It is tempting to see the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) as a country in the making. But reality falls short of this—at least for now.
The project is so breathtaking in both its scope and ambition that it does inspire dreams of a different tomorrow for a region that is still suffering the miseries inflicted by one of the most brutal wars in recent history. After nearly four decades, the anti-colonial conflict that turned into civil war and at stages involved South Africans, Namibians, Angolans, Cubans and, in surreptitious ways, even the Russians and Americans, came to an end 10 years ago when Angola’s Unita strongman Jonas Savimbi died in a hail of bullets.
Part of the wonder of the project is that the vision for turning the area into a “peace park” started taking shape immediately after the Angolan civil war ended.
“KAZA” stands for the Kavango and Zambezi rivers, with the territory including adjoining sections of Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its map is practically a state in its own right.
The binding factor is the region’s exceptional natural beauty, including the Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta and the vast elephant herds traversing its plains and swamps. The area’s relatively sparse communities are so distant from the heartland of their respective states that most of them probably associate more closely with each other than with their countrymen.
Of course, Zimbabwe and Zambia would not dream of ceding those spectacular falls thundering between them. Neither would Botswana consider letting go of the Okavango and the Chobe National Park. These are their countries’ signature natural wonders, and they are the geese laying those golden tourist eggs.
But it is to the credit of the five governments that they have agreed to join these adjacent portions of land in a transboundary scheme that comes to a mammoth 444,000 square kilometer chunk of Africa, with conservation at its heart and tourism as the economic objective for the 2.5 million people living there.
At last year’s Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Luanda, the countries’ leaders issued a declaration when they signed the KAZA TFCA treaty, which came close to conferring a kind of satellite, if not colonial, status on their shared holding.
It said: “The KAZA TFCA shall become an international organization with a legal persona, capable of entering into contracts, and acquiring and disposing of property. Institutions established through the treaty to govern the TFCA, particularly its secretariat, will be empowered to ensure that the objectives of the treaty are realized and corresponding strategic plans and protocols implemented.”
The project includes a range of national parks, game and forest reserves and conservancies. Although these are in varying states of repair, many can be linked across boundaries and through corridors to become mutually supportive within a broader framework that will have nature-based tourism as its main industry. There is even talk of a “KAZA visa” to ease cross-border traffic within the territory.
The scheme has the backing of the German and Netherlands governments, the Swiss Agency of Development and Cooperation, the Peace Parks Foundation and the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Victor Siamudaala, the program manager, is a veterinarian from Zambia. His secretariat is based in Kasane, the charming north-eastern Botswana town where it is not unusual to see elephants wander through, or pedestrians casually step around warthogs scuffling on the sidewalk.
The secretariat is at the center of an intricate bureaucratic web that gives practical effect to the scheme.
As explained by Werner Myburgh, chief executive of the Peace Parks Foundation, each country made a development plan for its particular part of the greater territory with the help of various government departments, the private sector and affected communities. The five plans were then aligned under the umbrella plan for the scheme as a whole. The result is a detailed plan showing how the boundaries run, which areas are earmarked for conservation and which for development, and what the infrastructural requirements are.
Each country has a coordinator who, together with the central secretariat, reports to a committee of senior officials, which is in turn overseen by a steering committee of five ministers from the respective governments.
The wide range of factors that need to be taken into account, including security, customs, veterinary, agricultural and conservation matters, require the involvement of several government departments in each country. Generally, decisions are taken by consensus, which makes the process even more complex.
It explains why the central secretariat, which drives the program’s implementation, prefers to abide by the governments’ jointly approved statements.
But the transfrontier project has caught on since its initiation in 2006. The official launch function was held on March 15, 2012 in the Caprivi town of Katima Mulilo where, under the magnificent trees along the bank of the Zambezi, the South African Defense Force had its forward base more than two decades ago.
The occasion was attended by more than 700 people, including the environmental and tourism ministers of the five governments, SADC’s executive secretary, Dr Tomaz Salamão, and traditional leaders from the five countries.
Myburgh says the sense of ownership of the joint project was tangible. He quotes Botswana’s minister of the environment, wildlife and tourism, Kitso Mokaila: “… (We) have emphasized in the KAZA Treaty… that we will own and lead the planning and development process of the TFCA. We take cognisance of the fact that our land and other natural resources are a valuable heritage of the five partner countries.”
Dr Salamão spoke of the project as a commendable achievement and “a true symbol of regional integration”, which is one of SADC’s goals. He saw it as “a door to further milestones that have the potential to change the lives of communities who live in the KAZA TFCA area for the better”.
The project is not without challenges. Land mines left by the war are scattered around Angola’s Cuando Cubango province that adjoins the Caprivi in the south and southern Zambia to the east. The mines were planted despite the Geneva Convention’s requirement that such areas be mapped, which makes them hard to locate. But, according to Myburgh, clearing has been going on for some time and remains a high priority.
The area includes the Luiana Partial Reserve, which, like rest of the area, was left stripped of game by the fighting armies. But already the vast elephant herds of Botswana have started migrating across Namibia’s Caprivi strip through Zambia, back to the vast woodlands where their ancestors once roamed without fear of soldiers and their explosives.