- When Zimbabwe designated a 5,000 square kilometre stretch of southern savannah as the Gonarezhou National Park in 1966, the new park boundaries did more than protect the wildlife within; they locked people out. With the creation of the park, the government forcibly relocated a number of traditional communities that had lived on the land for generations.
The conflict between parks and local people is not unique to Zimbabwe. Disputes can be found all over Africa. The continent has a history of displacement of villagers to make way for the establishment of national parks. The topic will be addressed at the upcoming World Parks Congress in South Africa this September 8-17. The parks congress is held only once every decade.
Zimbabwe has begun to reconsider parts of its policy of keeping local communities out of parks. In 1982, the government gave limited permission for locals to benefit from sport hunting in wilderness areas outside the park when it adopted the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). Safari companies now must pay villages neighbouring the park a share of the profits they earn from guiding big-game hunting. And the hunters are required to donate the meat from hunts to the communities, which has helped to substantially curb poaching.
However, communities displaced decades ago – including the Ndale, Chitsa, and Chibhememe communities – are now pushing for more than just sport hunting rights; they want their land and resources back.
- I am a native of that area, said Colonel Chudu, an Ndale community representative. "My parents were born in that area and they were moved out. My parents feel that they should be allowed to return back to their original land. In fact I actually feel that my parents have a right to go back to that area." With the recent introduction of Zimbabwe's fast-track resettlement program, some of the Ndale Community has illegally moved into the park and settled in the area where they were evicted more than 30 years ago.
News of the incursions into the park have concerned local, regional, and international conservation groups, as habitat loss is frequently the number one threat to wildlife. Francis Nhema, Zimbabwe's minister of environment and tourism, has condemned the settlements.
- It is important that we protect the integrity of protected areas, said Dr Kenton Miller, vice president for conservation at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and chair of the World Parks Congress's international steering committee. However, Dr Miller expressed concern that most rural communities near protected areas were receiving very few benefits from the revenue generated through tourism activities.
- What we have learned in the past 30 to 40 years is that communities outside parks must be allowed to benefit from the environmental goods and services those protected areas produce, said Dr Miller. "Only then do we see truly sustainable parks and viable communities with proper human services such as education, health, and transportation."
In the past few years the CAMPFIRE model has been reproduced across southern Africa. In Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, revenue generated from hunting, eco-tourism, and photo-safaris is invested into conservation and the development of roads, bridges, schools, and clinics.
Still, many communities feel that they receive too small a share of the benefits from neighbouring protected areas. A number of community leaders are calling for control over money-generating activities such as running safari operations and building and operating lodges.
- As a community we also need to set up big business ventures inside Chobe National Park, said Luckson Masule, chief of Botswana's Chobe Enclave. "Already, there is a [privately run] lodge in Chobe National Park ... We request that we be granted the same opportunity. This is the way that our community can benefit beyond the park boundaries."
Only one Southern African rural community, Makuleke, owns a lodge in a protected area – South Africa's Kruger National Park. The land claim was made possible through South Africa's new restitution laws, which allow people to reclaim lost land that was originally theirs.
- Communities need direct input into how national parks are managed, said Dr Miller. "If communities don't feel they are legitimately participating in and benefiting from parks, good management of park resources becomes impossible."
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.