Special Issue – Call for papers

The politics of East African forests: interests, value and knowledge

Editors: Stefania Albertazzi1, Valerio Bini1, Philip Chemelil2, Samson Mabwoga2

1University of Milan (Italy), 2Maasai Mara University (Kenya)

Editors’ email: stefania.albertazzi@unimi.it, valerio.bini@unimi.it, philipchemelil@gmail.com, smabwoga@mmarau.ac.ke

Language: English, French

This Special Issue aims to explore the political stakes relative to East African forests, encouraging contributions from geography and other disciplines that put socio-ecological issues at the center of their analysis. We are interested in the political dimension of forests as it may involve institutional power struggles at different levels of governance, including in the drawing up and implementation of management policies, as well as in conflict mediation between forests users, investors, conservation aid actors and public authorities at different scales. Furthermore, the politicization of forest dynamics may be analyzed at an epistemic level by looking at the production of knowledge that underpins projects developing theories, discourses and epistemic frameworks at both local, national and international levels.

Mangroves, savannah, rain forests, afro-montane forests and urban forests are some of the forest ecosystems in Africa. Each of them plays a significant role in terms of livelihood (HLPE, 2017) and cultural value, water regulation, coastal and biodiversity protection, to mention just a few aspects. Recent data (FAO, 2020) indicates that the African forests are constantly under pressure, with the highest net deforestation occurring in the period 2010-2020. This deforestation has an important political dimension linked to the existing asymmetries of power between government institutions, companies and local communities (Horning, 2018). At the same time, in international conferences over the past decade (Bonn 2011, Paris 2015, Glasgow 2021), forests have been placed at the center of the debate, while the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 (UNEP, 2021) stressed the need for reversing the degradation of aquatic and inland ecosystems, including forests.

One of the elements that remains a core issue in the global debate concerning forests is conservation, increasingly linked to the market of carbon offsets triggering new questions about the risks associated with the current monetization trend and focus on financial solutions (Fletcher,2023). Since the first decades of 20th century, the institutionalization of natural protected areas managed through a “fence and fine” approach has been marked by conflicts and injustice experienced by local populations (West et al., 2006), only partially addressed through “community conservation” (Blaikie, 2006). With regard to the actors, forest conservation is today increasingly shaped by the private sector (companies, foundations, NGOs, individuals) or global organizations (World Bank, United Nations, international finance funds) (Brockington et al., 2008). The link between accumulation and conservation brought about by the private sector and the state(public-private partnerships) raises serious issues regarding privatization, the use of violence (Ramutsindela et al., 2022) and access to land.

Within this framework, reforestation is the focus of increasing attention among policy-makers in the Global North and South. In East Africa, along standing approach with regard to silviculture has involved the deployment of a vast range of initiatives, from the seizing of plots of land for tree planting, the planting of trees on small-scale farms and the promotion of exotic tree plantations, currently widely debated and contested, because for a long time there was no differentiation between indigenous and planted forest (Tsing,2018; FAO, 2018). As is the case with conservation, reforestation engenders a large, complex and multiscalar network of actors. Reforestation and ecosystem restoration, as resource management practices, take shape within power relations and can be a source of inequalities among communities and among community members (Elias et al., 2021).

Different perspectives can be mobilized to analyze them ateriality of nature-society relations (Moore, 2003; González de Molina, Toledo 2014). The ecosystem services approach (MA, 2005) has been adopted to illustrate the benefits to society provided by the environment, to the point of assigning economic value to nature for the functions it performs (Wunder, 2005).This approach has been dominant in the climate change policies in recent years, especially with the establishment of the carbon credits market which involves countries, companies, and individuals offsetting their GHG emissions, particularly in Global South countries (Bumpus, Liverman, 2011). Carbon projects in the regulatory and voluntary market – e.g. reforestation related to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or REDD initiatives – are placed in a lived and living landscape (Leach, Scoones, 2015). Their implementation raises issues of dispossession and ‘green grabbing’, but also of local development, there shaping of power relations and institutional negotiations focused on resources management and property.

An updated focus on Africa forests can contribute to shedding light on the political dimension of deforestation in East Africa and highlight the proliferation of policies, projects and initiatives related to conservation and reforestation in the area. Articles based on qualitative and/or quantitative research will be considered, including the use of GIS and historical, socio-anthropological perspectives. Consistently with the focus area of the Journal, the contributions to the Special Issue will cover the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo region. We invite theoretical contributions or case study papers that exemplify broader processes, in the following areas:

  • Theoretical analysis related to resources-based and knowledge conflicts, such as relations between states, private companies, NGOs, local communities; and discourses, such as the confrontation between different epistemic perspectives, and how the forests enter the capitalist valorization process. We strongly encourage analysis on the complexity of defining what is forest degradation and under what circumstances an intervention is required (Blaikie, 1989);
  • Exploration of deforestation dynamics, taking into account different actors (governments, logging companies, small-scale farmers);
  • Analysis of forest conservation dynamics, illustrating in particular the conflicts related to program implementation (e.g., REDD initiatives and payment for ecosystem services schemes), the interaction between different actors, negotiation and responses from below;
  • Exploration of reforestation and carbon offset projects, illustrating the emergence of new or old environmental configurations, the interface between the project and the actors on the ground and between the different temporalities of ecology and project/policies.

Send your abstract (500 words) to the editors’ emails  in French or English  by July 16, 2023.

Important dates:

16 July 2023: Reception of the Abstracts

21 August 2023: Authors are notified articles are accepted or refused

15 December 2023: Reception of the articles

Fall 2024: Publication of the Special Issue


Blaikie P., 1989. Explanation and policy in land degradation and rehabilitation for developing countries. Land Degradation &Rehabilitation, 1, 23-37.

Blaikie P., 2006. Is Small Really Beautiful? Community-based Natural Resource Management in Malawi and Botswana. World Development 34 (11), 1942–1957.

Brockington D., 2002. Fortress Conservation. Oxford:J ames Currey.

Brockington D., Duffy R., Igoe J., 2008. Nature Unbound. Conservation, Capitalism and the Future of Protected Area. London/Sterling, Earthscan.

Bumpus A. G., Liverman D. M., 2011. Carbon colonialism? Offsets, greenhouse gas reductions, and sustainable development. InPeet R., Robbins P., Watts M. (Eds.) Global Political Ecologies. London/NewYork, Routledge, pp. 218-239.

Elias M., Joshi D., Meinzen-Dick R., 2021. Restoration for Whom, by Whom? A Feminist Political Ecology of Restoration. Ecological Restoration 39 (1–2), 3-15.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), 2018. Terms and definitions. Forest Resource Assessment 2020. Rome, FAO.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), 2020. Global Forest Resources Assessment. Main report. Rome, FAO.

Fletcher R. 2023. Failing Forward. The rise and Fall of Neoliberal Conservation. University of California Press.

Fuchs L.E., 2023. Political Economy of Kenya’s Mau Forest. The Land, the Trees and the People. Rochester: James Currey.

González de Molina M., Toledo V., 2014. The SocialMetabolism. A Socio-Ecological Theory of Historical Change. Cham/Heidelberg/NewYork/Dordrecht/London, Springer.

HLPE (High Level Panel of Experts), 2017. Sustainable Forestry for Food Security and Nutrition. Roma, Committee on World Food Security.

Horning N. R., 2018. The Politics of Deforestation in Africa. Madagascar, Tanzania, and Uganda. Cham, Palgrave Macmillan.

Leach M., Scoones I., 2015. Political Ecologies of Carbon in Africa. In Leach M., Scoones I (Eds.) Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa. London, Routledge, pp. 1-42.

MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Washington, DC, Island Press.

Moore J. W. (2003). Capitalism as World-Ecology. Organization & Environment, 16, 4: 431-458.

Ramutsindela M., Matose F., Mushonga T., 2021.Conservation and violence in Africa. In Ramutsindela M., Matose F., Mushonga T.(Eds.) The Violence of Conservation in Africa. State, Militarization and Alternatives. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 2-21.

Tsing A., 2018. Résurgence holocénique contre plantation anthropocénique. Multitudes 3 (72), 77-85.

UNEP (United Nation Environmental Programme), 2021.Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature and climate. Nairobi.

West P, Igoe J., Brockington D., 2006. Parks and Peoples: The Social Impact of Protected Areas. Annual Review of Anthropology35, 251–277.

Wunder S., 2005. Payments for environmental services: Some nuts and bolts. Occasional Paper No. 42. Jakarta, Center for International Forestry Research.

Cite this blog post
IFRA Nairobi (2023, May 15). Special Issue – Call for papers. IFRA Nairobi. Retrieved June 15, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/pw3n

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