President Paul Kagame has urged business and political leaders across Africa to leverage the growing regional integration across the continent and improve their collaboration in efforts to conserve African wildlife.
The Head of State, who is also the current Chairperson of the African Union, made the call on Thursday while officiating at the opening of the Business of Conservation Conference organised in Kigali by the African Leadership University (ALU).
Describing conservation as “everyone’s business”, the President said that the people of Africa need to be at the centre of the conservation effort and encouraged all leaders on the continent to ensure that as Africans trade more with each other, efforts to protect wildlife should also be made collectively.
“The African conservation agenda should be owned and driven by us. Our people stand to harvest the benefits and it is also our responsibility,” he said, emphasising that the continent’s wildlife knows no borders.
He said that the recent creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area presents a good opportunity to expand cooperation in conservation as well as raise African leadership on global conservation issues.
“Even as we continue working to achieve free movement of persons in Africa, our continent’s wildlife knows no borders. Success in conservation necessarily entails reinforcing regional collaboration,” he said.
Highlighting the benefits of collaboration, the President said that Rwanda’s close collaboration with conservation partners has already contributed to improved knowledge of Rwanda’s biodiversity, a rise in numbers of wildlife, and the re-introduction of animals that had disappeared from the country’s parks.
Rwanda has recently moved to place some of her parks under professional management by members of the private sector, which President Kagame said has been crucial for sustainability as well as safe and enjoyable experiences for visitors.
The government has also established a direct revenue sharing system with communities neighbouring national parks, which gives residents more reason to participate in conservation efforts.
Kagame told delegates at the meeting that the business of conservation is everyone’s business in Rwanda where the majority of the population is engaged in agriculture and tourism remains the country’s number one foreign exchange earner.
The three-day conference on conservation brought together more than 300 leaders from conservation and intersecting industries in 35 countries around the world to share best practices, strengthen networks and partnerships, and collectively tackle the challenges of saving Africa’s great wildlife places.
Speaking at the event, ALU founder and CEO, Fred Swaniker, urged delegates to make tangible commitments to promote the business of conservation.
He said that African leaders must see conservation as a key pillar of economic growth, explaining that it’s time for Africa to pay attention to wildlife as one of its greatest assets.
“As we develop Africa, we should not copy what other continents are doing; we should look at the resources that we have like conservation and see how we can drive economic development,” he said.
Swaniker explained that a situation where wildlife conservation is left to the few disadvantaged people must stop, essentially calling for serious investments and training in the area.
“We need to bring good management and business skills into conservation,” he said.
Delegates at the meeting are exploring how sustainable wildlife economies can enhance local livelihoods and both political and business leaders in attendance have been encouraged to make and drive tangible commitments in five areas of conservation, including policy, leadership, livelihoods, as well as technology and investment.