Indigenous knowledge, livelihoods and government policy in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Kgathi, Donald L
Ngwenya, Barbara Ntombi
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Communities in and around the Okavango Delta are still highly dependent on natural resources, and indigenous knowledge pertaining to the use and management of these resources has helped sustain both people‟s livelihoods and the environment on which they are based. However, many development initiatives are imposed from outside, and fail to take into consideration local conditions. Focusing on the Okavango Delta generally, and the villages of Sehitwa and Shorobe specifically, in this chapter we explore the extent to which indigenous knowledge is currently used in Okavango communities, and how it has been affected by Botswana‟s national policies over the years. Not all knowledge is shared equally by all community members – knowledge can be highly specialised (such as traditional medicine) or of relevance to one section of society only (such as women). In the Okavango, indigenous knowledge covers the range of resources on which rural livelihoods are based, from range management and crop production to fishing and wild plants. Within Botswana, two parallel legal systems exist: common law and customary law. While customary law is to a large extent based on local indigenous knowledge, common law is centralised, and encompasses broader national needs and values. As a result, new policies and regulations do not affect all sectors of society equally. In particular, veldt fire and fishing management at the national level have not always matched condition in the Okavango Delta. Some government officials who have trained in western countries either fail to “see” indigenous knowledge, or discount it as outdated and irrelevant. However, Botswana is currently revising many of its natural resource-related policies, and there is clear evidence of valuing and incorporating indigenous knowledge into policy revisions. What is less clear is how far this intention can be taken as the centralised government continues to promote three practices that directly undermine local knowledge: zoning and fencing, continued centralisation of institutions (removing power from local headmen) and a “modernisation” mindset.
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