Commonwealth scholar will draw on ESPA experience to hone public policy skills

Stephen Sankeni
August 23, 2017


Stephen Sironka Sankeni was a research assistant for the ESPA-funded Poverty and ecosystem service impacts of Tanzania's Wildlife Management Areas (PIMA) project. Now he’s been awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a Masters degree in Public Policy and Management at University of York (UK), which will enable him to hone his skills further. Stephen caught up with ESPA’s Mairi Dupar to tell his story so far:

How did you come to be involved in ESPA research and study of the natural environment?

I was born in 1985 in Matale village, Longido District, Tanzania. I was brought up in a typical Maasai pastoralist family and started school in Torosei primary school in Kenya in 1991 where my parents migrated, to allow their livestock to forage. Like my classmates, during the holidays I herded the family livestock and helped in the fields. Following my high school education in Kenya and Tanzania, in 2007, I joined Tumaini University in Iringa, Tanzania to study toward a Bachelors degree in Community Development. At the moment, I am based in Longido town and work as a research assistant for the University of Colorado and University College London. My wife now works for the district Government in Longido; we have two children.

What was your specific role as an ESPA researcher?

I was a research assistant for the ESPA-funded Poverty and ecosystem service impacts  of Tanzania's Wildlife Management Areas (PIMA)  project, a country-wide initiative for community based natural resource management.

The 1998 Wildlife Policy of Tanzania promoted community-based natural resource management on village lands, leading to the creation of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). By 2012, 17 pilot WMAs had been established, covering 27,430km2 of land and involving 148 villages with a population  of more than 440,000 people. Twenty-two further WMAs are moving towards formal registration, potentially affecting a further 1.5 million people and bringing around 7% of Tanzania’s land area under WMA management. To date, however, the impacts of WMAs have been poorly understood. Our project sought to deepen understanding of how these management areas affect local people’s wellbeing.

My job was to collect the village register in the village office and compile villagers' names: this meant approaching the village government for permission and interviewing them. We would go through the village records together to compile and crosscheck a list of all the residents in the village, updating the information and ironing out discrepancies. For example,  many Maasai are polygamous, and it is important to know whether a “household” represents the several wives and their dependents associated with a married man (Olmarei in Maa) or the single house owned and managed by any one wife for herself, her children, and sometimes her husband (enkaji in Maa).

I played a role in convening focus groups according to their wealth ranking: we grouped people into four categories i.e. very poor, poor, normal and rich. Focus group participants discussed and chose the criteria for a villager to be placed in any given category, based on their livestock holdings, material assets such as house type and condition; family characteristics such as numbers of children; occupation such as herd owner, business owner or farmer. Indicators of wealth differed locally from village to village. For example, in Enduimet villages, people are considered rich when they own large herds of cattle; whereas in most Burunge villages, the size of farmland was considered as the chief indicator of economic power. We compared and recorded individual households’ economic situations both before and after the Wildlife Management Areas were established.

I collected data from key informants, and from a systematic random sample of homestead heads and wives, using tablet computers for direct data capture and upload.

I wrote narratives of all the research project villages in Burunge and Enduimet Wildlife Management Areas and control villages as well. To succeed in this, I had to consult the village government to get information about main events affecting the village, interview household heads and the women through household surveys to get qualitative perspectives and compile all these into a coherent synthesis.

At the end of the project, I revisited the study villages and presented the site-specific short reports and explained the preliminary findings to villagers, and captured their feedback.

What were your main research findings?

Jevgeniy Bluwstein has published several papers on WMA governance, which draw on my inputs and reports [Ed: for example, this article entitled 'Austere conservation', 2016]. In general, WMAs show some contrasts between North and South Tanzania, but in both regions, access to land for grazing and other resources has been (negatively) affected by the implementation of WMAs; also, the incidence of human-wildlife conflict has intensified because wildlife are more likely to come into contact with people, their crops and their livestock.   Although these are meant to be community-based WMAs, there has been little participation from local people in their design, implementation and management. This may be improving for new WMAs now being established.

What’s the significance, what does it mean for Tanzanian stakeholders and next steps?

The significance of the research was

  • to evaluate the social impacts of WMAs – to see how livelihoods changed, whether people were better or worse off; how the impact of restrictions on natural resource use affected people
  • to make it easier for people to inform the government and NGOs about resource and management needs.
  • to help stakeholders to understand more about what works best for sustainable management of local natural resources.

The research findings were meant to help villagers in negotiating good outcomes with the government and with businesspeople.

Now you’ve had the wonderful privilege of being selected for a Commonwealth scholarship, congratulations. What are you going to do with your scholarship?

With this scholarship, I hope to work within my home community and nationally to improve the lives of people both during and following completion of the PIMA programme.  I hope to help build local and regional development capacity through policy formulation, management, implementation and negotiation.

The main policy challenge in my country is the formulation of biased policies that undermine people living in rural areas. For example, current policies support construction and maintenance of good roads in urban areas while those serving rural areas are lacking or impassable.

Through the competence and knowledge gained by studying a Masters degree in Public Policy and Management, I hope to promote policy equity by acting as representative for under-privileged rural populations, aiming to influence the government and other policy-makers. I hope to work not just with environmental policies, but also in public health policy, for example I hope to pursue public policies around reproductive health, creating awareness of family planning methods and their positive effects for both men and women, working through socially accepted and ethical means, including by example, being seen as a leader modernising in acceptable ways within my own community.

How do you see this degree in terms of your career path – what would you like to learn?

In this programme, I hope to learn ways to link public policy and management in my country’s development, building on and further developing the skills I have learned in the ESPA work to study people’s lived experience arising from public policy interventions. I hope to become better able to identify and define key problems, identify the full range of relevant stakeholders in any given situation, and develop my skills in analysing policy processes and in causal evaluation of outcomes.

Will you use any of the experiences you gained through ESPA research in your new programme of study?

Yes: all the experience I have had over the last three years’ working with the ESPA-funded PIMA project led directly to my applying for this scholarship and shaped my successful application. I will bring this background experience to all parts of the course, and I hope to carry out my Masters dissertation on related issues using the skills and experience I developed working with PIMA.

How would you like to develop your further career?

Once I complete the Masters, I hope to continue on this programme or in a related field to PhD level.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years’ time?

In 5 to 10 years I see myself as holding a PhD, working as policy analyst, manager and consultant whether in government, in business or NGOs, wherever the opportunities exist to represent marginalised populations who currently have little voice in policy formulation and management.


Image credit (elephant): Oliver Dodd. Other images courtesy of Stephen Sankeni.