This best practice describes how transboundary collaboration can reduce ongoing conflicts and sustain fisheries management on the Akagera river located at the border of Rwanda (Akagera National Park) and Tanzania. It came from my experiences working on a fishery project in Akagera national Park in 2015, where illegal fishing by Tanzanian fishers was a big threat to the conservation of wildlife in ANP. But it was hard to alleviate because of the lack of collaboration and good management strategies of fisheries resources.
This best practice addresses Aichi Biodiversity target 7 ensuring that by 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably ensuring Conservation of biodiversity. This best practice also addresses another Aichi biodiversity target 14 which says that by 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.
The Akagera River zigzags across the border between Rwanda and Tanzania. The Rwandan sections of the river reside within Akagera National Park (ANP) and are managed by park officials, while the Tanzanian sections are managed unofficially by Tanzanian fishers called Abanyambo. Despite sharing the river, the two countries do not coordinate management goals or policies for the river’s resources, resulting in conflicts between the Rwandan park officials and Tanzanian fishers.
This conflict has historical roots. In 1894, German colonialist Gustav Adolf von Götzen crossed the northward-flowing Akagera River to enter Rwanda, beginning the Rwandan colonial era. This area is the home to the Abanyambo, Tanzanian fishers who live in temporary fishing camps on the swamps; their traditional livelihoods depended on the resources of the river as a source of food and income long before von Götzen divided Tanzania from Rwanda. But since that division, these fishers have been legally limited to fishing in the Tanzanian portions of the river. And due to open-access waters and unmarked boundaries, Abanyambo can find themselves on the Rwandan side where they may knowingly or unknowingly engage in illegal fishing.
In response, the ANP employs a group of marine rangers who patrol the lakes and rivers to stop illegal fishing and protect other wildlife. These efforts enforce the park’s conservation management goals, but often result in conflict. During patrols, rangers chase fishers and sometimes confiscate their boats and nets. While these steps halted instances of illegal fishing, they are far from resolving the conflicts that affect the sustainable management of the river.
There is one option that still needs to be explored: trans-boundary collaboration with constructive policy dialogues between Rwanda and Tanzania, which could prove to be the solution to both ongoing illegal fishing and conflict in the area.
The action taken:
Conflict can lead to violence, but avoiding conflict is also problematic because unresolved problems may reignite, often with renewed vigor. Akagera National Park reduced illegal fishing and poaching through improved law enforcement. However, fisheries conflict with Abanyambo are far from solved.
Lessons from regional cooperation
Fisheries conflicts are often transboundary issues. A 2014 article highlighted the conflicts between Rwandan and Congolese fishermen on Lake Kivu. It showed that distrust and fading collaboration between groups, especially between fishers, caused loss of fishing gear and even human lives, becoming a constant source of conflict on Lake Kivu. Transboundary collaboration is emphasized as the best way to solve those conflicts and bring back peace in the area.
Management of wildlife in the Virunga massif provides another good example of successful transboundary collaboration. The Virunga massif spans an area of 450 km2 and borders eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northwestern Rwanda, and southwestern Uganda. It is home to many different wildlife species, among them the famous endangered mountain gorillas. This region is marked by poverty, civil war, and conflicts around natural resources. Tourism of mountain gorillas and other wildlife has been a major contributor to the economy of the countries in the Virunga region. As civil conflicts and insecurity increased in this area, the number of mountain gorillas decreased and hurt the region’s tourism and economy.
In 1991, the three countries got together to find a solution. They established the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), a strong mechanism for strategic and transboundary collaboration which brought together all stakeholders. This helped establish ways to equally share the revenues from mountain gorilla tourism, to protect all wildlife, and to support the local communities that live around the parks. Despite many other conflicts that still exist in this area, the GVTC successfully improved wildlife management in the Virunga massif. This collaboration enabled the protection of mountain gorillas and implemented health monitoring procedures that led to a significant increase in their population in less than ten years.
There are three main lessons from GVTC that can be applied to securing fisheries in Akagera:
1) stakeholder collaboration,
2) profit distribution, and
3) supporting local communities.
First, transboundary collaboration between Rwanda and Tanzania could be achieved by a better joint management of the resource and operations, all in accordance with the laws of both countries. Second, efforts that ensure both Rwandan and Tanzanian fishers profit from the fishery could help solve the problem. For example, from a conversation with fishers, there is already an existing but unofficial business collaboration between Abanyambo and Rwandan fishers whereby Tanzanians sell fish caught on their side to the fishing cooperative in Rwanda where fishes are currently overexploited. Finally, fishing communities around the park must be consulted and their needs taken into account. Akagera National Park has been collaborating with communities to solve human-wildlife conflicts around the park, so this existing collaboration would help in reducing illegal fishing and conflicts. Supporting community-fisheries can increase food and nutrition security, which is a serious problem for the communities around the park.
Effective collaboration among stakeholders can reduce conflicts and lead to sustainable fisheries management. In order for that to happen though, all stakeholders need to learn to speak each other's languages, identify common ground in the fight against fisheries conflicts, and commit to working in concert toward mutually beneficial outcomes.
Transboundary collaboration will reduce the major conflicts between Tanzanian fishers and Akagera Park managers by:
- Reducing poaching and illegal activities
- Improve sustainable fisheries
- Develop community-based fisheries
- Bring peace and security in the area