When Beaven Munali was called by the Khuta, the traditional court, in 1991, he found himself at the start of “a dream” – to work in conservation. The Khuta represented the people around Lianshulu in the Caprivi Region, a year after independence. Munali had been selected to take part in an election for the first game guards in the area, before the first conservancies were formed.
Much has changed since Munali gained 41 votes against his competitor’s 2. Caprivi is now Zambezi Region, and in 2015, twenty-four years after that first vote, he was elected as a Regional Councillor for the Judea Lyaboloma area, and then Chairman of the Regional Council.
Back in the early nineties the area was like paradise when it came to natural resources, explains Munali. “Wherever you looked there was an animal, although wildlife was scattered due to the liberation war, including into Botswana.”
The new conservation ideas, first tried out in north-west Namibia, of traditional authorities deploying community game guards to stop poaching, were brought to the north-east by Garth Owen-Smith and Dr Margaret Jacobsohn. The traditional authorities discussed the ideas and liked them. Munali was a young man, concerned only with farming at the time. But as he says: “In our culture you can’t disagree with what our elders have decided upon. I respected them and they respected me, because I did not drink and was a solid church-goer.”
As the first game guard he had the task of recruiting a colleague, and then to “use my brain”. Munali instituted community meetings where he would explain his role. He started to record animal tracks in a book and he made reports to the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism (the precursor of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism: MET).
“We knew that the poachers were from the community and attended the meetings”, says Munali, who saw his task as one of persuasion. Eventually, as the programme grew under IRDNC, the conservation organization founded by Owen-Smith and Jacobsohn, some of these poachers would become paid game guards, and would form the core of the game guards in conservancies as they were formed.
Munali joined IRDNC as a field officer. Again, his role was to convince people, this time to form conservancies, starting with Salambala in 1998. Munali became a coordinator, who organized game counts and fixed foot patrols, which are used to this day to monitor wildlife. He began the radio programme ‘Out of Nature’ on NBC, which had a huge impact. Letters arrived at IRDNC like “leaves falling from trees” says Munali, from people wanting to become game guards.
Now as the Honourable Chairman of the Regional Council, Munali is still working to convince people of the value of conservation. He was chosen as the Councillor to work with the MET. “I try to get politicians to understand conservation,” he says. He reminds fellow politicians that the money conservancies earn makes local people more economically self-reliant, needing less support from government.
When I ask how he now sees himself as a politician, his reply is simple. “My heart is with conservation”.