By Dr Margaret Jacobsohn, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation
John Kenena Kasaona, or JKK as he is known to colleagues, joined the IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) in 1993 as assistant environmental officer. In January this year he was appointed as one of two assistant directors of the IRDNC.
Born in Otjindakue, a small village outside Sesfontein in the Kunene Region, JKK has never lost his grass roots, in spite of his current lifestyle. One week will see him facilitating a stakeholders’ workshop with conservancy representatives, traditional leaders and senior government officials, the next representing conservancies on the Kunene Land Board. Then he’ll fly to Washington to take part in an international Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) forum.
This is the key to his success as a se-nior NGO worker. He keeps his feet – and his ears – firmly on the ground. Thus he remains a man of the people, able to re-present and understand rural community needs, as well as engage in regional, national and, increasingly, international CBNRM issues.
In spite of several job offers from Windhoek-based institutions over the years, JKK is determined to remain ‘in the field’, contributing directly to the development of communities – through their conservancies – in rural Namibia. He is currently based in Opuwo.
His specific role is heading the IRDNC’s Kunene tourism and enterprise development team, working with more than 28 registered and emerging conservancies. He will be retaining this portfolio in addition to undertaking new duties as assistant director, with long-term colleague Colin Nott, the other assistant director.
JKK matriculated in Windhoek and after two years in a junior position with IRDNC, the NGO assisted him to obtain a bursary through the Rössing Foundation, enabling him to complete the Natural Resource Management Diploma at the Polytechnic. He was chosen as best student of his year.
He has worked in most of the IRDNC’s different conservancy-support units – Natural Resource Management, Institutional Support and Business and Tourism Development. In the process he has helped the IRDNC grow from a small organisation which pioneered CBNRM in Namibia to where it is today – a technical support structure to more than 45 registered and emerging conservancies. In addition, a number of pilot projects are being tested in conservancies, including holistic range management in Kunene, fire management in Caprivi and the Human-Animal Conflict Conservancy Self Insurance Scheme, HACSIS. JKK’s work has taken him to several African countries, inclu-ding Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and he has visited both the UK and the United States. In 2004 he participated in the International Visitors’ Programme in the United States, with the theme: Environment and Sustainable Development.
He is currently vice-chairman of NACSO (Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations); a member of Sesfontein’s Constituency Development Committee and chairman of his own Sesfontein Conservancy.
Is he wearing too many hats? “Let’s not be western about this,” he replies. “We have a massive job to do in Namibia to uplift our people. Those of us fortunate enough to have acquired some skills must stand up. A major part of our work is capacity building and the conservancy movement is steadily developing skills and capacity in the remote rural areas. In time it shouldn’t be necessary for one person to handle so many posts.”
“But I’m young,” says JKK, who turns 37 this year, “and not yet tired.”
He is married and has three children.
This article appeared in the 2007/8 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.