In This Review

Politicians and Poachers: The Political Economy of Wildlife Policy in Africa
Politicians and Poachers: The Political Economy of Wildlife Policy in Africa
By Clark C. Gibson
Cambridge University Press, 1999, 245 pp.

This innovative study applies to wildlife conservation policy in Africa the structural-choice theory of bureaucratic behavior -- the idea that individuals and groups attempt to control public institutions for their own benefit. Focusing on conservation policies in Zambia since independence and drawing comparisons with Kenya and Zimbabwe, Gibson demonstrates some unexpected outcomes. For example, electoral systems that make parliaments responsive to constituency demands have played a decisive role in thwarting conservation, while personnel in charge of preserving wildlife have usually found that their best interests lay in ignoring antipoaching laws. Most Africans, quite rationally, regard conservation as something that benefits wealthy foreigners, tourist-industry entrepreneurs, and central governments rather than the ordinary person. To politicians from the national level down to the local chief, control over the permission to hunt is an important source of patronage and income that dries up when conservation takes precedence. The author concludes that programs for community management of wildlife have marginally improved enforcement in Zimbabwe and Zambia but have not altered the ordinary African's belief that hunting is legitimate.