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” /]
“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.
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.
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.
In this blog, a first for Open Africa in this sphere and in raising funds through the Internet, we have been telling the story about the unfolding of this initiative to counteract both joblessness and its debilitating affect on biodiversity.There is still much to tell, but first something else.
During the last few days we received our first donations via WildlifeDirect. Pirjo I and Brenton H we do not know who you are but we do know what your contributions mean to us, not only in Dollar terms but in the enormous encouragement this gives us. We can do nearly 10 times as much with a Dollar as we can with a similar unit in our own currency, which significantly multiplies the usefulness of your contribution. But it is not just about the money. Social entrepreneurship is about combining the strengths of as many individuals as possible in effecting change on an issue of common concern. As in a swarm of honeybees, every individual effort makes a difference to accomplish in the end what is a magnificent result. By joining us you have done the same and we hope you will watch this blog to see the result. Thank you very much for your support.
Africa has its own champion of champions, Nelson Mandela. At the time Open Africa was established he was president of South Africa and had come to be known as one of the world’s leading citizens. Reflecting on it now, our approach to him to become Open Africa’s patron was audacious, for other than passion we had little more to offer in terms of credentials that deserved the support of this great man. In the closing paragraph of a letter to him then we wrote, “Open Africa under your patronage could turn 21st Century Africa into a society at peace with itself, a relaxed society in which rest and leisure are an integral part of daily existence; a society in which people can take survival for granted, so that their efforts may be directed at achieving cultural excellence. It is our view Mr Mandela that you could inspire the sense of single-minded purpose that would make this happen.” We believed that then and we still believe it now.
Others were also pledging support, from all walks of life, some voluntarily with offers of expertise. These spontaneous subscribers to the Open Africa vision inspired the formation of Team Africa, an informal alliance of all those who want to see this dream accomplished.
Implementing the Open Africa initiative led to the development of www.openafrica.org and then the first route, the Southern Overberg Fynbos (featured in these images). Dreamers are visionaries and according to the futurist, Joseph Okpaku, they tend to dispense with the stepping-stones in crossing the river from the known present to the unknown future. Visionaries simply conjure the picture of a Utopian end in mind, and then work backwards in trying to find a way to get there. That is exactly what we did, with the kind of idealistic verve that inevitably leads to some hard encounters with reality later on. But for now we weren’t worried by such trivialities as to where to find money, how to build relationships, what to do about capacity building and so on. Bedazzled by our own vision, we hurtled along regardless. Not regardless of some core principles however, one of which was that we would never impose anything on communities from the outside. Our role is that of a catalyst in an initiative in which the participants make all their own decisions.
Following the Open Africa idea, for that is all it was to begin with, a think tank was formed to come up with a plan. By 1995 the plan solidified into the vision to link the splendours of Africa in a continuous network of tourism routes from the Cape to Cairo. The next thing was to operationalize the how part of doing this. We decided from the start that the way to go was through utilising IT and the web in particular, even though it was only in its infancy at that stage. We imagined, as we ask you to imagine, a network of participants connected to Africa’s magnificent wildlife, plants, and landscapes linked across borders according to their particular features on a website that could be interrogated for information from anywhere in the world. On the one hand this would put these participants into collectives that galvanise them around a vision of common purpose, enabling collaboration and better coordination, whilst on the other it would place their wares in the global marketplace without financial or other barriers to entry. Dr Don Pinnock, a noted academic, author, magazine editor and journalist called it “an African Dream” and through his good offices compiled a map for us to illustrate what was intended.
Publication of the map in Getaway magazine (www.getaway.co.za) served as the catalyst for the formation of the Peace Parks Foundation (www.peaceparks.org) by billionaire industrialist Anton Rupert. The PPF’s aim is to facilitate the creation of a vast network of transfrontier parks, a concept that has since made great strides and one that complements the Open Africa initiative perfectly. Bigger parks not only mean better conservation but also more attractions, creating greater opportunities for the local entrepreneurs Open Africa nurtures. So we were off to a good start.