Ju|'hoansi of Nyae Nyae conservancy, Namibia, to conserve resources using smartphone technology
The aim of this fundraising campaign is to raise an initial £1,000 to put towards the purchasing of smartphones and solar-powered chargers. These will be loaded with Sapelli, an Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) smartphone application, and put into the hands of Ju|’hoansi hunter-gatherers living in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia. Ju|'hoansi will use these to monitor and report upon illegal invasion of cattle herds which currently threaten their resource base.
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. It remains the only land in the possession of any Khoisan 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.
Following independence, in June to July 1991, the Government of the Republic of Namibia held a conference in Windhoek on “land reform and the land question”. At this meeting, the Ju|’hoansi said that they should be recognized by the new Namibian government as the legitimate “owners” of the Nyae Nyae region. Both the minister of lands, resettlement, and rehabilitation and the president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, declared that the Ju|’hoansi had rights to this land.
Not long after the conference, the Ju|’hoansi faced a major test of their land rights when Herero pastoralists from the south moved with their cattle herds into the Nyae Nyae region. The Ju|’hoansi and the non-governmental organization (NGO) working with them—the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation Namibia—peacefully escorted the Herero out of Nyae Nyae. In April-May 2009, however, the Ju|’hoansi confronted once again an unlawful Herero invasion.
At present, the farmers who cut the veterinary cordon fence in April 2009 are still living in Tsumkwe, their number having increased from 32 to nearly 300 in the first few months following the invasion. They are paying no fees for water, sanitation, or electricity; hence, the local residents are in effect subsidizing their presence. Since then, Ju|’hoansi, in both the municipal area and the surrounding conservancy, have increasingly had their resources decimated, lands over-grazed, and have been intimidated by theft and violence if they are thought to engage in activism against the unlawful invasion.
The Ju|’hoansi are concerned about the future of the conservancy and how it is functioning, and are looking for every opportunity available to take matters into their own hands to ensure a sustainable future for their people and the environment upon which they depend.
Sapelli is a new mobile data collection and sharing platform designed with a particular focus on non-literate and illiterate users with little or no prior ICT experience. The application aims to provide indigenous people with tools that empower them to take action to protect their local environment and way of life. Among Mbendjele Yaka pygmies of northern Brazzaville-Congo, Sapelli allowed for the recording of illegal poaching and logging leading to deforestation. Among Yupik and Iñupiaq coastal subsistence hunters, Sapelli is used to record sea ice depth, and in London, the app is being used to plot wheelchair accessibility, in order to help users identify locations around the city that are more accessible to them.
In collaboration with local Ju|’hoansi conservancy members, programmers, anthropologists, and graphic designers have spent the past three months modifying the Sapelli application to meet the specific needs of the Ju|’hoansi in their fight against the unlawful invasion. The application will allow Ju|’hoansi to take close-up photographs of the ear-tags of cattle which include GPS co-ordinates to confirm they have crossed over into the conservancy boundaries, and have these sent instantly to legal representatives in Windhoek who will identify owners and put together legal cases against them.
Following the successful completion of this initial fundraising campaign, the project will aim to raise further funds (approximately £10,000) to be used to test and make use of three further modifications on the Sapelli application which are currently under construction. One will be used to monitor and report on the use and presence of a variety of natural resources, such as Devil’s Claw (the active ingredient for which is used by European pharmaceutical companies in arthritis medicine), a second will be used in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to monitor and report on conservation issues specifically, and the third will be used in village schools to teach children reading, writing, and speaking in their mother-tongue and in English.
All black and white photographs courtesy of Paul Weinberg (colour by Megan Laws). Copyright Reserved.
Text compiled by Megan Laws
Edited by Dr Megan Biesele and Dr Robert Hitchcock
Application programming by David Cassettari
Application assistance by Mary Alice Beal
The Ju|'hoansi of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence by Megan Biesele and Robert Hitchcock
Mapping indigenous natural resources: There’s an app for that by Grace Heusner