From Ethiopia’s Walia Ibex to South Africa’s Rhinos Africa could potentially earn billions of dollars from tourism in national parks. However, little money actually goes to managing the parks, according to Kaduu K. Sebunya, the president of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). He says that local communities need to see more benefit to wildlife management or it will be very difficult for them to prevent illegal poaching and cutting trees for agriculture, which destroys animal’s habitat. AWF was founded in 1961 to protect the wildlife and wild lands of Africa and to ensure a more sustainable future for Africa’s people. Ugandan, Kaduu K. Sebunya earned a MA in Natural Resource Management. He also has degrees in Sociology, Political Science and International Law. He served in many international NGOs and government offices before he began working at AWF. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Mr. Kaduu K. Sebunya to learn more about AWF and challenges in Ethiopia.
Capital: What impact does wildlife have on the global economy and developing nations?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: The economic impact of wildlife tourism on premier wildlife destinations in developing countries is substantial. In places like Kenya and Tanzania, wildlife tourism is one of the most important sources of foreign currency and is critical to their economic future. The profits from tourism must benefit local businesses and people if they are to provide the needed economic incentive for wildlife and habitat conservation. Far too often, the true beneficiaries are wealthy investors from developed countries. But we need more local comminutes with lodges, hotels, taxis, supermarkets and other tourist oriented businesses to have much impact on the African economy.
Capital: AWF is doing a lot of work in Simien Mountains Park to benefit local communities can you tell us more about this?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: Simien Park is a good example of the work we do in the continent. There is a barrier to people understanding that land and water are very important to Africa’s economic development. People need to see the relationship between wildlife and their economy as they see the relationship between a cow and milk. They need to stop seeing animals as something that are at best irrelevant or at worst dangerous to them. We can’t achieve sustainability unless Africans appreciate and benefit directly from conservation. So as you can see we do a lot of work here in Ethiopia. We support the national parks build the capacity of the park. We do training, monitoring and evaluation and developing tourism but it is not enough unless communities or governments benefit from the conservation. If you see around Simien Mountains we have a lodge which is owned by communities together with the private sector. This helps local people gain directly from the tourism industry and have equity so that they benefit. This is an important message for us to get across. Tourism is alone is not enough we also work on raising awareness that wildlife is a source of living. Connecting the livelihoods of people with wildlife conservation is very important so that is what we are doing.
Capital: What made AWF build an elementary school around Simien Mountains Park?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: From our observation poaching and cutting are the biggest threats to wildlife in the park. We built the Adisge Primary School, which is a part of AWF’s Classroom Africa program, to teach children the importance of wildlife in generating income and maintaining the ecosystem. So in addition to the usual curriculum the school teaches the students wildlife conservation and in turn the students teach their community what they have learned in school. By doing so we are creating a country that understands the importance of wildlife. The government is also helping with this as they help manage the school. When local people realize the economic benefits that wildlife, nature and tourism bring, they will fight for conservation, even in the face of corruption and wildlife crime. This school will play a vital role to get this idea into people’s minds.
Capital: What is your future plan in the Simien Mountains?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: We want to create a park that will bring in a lot of money to Ethiopia and develop a community near the park that conserves wildlife and earns even more money by creating business that attract tourists.
Capital: What are you doing to improve the national park management?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: We need to look at government policy especially creating a conductive business environment. Once you have the right policy at the national level then we need to develop a business mentality around the sector. It must attract private investment like any other business. It is an export business sold locally. Ethiopia exports coffee that it grows here and ships it for export. The beauty about tourism is you produce it and sell it here and it has a lot of value chains and social systems that can grow out of it and those have to be very well engineered and very well structured for rural development. The community around the park also must be trained and made aware the importance of conservation and what kind of businesses near the park will attract more tourists. The promise of long-term revenue from responsible wildlife tourism often appears to be the only thing standing in the way. In developing countries, challenged by poverty and unemployment, the reality is that wildlife are going to have to pay for it and wildlife tourism is one of the most benign ways in which this can be accomplished.
Capital: What are the major challenges for AWF in Ethiopia?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: The first challenge is attention. Ethiopia gives much attention to hydro eclectic power but the national parks which produce wildlife and have plenty of trees don’t get equal attention. We should know that if we don’t protect forests and wildlife we will not have enough water which we need to generate more power. The second is finance, still a number of activities are being supported by donors but the government should provide more budget to modernize the park and generate more income by creating a conducive environment for business near the parks. More professionals need to be trained.
Capital: Cultural experiences are another aspect of wildlife tourism. How does tourism impact traditional societies?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: Ethiopia is a very good example in that aspect because it has a developed cultural tourism. But the connection between cultural tourism and wildlife tourism is very important, our culture is closely is related to our brand which is wildlife and wild places. Africa is not Africa unless we are describing the African cultures, the African destinations in terms of our land and how we are related to our land and wildlife. If we lose that we lose our brand and what is Africa then? We must strive to connect cultural tourism and wildlife tourism.
Capital: Due to illegal poaching some animals are on the way to extinction what can be done to save them?
Kaduu K. Sebunya: We are a under crisis. I will give you examples of three species, one is the African elephant. We are losing 30,000 a year. We used to have 1.5 million elephants in 1960 but today we have half a million elephants and most of them are in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana. In many parts of east and central Africa elephants have almost disappeared. Another example is Rhinos, many parts of Africa have lost them. Rhinos in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana have been wiped out. In South Africa at least 1,000 rhinos are killed every year. We have lost many lions. What you will tell your children if lions perish in Ethiopia when they have been the symbol of many kingdoms here. So it is all our responsibility to save them from extinction.