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The biggest partnership has just created a most valuable trademark

The official launch last week of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area between Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola is a fit prelude to our independence celebrations this week. Not only would such a scheme not have been possible twenty two years ago, the means to engage our neighbours in this grand endeavour, did not exist.
The idea of a transfrontier conservation area was first mooted more than ten years ago when the Peace Parks Foundation in South Africa started its pioneering work on connecting and integrating conservation areas in South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The first visible results of this group’s work was the linking of SA’s world famous Kruger National Park with huge conservation areas in Mozambique. The next step was the formalisation of a conservation management arrangement between SA and Botswana when the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, both sides of the border, was consolidated into a single conservation area. Closer to home, it led to the formation of the Ais Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, linking our Fish River Canyon and Ais Ais National Park with the Richtersveld National Park across the Orange River in South Africa.
The creation of these cross-border conservation areas would probably not have come to anything were it not for the huge effort, massive funding and continuous lobbying of the Peace Parks Foundation. Yet, the three areas that produced the first tangible results were demographically easy to integrate, so the practical problems that had to be overcome were minor. The designated areas were already proclaimed parks, the human population was almost zero, and specifically, conservation issues were managed cross-border for many years before the formalisation of the agreements.
With the formation of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, the dynamics are somewhat more involved and complex. This is an agreement between five countries, the designated area consists of proclaimed parks, formal conservation areas, informal conservation areas (hunting),  as well as communal land and normal land-use zones. In certain parts of the bigger KAZA area there is a substantial human population and in other areas, there are ownership issues. There are also huge disparities between the partner countries in terms of infrastructure, land use, and level of development between the many communities that reside within this area.
This asymmetry that is part and parcel of the entire concept, is probably the biggest obstacle that will have to be overcome. When the official treaty was signed in August last year, there were many aspects that gave me the impression the whole concept was not fully thought through at that point. However, following the events of last week and the documentation released at the launch, it shows me a rather impressive amount of intellectual and conceptual work that must have gone into the scheme.
What I noticed first is that there is no longer talk of a transfrontier park. It is now called a transfrontier conservation area, which in my opinion is reasonable and more practical, and will probably provide the framework for the development of a future paradigm that will capture the nittty gritty of how exactly one manages an undertaking of this scale. At the same time, using a more neutral descriptor makes provision for the reality of the huge asymmetries that exist on ground level.
And since we identified tourism as one of our key economic drivers many years ago, being a partner to this grandiose plan creates opportunities, many of which I am sure we are not yet aware exist. In a sense, KAZA has become a label, and despite my misgiving about moving too fast over too large an area, I realise the enormous marketing potential of this particular label.
I do not foresee that within ten years we shall have an integrated functional cross-border park, but I do expect the value of this KAZA label to become so all-important that any local development in any of the five partner countries, immediately becomes so much more valuable just by claiming to be part of the bigger label.
In the end, it is not about conservation purely for the sake of conservation. It is about the development of and benefits for the communities that are part of this huge area. It embraces all the ideals we embody in our policies of community-based conservation which must be to the advantage of the communities who are the owners of the resources.
It further provides the government with a clearly defined target area to channel TIPEEG funding into, and it establishes a micro-model to test and measure SADC integration against, on a larger scale.
I just wish the Botswana government will be nice for once, and establish a corridor along their border and on their territory, between Kaudom and Babwatwa.

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