Johannes Dittmann – Research Assistant (M.Sc.) in the department of Geography, University of Bonn, Germany

Your master’s thesis is titled: “Sometimes the lake misbehaves – Political Ecology of fishery in Lake Naivasha, Kenya.” Please explain briefly what the thesis is about and why you chose the topic.

Johannes Dittmann: When in the 1980s the cut flower industry in Naivasha began to establish, the region experienced a to this day continuing economic growth which created a significant pull factor for labour migrants. International attention and concerns were raised about the socioecological sustainability of fishery in Lake Naivasha in the face of massive population growth.

When in 2000 fishery collapsed due to overfishing the government of Kenya decided in response to the failure of a centralized management approach to implement fisheries co-management following the new paradigm of Sustainable Development. Although there are common challenges of fisheries co-management, fish stocks started to grow again. However, since the Kenyan devolution of governmental power in 2013 the lake is excessively overfished again. There is strong disagreement amongst the different players regarding responsibility and accountability towards the fish resources combined with a multitude of different discourses of self-justification. Most studies about fishery in Lake Naivasha have focused on fish biology and water ecology. At the political and scientific level, fishing is mostly regarded as a technical-scientific issue.

With a critical actor-oriented perspective of Environmental Governance and Governmentality derived from Political Ecology the aim of this master thesis was to understand the multi-scalar constellations of power among the players of fishery in Lake Naivasha in terms of negotiation processes about participation, sustainability, accountability and transparence as well as how nature is accused for the contemporary decline of fish stocks in a practice of naturalisation. This is what the title is addressing. “Sometimes the lake misbehaves” is a quote of a local politician who accused the lake itself for challenges of fisheries management.

I chose the topic because it encompasses many issues which are studied in geography. The field of political ecology combines perspectives from natural and social sciences. For me as a geographer this is very important to me in terms of research. I gained some experience in Kenya when I stayed in Nairobi for an internship at Welthungerhilfe as well as during an excursion to Naivasha. An analysis of the power relations among the actors of fishery in Naivasha was missing, so I hope I was able to make a little contribution to filling this gap.

How do you plan to use the outcomes of the study and do you see any practical impact of your results?

JD: In terms of dissemination of the results of my study I can say that I presented my thesis at the annual conference of the Geographischer Arbeitskreis Subsaharisches Afrika in Frankfurt in November 2016 and at the 7th Annual Postgraduate Conference of the Sheffield Institute for International Development in May 2017. Currently I am working on a publication for an international journal.

Of course I have sent my findings also to the people and organisations in Naivasha without which I would have never been able to conduct fieldwork. Especially the representatives of several NGOs and governmental agencies in Naivasha were very interested in the results. As the findings are about causes of some critical challenges in fishery, I hope that my thesis will contribute to apt policies that will make local fishery in Naivasha more sustainable.

You have worked as an intern for institutions including the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Center for International Development and Environmental Research. What were the most important lessons you learned during your internship at these organisations?

JD: The most important lessons I draw from my internships are insights about the diversity of workings in institutions which are situated in the field of development cooperation and development research. I am glad that I experienced perspectives of governmental organizations, NGOs as well as research institutions. The most important internships for me were at BMZ in Bonn and Welthungerhilfe in Nairobi.

You have also done a lot of volunteer work ranging from Study-buddy international students care programme to church community work. As a youngster, explain the importance of community involvement and volunteerism.

JD: Let me answer this question with an example from my Bachelor thesis, in which I carried out a livelihood analysis of users of the food bank Deutsche Tafel. The whole basis of Deutsche Tafel is volunteerism. The organisation is funded by donations and contributions by its members who work voluntarily. They gather food which is no longer enjoyable in the eyes of supermarket customers (but actually fresh and delicious!) and about to be thrown away by supermarkets. By workers of Deutsche Tafel this food is distributed to people who do not have enough to eat for themselves and their families. When I conducted interviews with users of Deutsche Tafel, I asked them: “What will you do if there will be no Tafel tomorrow?”. One of them said: “I don’t know…probably I would starve.”

What motivates you in the morning and how do you think about it in the evening?

JD: The satisfying feeling of having done something big, I will hopefully have at the end of the day.

Which question would you like to answer that you have never been asked before?

JD: Why is it important to dismantle the term ‘sustainability’

The interview was conducted by Nteboheng Phakisi