by Karine Nuulimba, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation
A Caprivi Region where everyone knows the importance of using natural resources wisely… plenty of jobs, thanks to this understanding, of the link between conservation and development… high-quality low-volume tourism as a driver for local, regional and trans-boundary economic diversification… these are some of the dreams of Reuben Mafati, head of the community-based tourism team of the IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) in Caprivi.
“I want to be part of a generation that is respected for having conserved nature for the next generation, and for creating employment for our people,” says this dynamic 37-year-old, whose work at times takes him far from the banks of the Kwando River in Choi village where he was born and grew up. He has attended conferences in France, Germany, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa. He enjoys travel-ling, but still sees Choi as home, even though he is now based in Katima Mulilo.
Reuben was secretary of a voluntary committee set up in 1996 by Chief Mayuni to develop a conservancy. By 1998, via correspondence, Reuben had achieved a degree in tourism. That same year, when the committee requested Susuwe Island Lodge to assist with establishing a community campsite to find ways for the lodge to benefit its neighbours, the chief asked Reuben to manage the campsite.
By then Reuben had a relationship with the IRDNC, which was providing training in co-operation with the Namibian Community Based Tourism Assistance Trust (NACOBTA), and gradually his interest in Community Based Natural Resource Management grew.
In 2002 the IRDNC advertised for a tourism assistant facilitator. Keen to go further in the tourism industry, but lacking the driver’s licence the job required, Reuben convinced his parents to give him a cow to cover the costs of obtaining a licence. Having achieved this within a week, he was hopeful about the interview. But hope turned into despondency when he saw that other interviewees were dressed in suits and ties, while he was wearing a T-shirt and casual trousers.
But he landed the job – the IRDNC had been watching him at work at the campsite and appreciated his qualities. He also had a good understanding of Community Based Tourism Enterprises, thanks to training courses from NACOBTA.
Eight years later Reuben, a father of two, is co-ordinator for the IRDNC’s Caprivi Enterprise Development Team, assisting 15 conservancies to establish tourism enterprises, negotiate joint-venture partnerships with the private sector, and secure trophy-hunting re-venue that adds up to millions of dollars each year.
“My biggest challenge is to increase the level of understanding within communities of how they can improve their benefits by working in unity. Eliminating personal interests for the good of the community is essential to negotiating and maintaining successful joint ventures between lodges and communities that ultimately benefit local communities and conservation.”
Reuben’s travels have broadened his understanding of the world and of how important it is for our future on this planet to care for our natural resources. He specially treasures seeing Mount Kilimanjaro from the air, which he remembers learning about in a mud-hut schoolroom. On one trip, he accompanied Chief Mayuni to Strasbourg, where the chief gave a talk at the European Development Day celebrations. He remembers Chief Mayuni, in awe of the 350-km/hour speed of their train, saying how relieved he was that his cattle in Caprivi were safe from the dangers of such fast-moving trains! Reuben was astounded to see how technology had made many jobs redundant in Europe, and he was constantly reminded of how huge the gap between Europe and Caprivi was.
He sees tourism and conservation as a winning combination for the future of Caprivi and the region, and as a way of bridging the gap.
“We have to create jobs. There is a lot of alcoholism due to school leavers not having anything to do. With the IRDNC’s help, women are also coming on board.”
Developing skills and growing and learning – and seeing others gaining new opportunities, thanks to his encouragement – keeps Reuben motivated. A good role model, he graduates with a certificate in Environmental Education from the Polytechnic of Namibia this year. Next on this ambitious young man’s agenda is a CBNRM diploma.
This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.