Sapelli to tackle illegal cattle invasions for the Ju/‘hoansi of Nyae Nyae Conservancy, NA

This is a guest post by Megan Laws, who have recently used Sapelli in Namibia:

During the first few weeks of my fieldwork among the Ju/‘hoansi of Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia, I was asked by ‡Oma Tsamkxao, a local Ju/‘hoan field guide, to assist him in putting together a funding proposal. The funding proposal was for a GPS unit with an in-built camera. He planned to use this to take photographs of the ear tags of illegal heads of cattle that have been slowly making their way into the conservancy since the late 1990s.

We drafted a proposal for the GPS unit, and sent it through to donors he was in contact with. To better his chances, I also sent the proposal through to Dr Jerome Lewis, knowing he had worked on similar issues of invasion and resource threats in the Congo. Jerome came back to us suggesting we look into Sapelli. Since then, I have been working with a small team to put together a Sapelli project file aimed specifically at cattle invasions into traditional hunting and gathering grounds.

The Nyae Nyae Conservancy is 9,003 square kilometers of the traditional hunting and gathering grounds of the Ju/’hoansi, one of a number of remaining click-speaking language groups in southern Africa. Archeaologists estimate that the Ju/’hoansi have hunted and gathered within this region for over 25,000 years. Following the establishment of the administrative post in Tsumkwe in 1959 by the South West African Administration, however, the Ju/’hoansi have come into contact with agricul-tural economies which now threaten their resource base.

At the time of independence, the Government of the Republic of Namibia held a conference regarding land reform. Ju/’hoan representatives were in attendance and emphasised that they should be recognised as the legitimate owners of the Nyae Nyae region. This was supported by President Sam Nujoma, and the minister of lands, resettlement, and rehabilitation. The Nyae Nyae Conservancy was formally registered in 1998, the first of its kind in Namibia. Approximately 752 members registered, and the land came under the control of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and its traditional author-ity, Chief Tsamkxao ‡Oma.

It remains the only land in the possession of any San community in southern Africa which supports their rights to hunt and gather using traditional methods, and as such, it is a unique and vital resource. To protect it from illegal cattle invasions, ‡Oma and the communities of the n!oresi (traditional sub-sistence grounds) affected would need to gather photographs of the ear tags of heads of cattle which included GPS location data to verify they were in fact illegally invading. These would then need to be sent through to legal representatives in Windhoek, who pledged to work with government to coordinate removals and/or penalties once cattle farmers had been identified.

Although many have sought to get involved in fighting the invasion into their conservancy, there has been little they can do to become active partners. Doing so required multiple GPS cameras to allow Ju/‘hoansi in numerous locations to gather evidence as and when it presented itself, and then required this evidence to be uploaded to computers and emailed to legal representatives. For this, Ju/‘hoansi needed to be literate, tech savvy, and require more basic needs such as a means of charging devices and access to computers and internet connections. None of this is readily available for most Ju/‘hoansi.

Sapelli promised to overcome these issues by giving Ju/‘hoansi the option to work with touchscreen smartphones that could display simple images with audio descriptions given in Ju/‘hoansi. These could then be charged up using small solar panels, put into the pockets of hunters and gatherers, and put to discrete use as the opportunities present themselves. Data could then be sent to legal representatives immediately via cellular networks or later via wifi in the administrative centre of Tsu-mkwe, without the need for computers and email platforms.

To get started, ‡Oma and I worked on a pictorial decision tree that seemed intuitive, and on put together a checklist of requirements specific to the project (like needing the camera to zoom in to prevent cows from running away by getting too close). I then got in touch with Mary Alice Beal, a graphic designer based in London, who put together a series of copyright free images, and sent these through to David Cassettari, a programmer based in London, who began working on the xml

project and incorporating the images and sound files. We have just received the first workable version, and went out to one of the areas where invasive cattle are resident to test it out and begin the final processes of fine-tuning.

We have found that the performance of the project file varies greatly depending on the model of phone it is loaded onto, and so our efforts are now focused on fund-raising to gather several touch-screen Android smart phones of a suitable model that we can run final tests on before getting these into the hands of Ju/‘hoansi. We have also presented the project to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy and Nyae Nyae Development Foundation to plan the most suitable way to co-ordinate the project. In addition to several suitable participants based in Tsumkwe, there are 24 rangers who monitor and report on activity within their n!oresi and are therefore well-situated to be the recipients of these smartphones loaded with Sapelli. Nevertheless, we have also been advised to proceed with caution to ensure that the use of Sapelli remains largely anonymous to protect participants from cattle farmers who might take exception to those involved.


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