Trans-frontier conservation and the neoliberalisation of nature: the case of the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve, Mozambique
Trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCAs), large cross-border areas dedicated to biodiversity conservation, multi-national co-operation and development are expanding in southern Africa, fast becoming the dominant conservation solution in the region. TFCAs adopt a celebratory discourse of ecological, community, economic and political gains, while the reality is often far more complicated. This thesis situates the expansion of TFCAs within a critical political ecology approach, and argues that they represent a neoliberal solution to a complex series of development, environment and political challenges. Drawing on five and a half months of fieldwork to Mozambique along with policy and discourse analysis it examines the first marine reserve to be linked to a TFCA in Africa, the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) in southern Mozambique. It makes three arguments: First, it argues that Mozambique’s embrace of TFCAs represents the neoliberalisation of conservation through novel tourism-based products, techniques of governance, creation of subject positions based on entrepreneurialism, and new arrangements of space. At the same time, the adoption of TFCAs also stems from Mozambique’s post-war politics, especially the ways in which elite state actors have sought to reconstruct and reorder the country through engagement with donors. Second, the thesis uses a combined governmentality and assemblage framework to explore how neoliberal conservation is made to cohere as a truth discourse, how it materially co-produces human and non-human life in the marine reserve, and how it is fragile, partial and contested. Third, it critiques the increasingly close relationship between the extractive and conservation sector at a policy, state and donor level, exploring how and why marine conservation is increasingly intertwined with Mozambique’s resources boom through its green economy discourse. Through these three points of engagement, the thesis contributes to debates around the intensifying relationship between extraction and conservation, Mozambique’s post-war development, and processes of neoliberalisation of nature.