Public authority and nature-society relations in conflict areas

The politics of nature conservation in eastern DRC

Hosted by LSE’s Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa

Researcher: Esther Marijnen

Conservation authorities are a distinct actor in the complex patchwork of public authorities in the conflict landscape of eastern DRC.

Dr Esther Marijnen


This project focussed on the interaction between nature-society relations and structures and dynamics of public authority, specifically in the context of violent conflict. While current literature on public authority in conflict areas, including in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), targets the role that a range of state and state-like actors play in the provision of basic services, taxation practices and the governing of civilians and territory (for example), it often overlooks how these public authority structures are also shaped by, and influence, nature-society relations.

Given this gap, the research placed nature-society relations at the centre of multiple contentious issues with two distinct research projects. The first project focussed specifically on the commodity chains around charcoal, electricity and fish – and their nodes of connection – in the constitution of structures of authority, and in reshaping nature-society relations. The second project addressed the issue of ‘conservation in violent environments’, in which conservation authorities were approached as a distinct actor in the complex patchwork of public authorities in the conflict landscape of eastern DRC. 


With a team of Congolese and European researchers the project conducted extensive field work to capture grassroot perspectives on these issues. Moreover, the work engaged various outreach activities in eastern DRC and beyond, collaborating with numerous stakeholders and donors with the research findings, which resulted in a special journal issue, a policy report and a cartoon to promote the findings to wider audiences. 


  • Marijnen, E. (2021) “The coloniality of ‘crisis conservation’: A history of transnationalisation and militarization of Virunga National Park” in State, Conservation and Militarisation: The Violence of Conservation in Africa edited by Maano Ramutsindela and Frank Matose, forthcoming, Edward Elgar.
  • Verweijen, J., Kubuya, S., Mahamba, E., Marijnen, E., Murairi, J., and Mvano, C. (2020) “Conflicts around Virunga National Park: Grassroots perspectives”. The Hague: Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law.
  • Marijnen, E., de Vries, L. and Duffy, R. (2020) Conservation in violent environments: Introduction to a special issue on the political ecology of conservation amidst violent conflict. Political Geography. In press.
  • Titeca, K., Edmond, P., Marchais, G., and Marijnen, E. (2020) Conservation as a social contract in a violent frontier: The case of (Anti-) poaching in Garamba National Park, eastern DR Congo”. Political Geography 78: 102116.
  • Marijnen, E., and Verweijen, J. (2020) Pluralising political forests: unpacking “the state” by tracing Virunga’s Charcoal Chain. Antipode (online advanced publication).
  • Marijnen, E., and Schouten, P. (2019) Electrifying the green peace? Electrification, conservation and conflict in Eastern Congo. Conflict, Security & Development 19(1), 15-34.
  • Duffy, R., Massé, F., Smidt, E., Marijnen, E., Büscher, B., Verweijen, J., Ramutsindela, M., et al. (2019) Why we must question the militarisation of conservation. Biological Conservation 232: 66–73.
  • Verweijen, J., Murairi, J., and Marijnen, E. (2019) Why more women should be included in the leadership of Virunga National Park. Mongabay, 5 June 2019.
  • Vogel, C., Mathys, G., Verweijen, J., Benton, A., Sweet, R., and Marijnen, E. (2019) Clichés can kill in Congo: The country’s Ebola outbreak is spreading out of control—but it's not because of a fight over "conflict minerals." Foreign Policy, 30 April 2019.
  • Marijnen, E. and Verweijen, J. (2019) The charcoal challenge in DRC’s Virunga. LSE Africa blog, 25 March 2019.
  • Marijnen, E. (2018) Public authority and conservation in areas of armed conflict: Virunga National Park as a 'state in a state' in the DR Congo. Development and Change 49(3): 790-814.
  • Marijnen, E. and Duffy, R. (2018) Animals are victims of human conflict, so can conservation help build peace in warzones? The conservation, 18 January 2018.

CPAID postdoctoral researcher Esther Marijnen

Esther Marijnen | CPAID Researcher

Dr Esther Marijnen focuses on the eastern DRC from a political ecology perspective. She is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Conflict Research Group (CRG) at Ghent University. 

Research interests: violent conflict, conservation, public authority, political ecology
Region: DRC

Email: esther.marijnen@ugen

Photo: Virunga National Park and surrounding areas in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: Joseph King. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.