Published 21 February 2019
Lisa started her PhD at Wageningen University in the Political Ecology Department under Professor Bram Buescher in 2017. Her research seeks to analyse the contested concept of ‘Peace Parks’ in the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area, the last habitat of critically endangered mountain gorillas, straddling Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She examines the relationship between gorilla tourism, securitisation and violence in the conservation approaches of the three countries which create hierarchical geographies of fear.
What made you interested in working with SEI?
I had previously studied under Thom Van Dooren and Eben Kirksey at UNSW in 2013, where I was first fascinated by the environmental aspect of politics. After living in other parts of the world, I always wanted to return to Sydney and Thom had since moved to Sydney University as an Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, so the link to work with SEI was very obvious to me. I thought it would be an important and interesting insight to collaborate with SEI as no such institute exists at many universities.
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on the intended transboundary collaboration between three national parks in the borderland of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The special thing about these national parks is that a volcano chain has created the natural habitat of the last mountain gorillas in the world. Colonial powers split the park between these African countries, which has been a cause of immense geopolitical tension, infamously titled as “Africa’s World War”. The ideal scenario would be the collaboration of the three countries to create the best forest environment for the mountain gorillas. As a highly endangered species, mountain gorillas cannot survive in captivity such as a breeding station or zoo, but must live in their natural habitat where they are now sold as a high-end tourism product. Therefore, I analyse the relationships between conservation actors, tourists and this transboundary conservation sphere.
How did fieldwork contribute to your understanding of this geopolitical issue?
It was a great privilege to conduct fieldwork for twelve months as I wanted to reach an ethnographic, anthropological understanding of the issue. However, I came to realise that you can only ever scratch the surface. I am categorised by what I call a “Triple W position”: I am white, Western and a woman. This meant that integrating into the society of each country and thereby accessing “factual” information seemed to be impossible. I was regarded as superior, which was uncomfortable as I didn’t see my research with bad intentions. The experience taught me to be self-critical as it is only by accident that I was born into a very privileged life and I have been lucky enough to access so many opportunities.
Geopolitics you can only understand when you live in it. The difference between each regime and the access to information was interesting; information in Rwanda consisted mainly of lies and rumours whereas Uganda has a relatively higher freedom of expression; very different to the active conflict zone in the DRC where words can mean death. Everything I asked or collected was perceived as a ‘threat’, I myself was considered as a spy in the fear that I could theoretically pass on information to the neighbouring country.
When you are not researching, what do you enjoy doing?
I do a little bit too much outside of researching, but I need this because I’m a bit hyperactive! I love baking and also volunteer at the Alfalfa House Community Co-op. Although I am currently injured with a broken foot from my time in Uganda, I usually run either ten kilometres in the morning or a nice afternoon run which is twenty-five kilometres. It is my moving meditation, but I do competitions sometimes because it’s fun! If I don’t run each day, I get really frustrated. At the moment, I have to compensate more with strength training, swimming, and yoga which I have always done to balance my running. I also draw in small notebooks with a little paint pallet that I permanently have with me. I usually give them away as presents – it’s a form of my meditation as well.
Lisa Trogisch holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (Germany) and in Environmental Sustainability and Development from the University of New South Wales. In September 2015, she finished her MSc Political Economy of Violence, Conflict and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (UK). She is the producer of the documentary “Ghosts of our Forest” for the Canadian film company Loud Roar Productions depicting the critical eviction of the indigenous Batwa people. Subsequently, she worked for the Gesellschaft fuer International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in the International Climate Initiative dealing with projects merging biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing and emerging economies.