WWF Gift to the Earth to Namibia awarded by Chief Emeka Anyaoku

The Nigerian Chief Emeka Anyaoku, ex-Secretary General of the Commonwealth, was in Namibia during October last year to award the prestigious Gift to the Earth to Namibia. The event took place at the opening of the Adventure Travel World Summit, the first time the Adventure Travel Trade Association had held its annual summit in Africa – a testament to Namibia’s infrastructure, and to its efforts to establish community based tourism. Chief Anyaoku paid handsome tribute to Namibia’s conservation efforts – see his opinion piece – which are based around the synergy between state protected land and Namibia’s communal conservancies, which numbered 79 in October last year. Covering 20% of the land area, these conservancies give rights to rural people over wildlife and tourism, and encourage the conservation of wildlife.

Behind the scenes with the Chief

Chief Anyaoku is an old friend of Namibia who worked behind the scenes to move the process of independence forward and to prepare Namibia for self-governance. On the 26 October last year he was in Windhoek to award President Pohamba, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and all of Namibia’s 79 communal conservancies the prestigious Gift to the Earth Award from the WWF.

Chief Anyaoku was himself awarded the Order of the Welwitschia First Class by the Founding President of Namibia, Dr Sam Nujoma, for his assistance in establishing Namibia as an independent country. The Chief met Nujoma for the first time in 1977 when a SWAPO delegation arrived in London. The UK government had good relations with South Africa and made entry difficult for the liberation party leaders. Chief Anyaoku was Assistant Secretary General of the Commonwealth at that time, and he used his good offices to assist Nujoma and others to enter the UK.

In 1978 in Malta, following on UN Resolution 435 which called on South Africa to speed up the end of its mandate to govern Namibia, the Chief mediated between SWAPO and the South African government which, he says, was completely intransigent at that time.

But Namibian independence was going to happen, and Chief Anyaoku was determined that when it came, Namibia would be ready. The Commonwealth put in place a programme of technical assistance, which provided training for 8,500 Namibians all over the world, who would be able to move into administrative and other critical posts when the time came. Come independence and 1990, Namibia joined the Commonwealth of Nations.

When Anyaoku retired as Secretary General of the Commonwealth in 2002 he became the President of the WWF – Worldwide Fund for Nature – and devoted himself to his love of conservation. Although he retired as President in 2009, that love has continued, which made him the natural candidate to award the Gift to the Earth to Namibia. The WWF Award is a public celebration of a conservation action which demonstrates environmental leadership and is a globally significant contribution to the protection of the living world.

Chief Anyaoku renewed his friendship with President Pohamba and Prime Minister Geingob in October, when they discussed conservation, and later that evening, at a dinner held in his honour at a traditional Xwama restaurant in the previously blacks-only township of Katutura, was able to tell conservancy representatives that their President and Prime Minister are fully behind the conservation movement.

It was a special evening for the Chief, who had wanted to meet the conservancy game guards and representatives responsible for the custodianship of 79 conservancies covering 20% of Namibia. Sitting on traditional logs with a plate of rural Namibian specialties, the game guards explained their role to the Chief, who was impressed, gratified and humbled by their contribution to conservation.

In a speech in their honour, the Chief made the point that, thanks to them, poaching of wildlife has become socially unacceptable, and that the achievements of Namibia’s conservancies do not just benefit Namibia, but the whole of humanity.

Steve Felton
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