities”. It is obvious that the Big Game Safari paid taxes to government and had commitment to helping the neighbouring communities. However, after the change to national parks, the Big Game Safari is no longer operational as it was not allowed to do the activities in the then protected area.
On that basis, the community elders asserted that, currently there are limited private sectors which are involved in the management of wildlife and River Kagera catchment although there are some short term donor funded projects which are carried in the area. These projects propose some best management approaches of the resources.
On the other hands, the government of Tanzania has been receiving income from private sectors which have invested in renewable resources especially timber (Milledge et al. 2007; Duvail et al. 2014). The officer from treasury asserted that billions of Tanzanian shillings have been collected as taxes or levies from the exploitation and transportation of timber.
However, this business has been more pronounced in the southern circuit of Tanzania than in the northern circuit where Akagera Landscape bases. Statistically, the officer asserted that an average of 20 billion Tanzanian shillings is collected annually in each Tanzanian region from timber exploitation and transportation. In this aspect, hardwoods timber is more preferable in the exportation business.
On the other hand, the government anticipates generating income from non-renewable exploitation in the landscape from private investment. In most game reserves, there are non-renewable resources which are potential for exploitation. Basically, these resources include oil, gas and uranium. For example, one of the top officers of TAWA asserted that; “for the past five years; a Russian Based Company has invested in the exploration and mining of uranium in Selous Game Reserves.
The company has considerably complied with the investment procedures of Tanzania. Many other international companies are in exploration stages for non-renewable resources in various protected areas and are finding the best ways of exploration.
In terms of institutions responsible for conservation matters, there is clarity over the roles and responsibilities for wildlife protection and conservation between and among different government institutions.
Overall, the management and conservation activities in game reserves, national parks or wildlife management areas include; strengthening law enforcement at entry and exit points, anti-poaching, problem animal control and investigation and prosecution.
One of the senior officers of TAWA asserted that; “our department is responsible for the management of wild animals in game reserves, game controlled areas, open areas, WMAs and wildlife farms while Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) is responsible in managing animals and other organisms (both fauna and flora) in national parks including the Ibanda and Rumanyika, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCCA) is responsible in managing the life of animals and people in Ngorongoro Conservation Area”.
However, these organs are supported by local government authorities and local communities in the respective districts. Since national parks allow only non-consumptive tourism, investment by private sector is not fully engaged because most of them especially foreign companies prefer consumptive tourism like trophy hunting.
While national parks are the totally protected area; their management is mainly controlled by the government and does not allow consumptive tourism (URT 1999). In Game reserves and game controlled areas, consumptive tourism is allowed through the provision of hunting permits and other related guidelines. Here, there are several hunting companies that work in various game reserves in Tanzania. The Selous Game Reserve (whose lifeblood is the mighty River Rufiji and network of interconnected lakes) is a good example of this as many foreign companies are doing trophy hunting. To a certain extent, hunting permits reduces poaching especially among the local communities.
Alongside, there is significant cooperation between and among institutions responsible for management of natural resources (i.e. wild animals). The Director of Tourism from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism confirmed that there are joint patrols among the national parks in the country and this has brought significant achievement in controlling poaching. Through this strategy, about 50% of the poaching cases have been controlled. TANAPA which is a top authority has been cooperating with other conservation groups and WMAs to manage the mentioned resources.
Therefore, the management of the available natural resources base is done under the guidelines of the government ministries and responsible institutions falling under those ministries, and the people living around the resource. However, despite of the significant measures taken by the authorities, the management of the ecosystem has been suffering from serious challenges. These challenges are hereby stipulated in the subsequent section as follows:
There have been serious cases of illegal fishing in the River Kagera. People from different communities have been engaging in this malpractice as their livelihood strategy. The community elders revealed that this situation has been more serious especially during rainy season because during this season there are plenty of fishes. It is obvious that the government through the designated institution has been prohibiting the encroachment and fishing practices in the reserved area (Moreau and Garaway 2021).
Encroachment to wetland reserves for cultivation is another serious challenge in the landscape. This involves unpermitted invasion into the restricted areas. In the landscape, entering in wetlands for any economic or social activity has been restricted by the national environmental policy and other environmental guidelines (URT 2021). However, the community elders from Murongo Ward asserted that “there have been some people who are actually or potentially invading the wetlands for agricultural activities”.
The major reason for this encroachment is that most wetlands are fertile and can effectively support agricultural production. Since this encroachment happens at the midst of restrictions by the authority, there is a need to increase enforcement of the existing bylaws and regulations that restrict this malpractice.
Deforestation is another threat in the landscape. Deforestation has been more pronounced in the area as most people are using firewood and wood charcoal as their major source of energy. Explicitly, most people cannot afford the use of alternative sources of energy or energy serving sources like gas, electric etc. Therefore, if they cannot afford that, it is obvious that they will rely on firewood from the forest and thus, deforestation in areas around the reserve will increase significantly. An elder from Mikinga Village asserted that; “we have no other source of energy apart from fire woods and wood charcoal. We are appealing to the government and other environmental donors to provide subsidized solar energy and other cheap sources of energy which we can afford”.
In addition, this deforestation has caused the disappearance of some plants species which were previously used as medicines. Without giving specific examples, the community elders asserted that, “there were numerous plant species that were used as medicines but presently it has been difficult to get them in the forest”.
As well, there has been a raised concern on the mismanagement of resources due to cultural beliefs. In this aspect, the community elders proclaimed that there are several cultural beliefs that limit the management of the area. For example, there are some cultural experiences that affect the management or conservation of water resources. They further asserted that in some seasons there has been temporal change in water colour (i.e. mainly from red, white and blue). This situation keeps most people to distance themselves from conservation of the river and its catchment because they are afraid to get near with water. However, this situation can bring both positive and negative impacts.
Similarly, another cultural barrier that prohibits people from involving in the management is locally called “mugasha”. This is a situation whereby the communities hear some sounds of invisible people who seem to be singing and dancing or calling people but are not openly seen, and this mostly happens at night. A female elder from Rwenkende village asserted that “in some situation, a beautiful girl can be seen slightly and then quickly disappear”.
According to her views, these miracles imply that a certain bad event can happen (i.e. more especially the death of among the community members). Therefore, during this occasion, people are afraid and they detach from managing the river.
In terms of wild life, the elder further asserted that: “There has been a taboo that when wild animal like wild dogs come around the community homes and cry in a certain unusual way, there will be misfortune in the area”. This also increases the detachment in the management of wild animals as they attempt to kill such animal which is allegedly to bring misfortunes in the community.
Besides, the wetland is threatened by non-plant invasive species, such as Protopterus aethiopicus (lung fish), and Clarias gariepinus. These are predators to fish species, particularly the Tilapia in the wetlands. There is also a threat from the plant species in the area. The interventions against invasive plant species include uprooting the water hyacinth from the wetlands.
However, this is being hindered by lack of appropriate equipment’s to use in the uprooting process, and inadequate commitment among the local communities. The management of invasive species will require adaptive and participatory approaches to allow stakeholders gain an understanding of the invasive species-related problems and contribute to solutions.
Besides, political instability is among the serious threats to the landscape. Political instability in the neighbouring countries has equally affected the management of the ecosystem. For example, the 1994 genocide massacre in Rwanda posed some serious post war disorders in the landscape. The elders in the area asserted that the impacts associated with this genocide have prevailed for so long. During that time, some wild animals were displaced in national parks.
Also, there was increased immigration in the areas which eventually increased resource utilizations. In addition, water pollution in River Kagera was another consequence of the genocide. These impacts posed serious constraints towards the conservation and management of the ecosystem (Goldman 2003; Mkonda and He 2017a).
In addition, political instability has direct impacts to tourism as the country with insecurity (i.e. civil war) affect the security of the neighbouring country and thus, imposing fears to tourists who eventually refrain from visiting the nonviolent country. Moreover, political instability generates refuges to the neighbouring countries and thus, affecting the tourism welfare. An elder living near Rumanyika National Park asserted that “In 1994 during genocide in Rwanda, there were no tourist in this border as the whole area was under insecurity”.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic brought significant effects to tourism sector. According to the information from both private sector and government institutions responsible for tourism, there has been a significant decline (over 50%) of tourism revenues at national level. This has also affected the local livelihoods through various aspects. Tour operators have been jobless for a long time more especially from March to July 2020.
According to the directorate of tourism, the government also experienced drastic decline of revenues in various national park and thus, affecting the contribution of the sector to national economy and GDP. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, tourism sector contributed to about 30% of the GDP but during and after this pandemic, the sector contributes less than 20% of the GDP. This verdict was equally supported by all interviewees in the study area.
For instance, the representative from private sector asserted that “we have not healed from the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. We are trying to adapt with it but the situation is still worse as we don’t have tourists”. Thus, the pandemic has posed significant impacts to the conservation and management of wildlife as it reduced the number of tourists who are coming for spot hunting, game viewing etc. This has subsequently affected the income generated from the sector and consequently, reducing the budget allocated for the management of natural capitals.
Another important aspect is the existing controversy in the legal frameworks among the countries sharing the trans-boundary resources. In some countries, hunting wild animals is illegal while in other countries is legal. For example, in Tanzania the hunting of wild animals in game reserves, WMA, open areas is legal (under permission) while in Kenya and some other countries it is quite illegal. Since each country is autonomous, this has been left unchecked although it affects the management patterns of wildlife in the entire region (east Africa).
However, this discrepancy is potentially resolved through dialogues and no major problem is caused afterward. The senior officer of TAWA revealed that; “despite the fact that most wildlife laws in East African regions are almost similar, there is a need to harmonize them in order to best fit in managing trans-boundary resources”. On embarking to this, a series of meetings between and among the wildlife authorities (e.g. TAWA and Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) in the trans-boundary countries have been progressing to resolve the existing discrepancies. He further, insisted that harmonization is important to be done in all trans-boundary policies and regulations (i.e. Rwanda, Burundi etc.).
In order to improve the legal enforcements, he further asserted that there have been several initiatives which are underway. For instance, the Law Enforcement Strategy for SADC, East African Strategy, and the National Anti-poaching Strategy of Tanzania have been progressively amended to cater for the emerging challenges related to management of natural resources. The east African strategy will adequately improve the management of River Kagera, Ibanda and Rumanyika national parks, Minziro forest ecosystem, and Serengeti and Masai Mara national parks, just to mention a few”.
More so, there has been some budget constrains (not enough) allocated in the conservation and management of these natural capitals. It should be kept in mind that; conservation of natural resources takes lots of money from the government and funders from both local and international levels. For instance, in the year 2020 over 100 billion Tanzanian shillings were used for conservation of various game reserves and national parks.
However, this amount was not sufficient to fund important activities more especially the law enforcement, and the payments (especially consolations) to the people affected by wild animals especially elephants. As well, the implementation of this budget is not satisfactory as funds are not disbursed timely to the respective actors. Generally, this affects the smooth implementations of the assigned activities.