I travel a lot but my just completed trip to the USA brought home to me how proud I am to be Namibian.
Our Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme leads the world, but most Namibians are not even aware of this, or if they are, they take it for granted that in other countries rural people have the same rights. Not so – our communal area conservancy legislation is well ahead of our neighbours.
Our legislation, amended after Independence in 1996, gives local people who live with wildlife, and who are confronted with the conflicts some species can cause, the opportunity to directly benefit from game.
In return the government requires that the conservancies manage their wildlife responsibly. The result, as we know, is that an additional 16.1 per cent of our country is now under sustainable management, as 59 communities have chosen to register communal conservancies. Another 25 or so communities are forming conservancies so we should have about 80 in due course.
The crafting of our CBNRM legislation took six years and involved many workshops and meetings, as well as a number of socio-economic surveys whereby rural people were consulted about their needs and views. My NGO was invited by the new government to help conduct these surveys that led to the legal amendments.
The surveys formed the basis for a number of innovative community-based approaches to managing our natural resources – we also have community forests, a network of water management committees, management of inland fisheries through conservancies and some lucrative high-value plant product enterprises.
The conservancy programme has won some international recognition but it is at the local level, down to households, that we are starting to see lives changed and improved. Namibia has also led the way in relocating more than 7 000 valuable wild animals of different species back into former home ranges in communal areas of the country. This means that conservancies with little game have been restocked, adding value to conservancies and expanding income and job opportunities.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has also allocated valuable tourism concessions to conservancies. This is real black empowerment; another way to create opportunities for those who were deprived of their rights in colonial times to benefit. But we Namibians must wake up.
Opportunities need to be grasped and turned into real benefits.
We must meet our government halfway and play our part in achieving greater heights.
Having had the opportunity to talk about Namibia at different forums of APTA (Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa) across the USA, starting from the east coast to the west coast, I realised that the most popular destinations are West Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. We need to change this. It is time for Namibians, including conservancies, to stand up and let the world know we have something special in Namibia. We can offer an African wildlife experience as enjoyable as any of those well-known countries – and we can show that tourism is benefiting our ordinary rural people – members of conservancies – as well as private sector.
Kunene Conservancy Safaris – owned by five north-western conservancies through a trust – has generated lots of interest. The idea of being a guest in a conservancy, not just a tourist, and having a dignified and in-depth cultural exchange was something that attracted many in my audiences.
It is now high time that conservancies that own different enterprises such as safari companies and lodges should start to attend some of these big trade shows.
John Kasaona is the co-director of Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC)