A tourist, short trousers, sun hat & T-shirt walks in to the Uibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy office and looks around for the manager. That happens to be Joglinde Touros, the young lady the visitor probably mistook for the secretary. But despite her 27 years and youthful appearance, Joglinde is indeed the manager of the 286 sq. km. conservancy, and in between her other tasks she is happy to provide directions to the Twyfelfontein World Heritage site and the Bushman rock engravings.
When she was much younger, Joglinde remembers, tourists came to visit the area before it was fully developed as a tourist site. There was only one campsite then, before the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge and other upmarket lodges were built. She knew that her home area was something special.
But Joglinde, like many young Namibians, wanted to get away from rural poverty and she managed to get a place at UNAM to study accountancy. She had always been good at maths, and a career in figures beckoned. But starting a university course is much easier than finishing it, especially if finances are tight, so in 2009 Joglinde came back to her home village near the Aba Huab river, between Khorixas and Twyfelfontein, looking for something useful to do.
It didn't take long. The Uibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy had just been gazetted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and needed somebody who could do the books. Joglinde volunteered, and soon found her services indispensible. The conservancy sits in the heart of the area popularly known as Damaraland and includes the famous rock engravings, as well as other tourist attractions like the Organ Pipe rocks, the Wonder Hole and the Burnt Mountain. Communal conservancies have the task of protecting the environment and the wildlife found there, as well as promoting income earning opportunities from tourism. Joglinde found herself at the centre of Namibian tourism and rural development.
It wasn't long before she was appointed as conservancy manager, which she admits was a "big challenge" for a 25 year old woman in a rural area, when men are used to calling the shots; and she gives the example of a game guard, a man older than her, who doesn't turn up for work. "I find a strategy to deal with that," she says. "People understand that we are developing now," Joglinde continues, with Namibia in mind as much as the conservancy. "Of course I have to respect older men, but as a manager I learn to keep quiet if people get angry. That's my strategy. And perhaps to wait for a day or two."
Taking the long term view is certainly wise. There are many short term tensions in a conservancy rich in tourism potential, where local entrepreneurs are always looking for an opportunity to make some money. Joglinde believes that good governance is the key to running a conservancy. She cites the example of a week long workshop to amend the conservancy constitution, making it more relevant to the people's needs.
But democracy works best on a full stomach, and income generation is key to the conservancy's success. That's where tourism comes in. Twyfelfontein attracts thousands of tourists every year, who stay in the upmarket lodges near to the famous rock art. As landlord, the conservancy has the right to negotiate leasehold agreements with lodges, and levies based on bed nights form the basis of the conservancy's income.
The figures are impressive. Monthly income varies between N$40-150,000. The conservancy's expenses are well below that: 4 game guards, a manager, driver, receptionist and cleaner adds up to a wage bill of N$11,600. Total monthly outgoings, which include community benefits, are around N$30,000, so the conservancy has a healthy balance sheet.
Combating rural poverty is the prime objective of any communal conservancy, so there is no shortage of ways to spend the income. Joglinde reels some off: "We provide diesel for pumps at water points, which benefits the elephants as well as the farmers. We also pay for animal vaccines, and the game guards help with the vaccination programme. The conservancy helps residents with school fund payments and provides a supplement to old age pensions; we also give money to support orphans and the families looking after them."
It sounds ideal, but if the conservancy is seen as a goldmine, there will be no shortage of people looking for a stake. "We have the money and people know it," says Joglinde, "and people demand a cash benefit." What would that work out at? Joglinde has not done the maths, despite her accountancy training, but she reckons it would not be much per person. Much better would be to invest the money in community projects, she reckons, and mentions some that are under consideration: a bakery to sell bread and cakes to the lodges, a tyre repair workshop for tourists, an information centre and a gardening project; all things that would benefit the whole community through job and income creation.
It's clear that Joglinde's accountancy studies have stood her in good stead as the conservancy manager, and in her spare time she is completing her degree with UNAM by distance learning. But when she has her degree she has no intention of leaving the conservancy. Uibasen means 'live for yourself', she says, "and with a qualification I can help it to become fully sustainable.”