Sustainable tourism and conservation concern us all

The Olympic Games finally came to an end with the marathon race where typically a Kenyan and an Ethiopian were ahead of the pack. East Africa was also happy to celebrate a silver medal for Burundi in the 800 meters while a Tanzanian coming fifth in the marathon was proof that the region sure does have talent outside Kenya.

The Olympic Games finally came to an end with the marathon race where typically a Kenyan and an Ethiopian were ahead of the pack. East Africa was also happy to celebrate a silver medal for Burundi in the 800 meters while a Tanzanian coming fifth in the marathon was proof that the region sure does have talent outside Kenya.

What needs to be done now is to invest more in sports and tame the greed of the sports officials. I enjoyed watching the marathon and while doing so I noticed something else. The Brazilians were also using the race to show off their city with all those scenic views captured from drone cameras and helicopter shots. Moral of the lesson - do not waste any chance to promote your country.

 

That is a lesson that East Africa needs given the fact tourism is a key driver of our economies since a lot of money  is earned each time people choose to visit us so as to experience our wildlife, cultures and even weather among other things. What is important to note though is how delicate some of our tourism products are and what we can do about it.  

 

Realising that tourism is a major cash cow for our economies leads to a communal responsibility for us to be concerned about its sustainability. Tourists travel for miles to come and experience what they cannot experience anywhere else in the world; it is our duty to ensure that these journeys continue to be made so the dollar taps stay open.  

 

Take the example of the Mountain Gorillas that can only be found in one part of the world – the Virunga volcanic mountain range that strides the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These animals are categorised as critically endangered species that need a lot more protection or else they will remain in folk tales in future.

The good news is that concerted conservation efforts in recent years have seen their population steadily rising.

Events like Kwita Izina have played a major role in drawing attention to gorilla conservation efforts and the importance of gorilla tourism to communities near the parks as well as the country in general. 

In fact it is now generally accepted that Kwita Izina is generally a celebration of successful conservation efforts. And this is why it attracts conservation enthusiasts from all over the world who are keen to pick lessons or find ways to be a part of this success story. The recently held fundraising gala dinner was one such opportunity for more people to etch their names in the books of Rwanda’s conservation story.

For Rwanda the story goes beyond just gorillas now that lions have been reintroduced at Akagera National Park and rhinos are next on the list. The restoration of previously threatened wetlands and forests such as Gishwati is further proof that conservation is taken seriously by the Rwandan government.

In the region more still has to be done because these success stories remain few and far apart. Poaching remains a major threat to the elephant populations especially in Kenya and Tanzania. This has become a huge concern especially now that China, a major destination for smuggled ivory has experienced economic growth and thus increased the size of the middle class that would fancy a piece of ivory to join their possessions.  

Wildlife facilities are threatened by both the rich and the poor. The rich look at green spaces and wish they could build more apartments and shopping malls. They use their influence to grab the land while the poor look at the same land and desire to turn it into their gardens. The rich obviously have selfish interests in this case.

The poor on the other hand blame population growth and the fact in some cases they do not see the value of game parks to their general wellbeing. This is where sharing of game park receipts with local communities as well as more sensitisation help a lot. People need to understand and own these resources.

In Kenya for example, areas managed by communities (conservancies) are now known to look better than the government run parks. All said and done we need to keep diversifying our tourism products so that more and more people can be concerned about this gift that keeps giving and how it can be protected to ensure that it never stops giving.

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