If wildlife enforcement monitoring system (WEMS) is the solution, what is the problem?

June 29, 2020

If wildlife enforcement monitoring system (WEMS) is the solution, what is the problem?


During all the vicissitudes of my life, I stood firm to create a productive information-sharing conjunction between my four most observant audiences – the government, UN experts, NGOs and scientists working on wildlife conservation and enforcement issues. The answer was, ‘Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS)’, a ‘non-living’ tool that was developed to support the work of the above-mentioned entities engaged in the so-called exercise of ‘combating wildlife crime’.

But the journey towards building up WEMS was not easy, as there remained few possibilities for creating consensus or, more rightly, congruence across the entities. Though they all have a particularly well-articulated sense of finding a way forward in bringing out a transboundary enforcement information-sharing model, they seem to be caught within their organizational, normative or adamant claims on how the design should be. Means, there was interest but the purported conjunction or ‘boundary arrangement’ (as I shall describe in this thesis) was missing. There is absolutely no chance of having a solution to the long ongoing challenges in wildlife enforcement information-sharing without finding a common ground in normative and prescriptive beliefs.

What qualifies me to undertake this study of bringing about this conjunction is my understanding of the actors and the artefact itself, and in being a well- grounded insider due to my professional engagement in the politics of wildlife law enforcement. Being a part of one or other entity during different courses of my time, I strongly believe that good work should be actively committed for ushering in positive social change. However, the paradox of being part of these entities is that, it is quite difficult (if not impossible) to undertake an extraordinary deconstructive critique of an ongoing treaty process and at the same time participate in the inherently ‘modernist’ enterprise of promoting a highly ‘refutable’ compliance exercise for meeting treaty obligations. Probably, this could be the reason why UN documents tend to have ‘worded’ weak enough to allow alternative interpretations by other mainstream institutions who can then take on the responsibility of deconstructing UN’s factual claims.

When I started my education, I was taught to think in a normative and prescriptive way in finding a solution to a school textbook question. But when I started working on real social problems, the text book was too wide to read, and relativism became more apparent in situations where complexities were well grounded. In other words, solutions could only be historically contingent and context-specific for complex problems. When WEMS was objected at several junctions, I soldiered on, surgically reconstructing the project with a new frame, which I describe in this thesis as policy-oriented learning. With every objection, I started demarcating inconvenient scenarios and tried to build a new frame. This frame could be one way forward but may not be a solution per se.

Experience has taught me that when the problem in question is too complex with multiple externalities in play, over time one will have to shape or reshape the frame. This thesis ends with one frame, but there could be different twists of interpretation or better frames. As Sheila Jasanoff mentioned, ‘…no single author or piece of writing can point the way toward a timeless truth; reflexivity and contingency are part and parcel of our critical enterprise…

If wildlife enforcement monitoring system (WEMS) is the solution, what is the problem?

R Chandran, University of Twente, Netherlands