Open Africa is presently developing a route in the Mpika area of Zambia, where the Miombo Woodlands are host to a diverse range of birds that include:
? Pale-billed Hornbill,
? Racket-tailed Roller,
? Green-backed and Scaly-throated Honeyguides,
? Spotted Creeper,
? Rufous-bellied Tit,
? Miombo Rock Thrush (not restricted to rocky areas),
? Central Bearded Scrub Robin,
? ‘Long-tailed’ Neddicky,
? Red- capped Crombec,
? Yellow-breasted Hyliota,
? Böhm’s and White- tailed Blue Flycatchers,
? Sousa’s Shrike,
? Violet-backed Sunbird,
? Miombo Double-collared Sunbird,
? Cabanis’s Bunting,
? Stripe- breasted Canary is unusually common, and
? Wood Pipit flushes from the edges of the entrance road.
People travel long distances to see birds but few quite so far just to see one species as the enthusiast who appears in this video.[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/9hI00LJuhfg” width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]
At Open Africa we are noticing an accelerating inverted gap between those who are IT connected and those who do not have access to this technology. In the new way the world is ordered those who are not IT connected are slipping back into even deeper marginalisation.
Thus it seems to us that growth in the distribution of Information Technology has graduated from being desirable as a profit motive for its vendors, to becoming an imperative for society and governments. This is significant for conservation too, for most of the continent’s biodiversity is in remote areas where connectivity is worst, prompting Noel N de Villiers, our CEO, to suggest at the recent World Economic Forum in Cape Town that Africa should be Googlified as quickly as possible.
“Canned hunting is a blight on the reputation of the country and it does not contribute to biodiversity conservation objectives, is an inhumane and unethical practice and in fact may pose a threat to conservation.” That is the kind of judgement we like to see, delivered recently in the South African High Court. The Court also found that “economic considerations may never be used to condone or ignore practices that either compromise the country’s biodiversity, undermine the humane treatment of hunted animals, or that may taint the reputation of the hunting industry.”
If Africa is to leapfrog to the front of the environmental queue, as we at Open Africa believe it can and should, then our courts need to be as tough and uncompromising as this one in protecting the continent’s biodiversity.
The rationale behind Open Africa’s thinking regarding conservation has from the start been that this concept is a bit of a misnomer in Africa, for how can one expect people whose children are starving to care about animals and plants? Seen from their perspective this is an affront that makes no sense in practical terms. Our approach is that therefore to be viable conservation must be made to work for them, and that one way of doing that is to materialize its value through tourism. The reasoning is that if nature resources can be turned into assets that earn money, locals will be incentivised to protect them. Thus a tourism route that highlights the biodiversity of an area in a manner that attracts tourists will elevate that biodiversity into the equivalent of a cash crop worth nurturing.
Until now, with 56 routes developed, this plan has proved to be viable but only mildly effective. The daily grind of eking out a living is the focus of most people’s attention and more needs to be done to create awareness of how even the tiniest biodiversity feature can be big when it comes to attracting visitors. So now we have developed and are installing a method of exciting interest in this by having each route choose a flagship species to monitor. The idea is to re-awaken pride in local habitats and bring the indigenous knowledge surrounding them to bear on taking care of their status. It is too early to tell whether this works but initial interest is quite strong.
Kurt Ackermann wrote a flattering blog on Open Africa with the above heading at afrikatourism.blogspot.com recently, which prompts the thought of whether tourists are tourists and travellers something different? Tourists are passive, want to be entertained, avoid hassles and like things to be well organised. This being the case, you would expect visitors to Open Africa routes, which are located in rural and marginalised ‘off the beaten track’ areas, to have something to say about the conditions out there.
In the beginning we fully expected a high proportion of the customer comments that come across www.openafrica.org to be critical, to at best contain a lot of advice about improvements that can be made. But 99% of them are complimentary and often more even than that, they identify with the initiative in what appears to be a familial relationship. This tells us that there is a stronger market segment than expected of people who want to see things as they are, want to interact with local communities, are curious about them and actively seek to experience the realities of rural life. These surely are travellers and not tourists, and for people like us engaged in development and conservation they are like angels from heaven.
At Open Africa wherever we go we find that every community has its own latent social entrepreneurs, not many, but a few individuals – mostly women, who have a burning desire and passion to change things for the better. Whether they are skilled or not, old or young doesn’t matter, for passion alone goes a long way to getting things done and if combined with energy it goes even further.
Open Africa has learned now to search for these doers and shakers and to focus on them in building success stories to serve as inspiration for others to follow. We also connect them with already established entrepreneurs for the purpose of building confidence and cross-pollinating ideas. This has turned out to be a much slower process than we would have liked, but the reality is that there are no magic wands when it comes to social upliftment – it starts and ends with people, and building on their strengths as individuals is the first most important thing to do.
The second most important thing is to nurture, nourish and disseminate success stories – every great accomplishment starts with a small success story.
Open Africa works mostly with rural and marginalised communities, who face many development constraints, the worst of which is referred to as the psychology of poverty. In this condition people have given up and don’t believe they can ever succeed, which means that to begin with their mindset has to change.
But the psychology of poverty is not the only problem affecting the will to succeed. After we had the experience of developing the first few routes, we found ourselves saying that if people asked us why Africa was struggling so badly economically, we would give a surprising answer. This answer is that fundamentally it is because too many of Africa’s people suffer from a very serious lack of confidence.
Writing this appears simplistic, but we all know that whether it be in business, sport, politics, marriage or whatever, if you don’t have self-belief in making it work it won’t work. In Africa everywhere we go we encounter a confidence vacuum. People look at us with beseeching eyes, as if to say I would love to do what you suggest but don’t think I can. For too long they have seen themselves as losers and they don’t know how to win.
Showing them how to win takes time but there are few greater rewards than seeing a turnaround in confidence from the negative to the positive.
Do you have a secret desire to see Africa but are afraid of what you may find there? Think about it.
If the answer is yes, consider the following. There is an explanation. It could be that your soul is yearning to come home. To come home to the birthplace of humankind, where your and my ancestors paved the way for who and where we are today.
This is not fanciful. People who know will tell you that just one day in the African bush can change your life forever. But of course everyone is hesitant about visiting Africa. The continent with the worst PR in the world.
Which is why Open Africa is trying to show the other side of this story and urgently needs your help. Rural Africans are among the most peaceful souls on Earth, protectors of the world’s greatest biodiversity. Poor monetarily but bountifully rich spiritually, they occupy some of the most spellbindingly beautiful places imaginable. And their hospitality, charisma and friendliness is legendary.
We have been going a long time and have made a big impact (see www.openafrica.org ). But the financial crunch has us staring down the barrel. Not critical yet but uncomfortably close. Just a few dollars could make the difference.
Anton Rupert, an extraordinarily successful businessman who founded and built up a huge empire, once said that people who do not believe in dreams are not realists. Right. We agree. But you can’t achieve a dream without facing reality.
If you have been following this series of blogs you will know by now that Open Africa’s vision, dubbed an African dream, is to link the splendours of Africa in a network of tourism routes from the Cape to Cairo. This in the interests of spreading wealth (job creation) in synergy with expanding biodiversity. Finding money to do this brought us face to face with the first reality, which is that it is very difficult to raise funds for grass-roots initiatives. We know that now but didn’t in the beginning. Initially we believed that given the vast amounts of money allocated to upliftment in Africa, any plan that was effective and economical on top of that would easily attract funding. This turned out to be naïve for many reasons.
Most aid funding is channelled through governments and once caught up there is practically inaccessible to NGO’s. Funding from corporate social investment programs is available but takes a huge amount of effort to secure. It also tends to be inconsistent in that it follows whatever causes are receiving the most attention from time to time. Another thing, howsoever good social entrepreneurs may be at accomplishing their cause, this talent is seldom twinned with fundraising flair, which is a quite different skill. All we know for sure is that it is about building relationships, which is what this blog is really about. So please you tell us if we are succeeding or otherwise in striking a responsive chord with you? If not, we have a problem, and if still not after you have looked at www.openafrica.org then the problem is doubly serious.
Once the Open Africa vision could be proclaimed as something to which Africa’s people can subscribe, associated with pride and holding a promise in which all can genuinely believe, we needed a symbol to reflect the spirit of this. Quite different talents are required for such things and when an artist volunteered to have a crack at designing something, the only lead we could give him was that we wished it could somehow be associated with fossilized human footprints discovered near Cape Town. The earliest evidence of the existence of humanity in its present form, these footprints were whimsically referred to as those of Eve and noteworthy in terms of global interest in such things, the issue of the National Geographic magazine that carried the story of their discovery attracted the second highest readership count of that magazine ever recorded – second only to the landing of a man on the moon.
Rick Gore, the senior assistant editor of National Geographic, who wrote up the story of these footprints, ended the article with the following words, echoing the yearning of people everywhere to reconnect with the Earth and with their roots – one of the main themes of the Open Africa:
“We cover the prints with sand and head back down the beach. I turn and conjure a parting image of that lone figure standing atop the dune, hair blowing in the breeze, dark skin aglow in the sunset. In my mind she will forever be Eve. I know that’s romantic, but I’m a modern human, and I need my symbols and stories to make sense of this world. I imagine her taking that first step down the dune. It’s a small and tentative step, latent with curiosity, and 117 000 years later we still don’t know where it will ultimately lead.”
This African Footprint is intended to encourage amplification of the Open Africa vision in the minds of all those who care about Africa’s people, plants, and animals.