KAZA: Will it be a white elephant?

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By Ginger Mauney

International borders are political rather than ecological boundaries. Yet the lines on the map dictate the flow of humans and wildlife and the use or misuse of valuable resources. In 1932 the governments of the United States and Canada united their ecologically linked parks – Waterton National Park and Glacier National Park – to establish the world’s first international Peace Park. Today the impact of that decision is felt on every continent. One hundred and sixty-nine peace parks are in various stages of development in 113 countries. As the concept of peace parks echoes in government offices in Southern Africa, the flow between the lines is being re-examined.

One of the most ambitious peace parks initiatives – it involves five countries, a huge land mass and very special ecosystems – grew out of a proposal to establish a transfrontier wildlife sanctuary between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The proposed target area includes a major part of the Upper Zambezi basin, the Okavango basin and the Okavango Delta. This region is the largest contiguous wilderness, wetland and wildlife area in Southern Africa. The proposal to link these areas is known as KaZa, the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area.

In July 2003 ministers from the five countries involved signed an agreement defining the following key elements for the KaZa programme: collaborative management planning to make inventories of, monitor, research and harmonise land use; adjusting policy and legal frameworks as required; actively supporting ecologically and socioeconomic sustainable tourism development; establishing mechanisms to co-ordinate and facilitate the implementation of the initiative by the five countries; and devising a programme to identify and mobilise resources (financial support and human resources) to achieve the overall objectives of the initiative.

These are the broad areas of concern expressed in large-city conference rooms and minister’s offices, but if KaZa is going to work, it will need the support of people on the ground whose land is to be used and whose lives will be affected.

At a one-day conference in Katima Malilo attended by traditional authorities, members of the private tourism sector, members of conservancies and the community at large, participants questioned many of these concepts, approaching them in a practical way, probing the implications of living within an international peace park.

The goal of this workshop was to acquaint stakeholders in the community with the project and the issues surrounding KaZa. In return the Ministry of Environment and Tourism was informed of the community members’ hopes and fears, and what they saw as challenges and opportunities.

The major issues highlighted in the workshop were improving communication; maximising information sharing; creating an enabling environment for all stakeholders in tourism; involving all groups at an equal level in the KaZa project; and strengthening the relationships amongst stakeholders.

As the workshop progressed, the participants explored the details of these major issues, getting down to the vital, day-to-day concerns of the community.

These include:

Border relations and services: improving general services at the various border posts, addressing permit issues and creating a policy of transparency; harmonising rules and regulations between KaZa countries; and addressing migratory animal issues.

Capacity building: facilitating ownership of activities for local people; improving capacity for local people to run tourism enterprises; exchanging skills and training amongst the private sector and local people; and creating an enabling environment for Black Enterprise Empowerment (BEE).

Marketing the region: promoting the region to be included on national and international maps; discouraging negative reporting by media; improving current culture and traditional attractions in the region; improving and maintaining infrastructure; and facilitating the monitoring and management of wildlife.

Said the Honourable Leonard Mwilima, Councillor and MP, who attended this and a subsequent regional workshop on KaZa in Windhoek, “In Caprivi the animals are already international. They cross borders at will without having passports stamped. Our people have cultural connections to others living in different countries. There is trade across the borders. So in many ways the people are already living in the spirit of KaZa. The question is: can KaZa give this a better framework?”

Citing the positive results of the bridge at Katima, Honourable Mwilima added that there was need for more concrete action on the ground. “The community hopes first and foremost that KaZa initiatives will improve their lifestyle. They see it as a way forward in ownership of resources and capacity building, training people for life, and improving the community and the country.”

Commented Malan Lindeque, Permanent Secretary of the MET: “There is great untapped potential in the Caprivi and Kavango regions, and we are very interested in changing things on the ground. We need to develop sectors by encouraging links to other countries. This should lead to infrastructure and service developments where banks and services such as car-hire companies compete. Tourism and wildlife anchor the project and create other opportunities.”

The Honourable Mwilima stressed the importance of co-operation with and approval of the Traditional Authorities if KaZa is going to achieve anything. “After all, they are the people with the land.”

While the workshop in Caprivi helped to answer some questions, it raised many others. Will KaZa address the needs of the community and the private sector? Will KaZa have a central office? Will KaZa recognise existing tourism plans for conservancies? Is KaZa going to provide jobs? Will KaZa be a white elephant?

These are questions that can be answered only with time, hard work and international co-operation and support. But they are questions that need to be answered, because, in the end, it will be with the support of the people in the Caprivi and Kavango regions and their counterparts in the four other countries that will determine whether KaZa will live or die.

TransFrontier Parks in Namibia

Joining South Africa, on 1 August 2003, Namibia established its first Transfrontier Park, the Ai-Ais Richtersveld TFP, an area of 6 046 square kilometres.

Also on 1 August 2003, Namibia and Angola signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Iona Skeleton Coast Transfrontier Conservation Area. This will encompass an area of 31 540 square kilometres.

Namibia has designated the Bwabwata National Park, Mudumu National Park, Caprivi State Forest Reserve and conservancies in between them for inclusion in the Kavango-Zambezi TransFrontier Conservation Area (KaZa). These national parks are linked with each other and form a coherent conservation core area. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has already set up a project to improve park management and upgrade the infrastructure facilities.

This article appeared in the 2005/6 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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