Petursson & Vedeld: Rhetoric and reality in protected area governance - Institutional change under different conservation discourses in Mount Elgon National Park, Uganda

Abstract: The approach to governance of protected areas has been in transition over last decades, partly driven by evolving policy discourses that shape the ways in which conservation is thought to be delivered. The most influential discourses are the “fortress” approach, “community conservation” and “back-to-the-barriers” How different discourses translate and are instituted on-ground are, however, complex and disputed. Inclusive policy strategies in relation to local involvement in developing countries are of particular concern. The study analyses how conservation policy discourses have become manifested, taking the case of Mount Elgon National Park (MENP), Uganda. It outlines main conservation policy discourses, analyses actor's interests and power relations and further examines how institutions for park governance have evolved and changed according to the different discourses. The results indicate that conservation discourses—and donor support—come and go, while MENP seems to outlast all. The worrying reality is that MENP administration, strongly influenced by the interplay of path-dependent institutional forces rooted in the “fortress” discourse, simply “sticks to its guns”—maintaining the application of law enforcement as key management instruments in its approach to governance, especially to local people interactions. There is an apparent gap between rhetoric and reality in protected area governance.

Keywords: Protected areas; Resources governance system; Conservation discourses; Institutional change; Path dependence; Mount Elgon National Park

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Published 1. December 2016 - 11:46 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:11