The five partner countries at the helm of the Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area (KAZA TFCA) believe that one of the key drivers for development in the area is tourism.
According to the KAZA secretariat Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola, are “determined to accelerate the growth of the tourism industry in the region within the context of sustainable tourism”.
And many tourism operators say the idea has merit. They believe that by marketing the 440 000 square kilometer area as one package, and not as five separate slices of the cake, the offer to tourists becomes tastier.
The KAZA area has been recognized as the world’s largest conservation area and is home to a number of top tourist attractions. The area is renowned for its spectacular bio-diversity and natural landscapes. World-renowned wetlands, rivers, wildlife in and out of the water, birds, trees and other plant life are just some of the exciting attractions on display. Close to 50 percent of Africa’s elephants roam the area and more than 800 bird species are at home here.
Tourists hanker after destinations that they see as being managed in a sustainable way. Moreover, tourists are inclined more often than not to experience life on the ground, and not to simply sit at a ritzy lodge ignoring the local communities around them. And KAZA has all this, and more, on the menu. Villagers are opening up their homes to tourists and welcoming them to their table. At the same time, years of community based conservation projects have instilled a strong sense of ownership and responsibility over the abundance of wildlife. People in many communities are able to easily engage on the topic of sustainable land use. This type of in-depth articulation on the topic is set to spread to less exposed areas, with top-level and ground-level private and public sector engagement across the KAZA area.
Katy Sharpe owns Tutwa Tourism and Travel, a company based in the Caprivi region of Namibia.
She says, “KAZA is a good concept”. One of the top benefits of the KAZA vision is that it will allow for countries to collaborate on opening up wildlife corridors across the borders. “The Caprivi could be a tourism buzz point,” she said if wildlife has more access to space. Efforts are already underway to improve access to the animals, but with the launch of KAZA, things could speed up. Another possible highlight for tourism operators is that visitors to KAZA will be able to cross the borders with a type of KAZA pass, speeding up border crossings, a current bane in the area.
Cooperation between the private sector and the people living in the area is also vital, she added. Communities live side by side with the wildlife and if they are willing and adequately equipped to look after the wildlife while protecting resources such as food, tourism can blossom.
“We need these conservancies for our businesses to run smoothly. The main thing is for us to work together”.
Juan Marx, the manager of the Namushasha Lodge situated on the Kwando river in the Mashi conservancy, agrees. “It is vitally important that we help to manage the resource. If we don’t, then the lodge will cease to exist. The tourism operation will itself cease to exist. They have the resource and we utilize that in a mutually beneficial way”. Namushasha lodge runs a joint-venture operation together with the Mashi Conservancy, which benefits directly from employment and annual payments from the lodge. Moreover, the joint-venture has set the ball rolling for dialogue in which the two partners are able to identify and implement other tourism activities that are an asset to each other. Protecting the resource at the heart of the joint-venture acts as a “win-win” collaboration for both partners.
Ngamo Safaris, a Zimbabwean operator located in Zimbabwe within the KAZA area, is another private tourist partner which hopes to reap the benefits of KAZA. Enock Mandura, marketing officer of Ngamo Safaris, said at the launch of KAZA that the size of the area, and the involvement of five countries, is going to “make marketing much easier for the KAZA region”. He said that no longer will the tourism operators talk of individual countries, but rather “you are talking of a block of countries”.
Ngamo Safaris believes in a close working relationship with the communities in their vicinity. Mandura said the safari outfit “utilizes” the efforts of the communities which are responsible to look after their resources. In return, the communities utilize the knowledge and experience of their tourist counterparts.
Dobson Kwala, an individual tourism operator in Katima Mulilo offering day activities, says KAZA is an act of “taking responsibility of our shared natural resources”. He says through the KAZA initiative, governments are seeing the value of combining resources to contribute economically to their communities. He remarked that for KAZA to work, an understanding must be fostered that the input from local people on the ground is the only way the vision of KAZA “can become a reality”.
Kwala says he believes that KAZA can help tourism. In return, the money injected through tourism “helps development, education, and in general boost the economy”. He says most importantly KAZA is a chance for communities to band together, and transform the region into “how nature looked before”. He remembers that as a small boy growing up in a village in Caprivi, his grandfather told him stories about the variety of wildlife that had once thrived on the lands abutting his village.
He told Kwala that he wished “I could give you my eyes, so that you could see what beauty was here”.
With the recent launch of KAZA, and with continued implementation of community based conservation projects, “maybe one day those animals will be back”, Kwala hopes.
This is the shared hope at the center of the vision of KAZA.
Katy Sharpe emphasizes that the KAZA communities “need each other to make the Caprivi and the region a tourism destination” to make KAZA work. She said that it is a great opportunity for the countries to rely on one another to promote the entire area as a “tourism package … KAZA is a big marketing tool. It’s a good concept. People are benefitting, conservation is benefitting”.
Ultimately, it’s not just about governments agreeing on the concept. The communities, who struggle to make a living, and who are increasingly agreeing to tolerate the wildlife amidst them as they see the benefits trickle in, are the key component.
But the launch of KAZA last week “is a beginning. The fact that all five countries have come to an agreement, is brilliant”, Sharpe concluded.