TWO major new rural upliftment projects launched in Africa to the north of us are benefiting from blue chip Eastern Cape experience.
Port Elizabeth based tourism consultant Peter Myles is playing a key role in both projects – one focused on tourism capacity building in Uganda and the other on a new 440000km² transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) in south-central Africa.
A former director of Tourism Port Elizabeth and one of South Africa’s most senior tourism consultants, Myles has worked around the world and he serves on various international bodies including the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. But the simple responsible tourism models of the Eastern Cape like Bulungula, the eco-friendly community-driven backpacker venture on the Wild Coast, is what the new Africa vision is all about, he says.
Myles flew out this week to the Ugandan capital of Kampala where he will be ensconced in an office in the headquarters of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for an initial tour of duty through to Christmas.
In an interview before he left, he explained that the Uganda project is funded by the UNDP and run in partnership with the government there. Government teams have already been deployed to link up with villages across the country to sensitise them about tourism and the different development options available. The teams’ brief then is to work with residents to identify what is desirable and viable in terms of a tourism venture for each individual village.
Whatever initiatives emerge from this process orientated around culture, crafts, agriculture or the environment (including of course Uganda’s famous gorillas) the bottom line is they must bring benefits to that community and reduce poverty levels – in a sustainable way.
In line with this approach, conservation of wildlife, habitat and natural systems will naturally occur, Myles says. The flipside playing out in many parts of Africa has communities seeing no benefits in conservation and plundering the environment, exacerbating poverty.
In South Africa, Fair Trade Tourism has played a key role in monitoring and helping to drive social and environmental responsibility in the sector. Myles will be liaising with the organisation on the possibility of them coming to Uganda to do the same there.
Related to this, one of his jobs will be to connect the village tourism ventures, once they have been formalised, to the growing international responsible tourism market. Just as important will be to establish resident service providers so that at a certain point the community will be able to take over from the consultants and avoid dependency, he says.
Straddling Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the Kavango Zambezi (Kaza) TFCA project is being funded by the German KfW bank and the lead consultancy is the renowned Institute of Ecology at Klagenfurt University in Austria.
The envisaged new TFCA includes the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, vast unexplored tracts of Angolan woodland and Namibia's Caprivi Strip. It is home to important populations of species like Nile crocodile, African wild dog and wattled crane.
The area is also a melting pot of cultural diversity and home to two million people. In line with the new "living landscapes” conservation approach, they will not have to move out and will instead be integrated into Kaza. The aim is the park will be a catalyst for socio-upliftment for these people and the entire region.
A preliminary task for Myles has been to create socio-economic profiles of the Kaza member countries and he has focused on Angola. This is a country that has resurrected itself from war to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, he notes. But its heavy reliance on oil is creating environmental problems, and profits are not filtering through to the villages, where there is widespread poverty and malnutrition.
Related to this malaise, in a country blessed with huge natural assets, Angola at present imports many basic commodities. A particular issue around its inclusion in Kaza is mine-clearing which still needs to be done.
In this time of rampant poaching will the lowering of internal reserve fences for this latest TFCA not open the poaching floodgates? Myles says poaching is indeed already a problem in the Kaza countries. But, he argues, the renewed effort underpinning the venture, to involve communities and to address problems like human-wildlife conflict, can turn the problem around. Rural flight to over-crowded cities can be stemmed and happy, healthy communities can live in harmony with their environment.
So it’s all about rural resilience. Wouldn’t it be great if we could launch a similar community empowerment drive here in the Eastern Cape and South Africa? Link it with fastracking of renewable energy, and a reactivated rail system – and we can ignite our own rural renaissance.