The Dana +20 Manifesto is a celebration, a reaffirmation and, in some important ways, a re-direction of the 2002 Declaration on Mobile Peoples and Conservation. This was a momentous statement which had been drawn up and endorsed by natural and social scientists, conservationists, and policymakers in the international arena of non-governmental organizations mandated with protecting the Earth’s flora and fauna.
That declaration which emerged at a meeting in Wadi Dana, Jordan in 2002 was actually the pinnacle of a twenty-year struggle on my part, and on the part of many others, to put people, mobile peoples, into the conservation equation. As early as 1982, when I was helping the government of the Sultanate of Oman to extend social, health, and education services to the mobile camel herding tribes of Oman’s central desert on the edge of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al-Khali), I found myself constantly at odds with the national oil company exploratory teams working this desert. This land, they said, was empty, (terra nullius). The only people, one European engineer emphatically told me, emerged from nowhere to beg them for water, or leftover food to feed their camels, or worse to ask for a jerrycan of petrol, there being no petrol stations in this vast stretch of land the size of Scotland. This desert he was referring as empty was actually home to 5,000 people. The oil company was pretty much regarded as the ’government’ by these desert tribespeople in those days.
If being invisible to the oil company employees wasn’t bad enough, the Sultan had wanted to reintroduce the Arabian Oryx back into Oman after it had been hunted to near extinction in the late 1960s, by wealthy members of neighbouring states. And so, the British Advisor on the Environment to the Sultan arranged for the few remaining Oryx being looked after in several zoos around the world to be brought back. This became a flagship of the World Wildlife Fund. Experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN) flew over Oman’s central deserts by helicopter and determined that the best place to reintroduce these elegant mammals was around Yalooni in the Jiddat il-Harasiis. The only problem was that this territory was also the heartland of the camel-herding tribe I was working with. Initially, there was no conflict. The camel herders were delighted that the Oryx was in their midst again after nearly 20 years of absence. But with the first drought several years on, they came to realize that these conservation outfits and NGOs valued wild animals over their domestic herds of goats and camels.
Fast forward twenty years and I am based at the University of Oxford. In a research centre for the study of forced migration – and for me – forced settlement by special agreement with my director who encouraged advocacy for marginalized and discriminated peoples. Surrounded by like-minded social and natural scientists, it was inevitable that I would be supported in organizing a major conference on mobile peoples, forced settlement, and sustainable development could be organized and held under the auspices of my academic home, the Refugee Studies Centre, at the University of Oxford. That conference resulted in a book which I co-edited with Marcus Colchester – Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Conservation, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development. But perhaps more significant was the encouragement from all the conference participants to hold an international workshop and thrash out a declaration on the rights of mobile people in conservation, much like the Barbados declaration in the 1970s which had promoted the rights of indigenous peoples.
That was the back story of the Dana Declaration of 2002 which was promulgated by largely western scientists. In 2003 the Declaration was endorsed at the Durban World Parks Congress and was integrated into the Durban Accords. But the indigenous Peoples movement was wary of this ‘new group,’ which many felt threatened the unity of the Indigenous Peoples movement. Once the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) had been approved in 2007, the Dana Declaration Standing Committee set out to get the Declaration endorsed by the IUCN. at its World Congress in Barcelona in 2008. This it did.
Then in 2012, the Standing Committee held a Dana +10 workshop to hammer out a statement on the rights of mobile peoples to be taken to the Rio+20 Earth Summit. The delegates at the workshop, 10 western scientists and 10 representatives of mobile peoples, then elected one of the mobile peoples’ representatives to disseminate the statement at the Earth Summit in Rio. And now here we are another ten years on, and the Dana +20 Manifesto has been, articulated by a majority of mobile peoples delegates from around the world and a handful of scientists, a few of whom participated in the original Dana meeting in 2002.
A younger generation of academics, researchers, practitioners and representatives of mobile peoples now have the ball in their hands. With the International Year of Rangelands and Pastures (IYRP) coming up in 2026, there is much to do, much to disseminate, and much to accomplish. The future of mobile Peoples looks to be in safe hands.