We are all equal, but some are more equal than others: Community perspectives on CAMPFIRE


By Nqobizitha Ndlovu-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association


Zimbabwe has a very high level of biodiversity and is home to 4,440-5,930 plant species, 270-350 mammals, 530-670 birds, 156 reptiles, 120 amphibians and 131 fish.[1] The wild mammal fauna of the country includes all the “Big Five” – African elephant, white and black rhinos, lion, buffalo and leopard – but also many species of antelopes, zebras and giraffes. Wildlife is one of Zimbabwe’s most valuable natural resources.  Wildlife produces important economic activity through tourism activities as well as providing food for millions of people.

Despite the high level of biodiversity and its global significance, Zimbabwe faces multiple sustainable wildlife management challenges. One of the major challenges relates to community roles in wildlife planning, management and utilisation. The co-existence of wildlife and humans results to inevitable conflicts which may lead to loss of life, injury, and loss of property. While conflicts are inevitable, it has been proven that communities play a critical role in sustainable wildlife conservation as the first line of defence against poaching and illegal wildlife trade as well as sustainable use of wildlife. It is in this regard that the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) was established. The theory behind CAMPFIRE is that communities will invest in environmental conservation if they can exploit these resources on a sustainable basis for their own benefit. However, CAMPFIRE is also beset by several challenges. One of the major challenges of CAMPFIRE at community level relates to revenue sharing mechanisms between CAMPFIRE wards and non-CAMPFIRE wards within the same District.

Legal framework on community involvement in the management and utilisation of wildlife

Wildlife governance in Zimbabwe is regulated by the Parks and Wildlife Act [Chapter 20:14] (PWA). The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) manages wildlife on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe based on the public trust doctrine, enshrined in section 73 of the Constitution as environmental rights.[2] The constitutional environmental right fully embraces the concept of the public trust doctrine as prescribed in section 4 of the Environment Management Act [Chapter 20:27].[3] As a result, wildlife is regarded as a national asset which should be sustainably utilised for the benefit of present and future generations. The concept of sustainable wildlife management and utilisation thus is anchored in the Constitution and the Environmental Management Act. Section 13 (2) and (4) of the Constitution further buttresses the participatory rights of communities in the management and utilisation. Firstly, national development must not be discriminatory. The Constitution uses the term “balanced development”.[4] Secondly, according to section 13(2) the people must be involved in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them. Thirdly, the people have a right to equal development opportunities arising from such programmes. Lastly, the state has a duty to ensure that local communities benefit from the resources in their areas.

CAMPFIRE and Community Perspectives from Mbire District

Mbire Rural District Council is one of the administrative districts of Mashonaland central province endowed with healthy wildlife populations. The district has three communal hunting concessions and a Parks and Wildlife Management Authority owned Dande Safari Area which is leased by the Rural District Council. Mbire Rural District Council has been practicing CAMPFIRE since 1987 and has been touted as one of the success stories of CAMPFIRE.[5] Mbire district is made up of 17 wards. Out of the 17 wards, eight are designated as CAMPFIRE wards. CAMPFIRE wards are generally situated along wildlife rich communal hunting concessions and the Dande Safari Area. Through proceeds from CAMPFIRE, the Rural District Council has built infrastructure such as schools, roads and clinics.

The revenue sharing mechanism has however brought into question the constitutional imperative of “balanced development”. While wildlife is regarded as a local resource which should, according to the Constitution, benefit locally communities equally, the classification of wards as CAMPFIRE and non-CAMPFIRE wards seems to be a source of division within the community. Qualitative data obtained through community consultations indicate community tensions pitting CAMPFIRE and non-CAMPFIRE wards relating to the district development process. Non-CAMPFIRE wards allege that there is skewed development in favour of CAMPFIRE wards which contribute towards the Rural District Council revenue streams. Rather than fostering community cohesion, the designation of some wards as CAMPFIRE wards at the exclusion of other wards has brought a feeling that while in theory all wards are equal, in practice some wards are more equal than others.

Non-CAMPFIRE wards have argued that just like the CAMPFIRE wards, they are also actively involved in conservation of wildlife. Further, they have argued that they bear the same looses arising from human wildlife conflicts which include death, injury and loss of crops and livestock. They have argued that although wildlife is not abundant in their wards as compared to CAMPFIRE wards, their wards are ‘maternity wards’ and ‘feeding wards’ for wildlife. The latter seeks refugee in their wards during pressure in the CAMPFIRE wards. As such, there are strong voices from non-CAMPFIRE wards that revenue from the CAMPFIRE should be equally distributed across all seventeen wards regardless of the designation as a CAMPFIRE or non-CAMPFIRE ward.

Another source of conflict at community level relates to the benefit sharing mechanism of wildlife put down as problem animals. The principle is that where the animal falls, therein lies the benefit. The practice is that when a problem animal terrorises the community, a report is made to the Council. The Council obtains a permit from the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to take down the problem animal. The meat is shared by the community. Conflicts arise in situations where a problem animal causes massive damage to a ward. Members of community from the ward may suffer huge losses as a result of the human wildlife encounter. When they report the problem animal, there are several scenarios. One scenario is that the problem animal is taken down within the ward and the community benefits from the meat. The second scenario is that the problem animal is shot within the ward boundaries but does not fall within the ward boundaries. The third scenario is where the problem animal moves to the next ward and is taken down in that ward. While the first scenario does not present any problems, the last two scenarios raise several problems. The ward which has suffered losses as a result of the human wildlife encounter does not benefit from the meat. This creates a sense of permanent loss since there is no compensation framework for compensation for harm arising from human wildlife conflicts.


While wildlife is regarded as a resource for the benefit of the local communities, CAMPFIRE designates some wards as active wards. There are perceptions and sentiments that these CAMPFIRE wards receive preferential treatment in district development plans and processes. Such sentiments and perceptions pose a major threat to conservation efforts and to the success of CAMPFIRE. CAMPFIRE has been viewed by non-CAMPFIRE wards as a divisive programme which does not bode well with the national development imperatives. It is recommended that the role of communities in wildlife management and utilisation must be spelt out clearly in legislation. This may be achieved through the review of the Parks and Wildlife Act and its Regulations. Further, there is a need to conduct more empirical research on the socio-economic impacts of CAMPFIRE within rural communities. Community views should be harvested in order to shape conservation strategies which have the buy in of all communities within a district.

[1] http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/zimbabwe/ ;MEWC 2014. Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity.

[2] Section 73 Environmental rights

(1) Every person has the right—

(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and

(b) to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future

generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that—

(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;

(ii) promote conservation; and

(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural

resources while promoting economic and social development.

(2) The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the

limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of the rights

set out in this section.

[3] Section 4 (1) Every person shall have a right to—

(a) a clean environment that is not harmful to health; and

(b) access to environmental information; and

(c) protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations and to participate in the

implementation of the promulgation of reasonable legislative policy and other measures that—

(i) prevent pollution and environmental degradation; and

(ii) secure ecologically sustainable management and use of natural resources while promoting

justifiable economic and social development.

[4] Section 13(1)(d).

[5] https://www.newsday.co.zw/2019/03/mbire-makes-strides-in-wildlife-conservation/

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