NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone
JACQUES Marais is a German travel journalist who writes features for a number of southern African magazines such as Getaway and Sawubona.
He, together with nine other countrymen, was recently in the country to sample some of the tourism potential that Zambia and indeed the Kavango – Zambezi (KAZA) Trans-frontier Conservation Area is endowed with.
The trip was made possible thanks to the Zambia Tourism Agency (ZTA), KAZA Secretariat, and Boundless Southern Africa which partnered with organisations such as German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), USAID, VukaNow and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The whole idea, according to Boundless Southern Africa marketing manager was “to give an opportunity to the journalists to experience first-hand and buy into the KAZA philosophy and ideology so that they could tell the world through their write-ups’’.
And it seemed to have worked out, for Jacques at least.
“I thought the Devil’s Pool was going to be at the top of the list. …Then went to Kafue and the tranquillity of that river is something else. Seeing elephants, right next to you in the water on an electric boat that’s not creating any pollution, that’s world-class,” he says.
He adds, “Coming to Ngonye, everything got kicked off the top of the list. Because that pool on top of the falls, that’s a beauty. Really, if this place is destroyed, Zambia loses one of its natural wonders and you will never forgive yourselves.”
Ngonye Falls is in the heart of the Sioma Ngwezi National Park in Western Province.
Recently, there have been plans to put up a hydro-electricity plant to cushion the power deficit in the country.
But Jacques and the other visiting journalists feel otherwise.
“So, it’s time to take this place and make it what it’s supposed to be. There should be lodges all the way. There is so much here. It is ridiculous. Public-private partnerships is the key because that is how it’s going to get kick-started,” he said.
Baerbel Schwertfeger, also a newspaper features writer, felt the same. Before coming here, he knew so little about Zambia.
“I found Ngonye Falls much more fascinating and unique than the Victoria Falls because it’s such a unique place and you will never find anywhere in the world. I think it should be on the list for the top 10 destinations in the southern Africa area,” Schwertfeger said.
He says, “I was also blown away in Kafue. The tranquillity and the wildlife was awesome. Before this, I knew so little about Zambia.”
This groundbreaking media tour was part of an initiative to profile the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) as a world-class tourism destination.
KAZA is the world’s largest terrestrial transboundary conservation initiative, representing a bold commitment between the five partner countries; Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The presidents of these countries signed a treaty in 2011 committing their countries to harness their shared natural resources and supporting nature-based tourism development as the engine for rural economic growth and development.
The 10 German and regional journalists embarked on two different routes across the five countries making up the KAZA landscape.
Julia Ruhnau, writing for the German Press Agency (DPA), said many years have passed since the KAZA TFCA Treaty was signed in 2011 and is looking forward to seeing it develop into something that will stand the test of time and be appreciated by the locals.
She said, “I am not sure whether it will stay like that, but I am hopeful that what you have started here will stay like that because of the different interests. There are some years that have passed since KAZA started and I hope that it will develop into something that can stay.
“But so far, I am not so sure if it’s in the minds of people that there is really enough substance in that, maybe it could really work. It would be interesting to see what happens in maybe five years from now then maybe you can see there’s a chance we could go somewhere or something has changed.”
In total, 17 tourism properties and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta and Tsodilo Hills – were visited.
At the welcome event in Livingstone, Zambia KAZA executive director Nyambe Nyambe emphasised that with its many stakeholders and 36 different formally proclaimed national parks, forest reserves, communal areas and private concessions, ‘KAZA is not complicated, it is complex’.
To better understand the complex nature of the KAZA TFCA, the scribes were given the opportunity to engage with stakeholders on a broad range of topics such as the importance of landscape connectivity, wildlife corridors, community beneficiation and sustainable tourism within the KAZA landscape.
One of the groups had the privilege of meeting Chief Mayuni of the Mayuni Conservancy, bordering Bwabwata National Park in Namibia, who spoke with passion about the importance of KAZA for transboundary collaboration and management of shared resources.
“KAZA is in our blood,” he reiterated while providing a background to the important role that traditional leaders played in starting the “Four Corners” Transboundary Natural Resource Management initiative which preceded the establishment of the KAZA TFCA.
At the farewell function that was held in Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe, Dr Nyambe concluded by underlining the important role that the media have to play in conveying information about the KAZA TFCA to the communities, tourists, other stakeholders, and the world at large.
ZTA senior marketing manager Doris Kofi, accompanied by regional tourism promotions manager Jocelyn Mutinta, said the agency aims to sell the KAZA concept and idea to the world so that it can have a positive impact on tourism.
“Using journalists to tell the stories is the best way to go about it and we are hopeful that going forward, this can bear fruits soon. The KAZA concept is a very good one if you buy into it. It’s not just about wildlife but also natural resources,” said Ms Kofi.
Carrie Hampton, travel writer for Travel Africa magazine and other local and international travel publications, shared her experience of the trip.
“I feel like I probably have a year’s worth of travel articles to write. We were exposed to such amazing topics. I now have a much deeper understanding of the diverse aspects of the KAZA TFCA – it feels like I am only scratching the surface,” she said.
The media tour was hosted by the KAZA Secretariat in partnership with the 5 KAZA partner states and their national tourism boards with additional support from key development and funding partners to KAZA.
Anabel Tennassie-Goossens is communications officer at VukaNow. She says, “As southern Africans, we need to tell more of our stories so that people can begin to understand what we are doing here and what we have to offer.”
NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone