Accepted Paper:

Forest, land and power: the 'real' life of Okomu forest reserve in Edo State, Southern Nigeria  
Pauline von Hellermann (Goldsmiths)

Paper short abstract:

This paper contrast the colonial vision of forest reservation in Africa with what forest reserves have come to be and mean in reality. It explores the effects of Okomu reserve in Southern Nigeria on the landscape and its role in local politics in the colonial period and today.

Paper long abstract:

The creation of forest reserves was the cornerstone of colonial forest management in Southern Nigeria, as they were deemed essential for forest protection and for the practice of scientific forestry. To colonial foresters, it was a great success that by the early 1940s, 80% of the land of the then Benin Division (today's Edo State) was reserved. But whilst such extensive reservation had a huge impact on forests and people, and continues to do so today, this impact has in many ways been quite different to what colonial foresters had hoped for. This paper seeks to juxtapose colonial visions of proper forest and land management with the 'real' life of reserves by focusing on Okomu Reserve in Edo State. It discusses how it was local political strategies that enabled such vast scale reservation in the first place, and how reservation reshaped local ecology and land management practices. It then looks at what reserves have come to mean today: rather than protected forests, they have become land reserves that are now more accessible than non-reserved community land. Okomu Reserve is used as a source of patronage by politicians, and rubber and oil palm plantations are expanding rapidly, most significantly large scale foreign managed ones. Local communities, too, use the reserve strategically in different ways.

These processes are often regarded as the collapse of proper forest management, but this paper argues that their roots lie in the creation of reserves themselves, which already fundamentally changed power dynamics around land and forest.

Panel W004
Europe in Africa – Africa in Europe: Borut Brumen Memorial