by James L.Laizer
Nyerere National Park, an emergent tourism destination in Southern Tanzania
The Tanzanian government and tourism sector partners are keen to highlight the potential of the Nyerere National Park, and various outlets now cover news and offers on this emergent tourist destination. Covering an area of 30,893 square kilometres, the park is one of the largest in the world. Located in south-eastern Tanzania, about 230 kilometres by road from Dar es Salaam city to Mtemere Gate, it was carved out from the Selous Game Reserve, a gigantic wilderness area and safari destination in Southern Tanzania.
The park was named after the first president of Tanzania, the late Julius Nyerere, in recognition of his work going back to the Arusha declaration of 1967, championing conservation and protection of wildlife in the country, as a matter of national heritage. It is one of the wildest places remaining in Africa, with a wide variety of wildlife habitats, including open grasslands, miombo woodlands, swamps and riverine forests in the many tributaries of the mighty Rufiji River which flows through the park to the Indian Ocean.
Given that the park was only upgraded to national park status in November 2019 and less frequented by tourists, animals there tend to be less exposed to humans. The park hosts some of the largest populations of mammals and reptiles in Africa, including buffaloes, elephants, hippos and crocodiles. Together with the remaining part of Selous Game Reserve, it is considered to be the last stronghold of the African wild dog—or painted wolf. Other common wildlife includes the wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, eland, the greater kudu, sable antelopes, black rhino, waterbuck, impala, lion, leopard, the spotted hyena, cheetah, baboon, blue monkey, and the black and white colobus monkey which can be viewed in riverine forests.
Increasing coverage indicates Nyerere National Park offers a wide variety of game viewing opportunities including the experience of a walking safari in the company of an armed ranger. The many waterways in the park provide an excellent natural setting for boat safaris, both for big game viewing and bird watching. This is in addition to the game drives in bespoke safari vehicles which, combined with boat and walking safaris, offer specialist products distinctive to Nyerere National Park.
The best time to visit is from June to October, when vegetation is sparse and when thirsty ungulate herds move towards water, trailed by lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs. During the long rains, between March and May, some parts of the park are temporarily closed for game drives due to poor accessibility. For bird lovers, Nyerere National Park is one of the best birding destinations in Tanzania and the best time for one to go for birding is between November and April during the wet season when migratory birds fly into the country. Established bird species include the yellow-bellied bulbul, mangrove kingfisher, black cuckoo-shrike, palm-nu vulture, red throated twin spot, red-winged warbler, African skimmer, spotted flanked barbet and the grey hooded kingfisher among others. About 440 species of birds both resident and migratory have been observed in the national park.
There is an increasingly wide range of choice for accommodation, which have been developed for this new key tourism product and conservation habitat in the southern circuit.
Dialogue over securing a single tourist visa for EAC Partner states
Initial discussions over securing a single tourist visa for the East African partner states are in progress. The East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) is developing a work plan for research and advocacy to partner states on the East African Community (EAC) single tourist visa to help the sector thrive. Mr John Bosco Kalisa, the Executive Director of the East African Business Council (EABC), stated that the new initiative is in line with a vision of developing a single tourist destination to boost the performance of the bloc’s tourism sector.
The visa will therefore help to ease movement of international tourists across the EAC partner states boarders of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and make it easier for industry players to offer multi-destination packages and fostering economic growth in the sector.
Tourism is one of the significant sectors in the EAC economy. The sector accounts for approximately 17% of total export earnings, 10% of GDP growth, and 7% of total employment opportunities in the region. The sector has close links to transportation, food production, retail and entertainment sectors. The EAC is a popular region offering numerous tourism investment opportunities, include the establishment of resort cities, the branding of premium parks and the construction of internationally branded hotels.
Other opportunities include the development of high-quality meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) tourist facilities and conference tourism facilities, as well as health and sports tourism.
According to data from 2022, the EAC recorded around 5.8 million international tourist arrivals, and in the context of the African tourism market, the EAC held a share of approximately 13.5% of the total international tourist arrivals in Africa, which stood at around 43 million last year, according to Mr. Yves Ngenzi EATP Regional Coordinator. Mr Ngenzi said by streamlining the visa application process for international tourists, the EAC can create a more tourist-friendly environment that could potentially lead to an increase in tourist arrivals, as visitors would find it more convenient to explore multiple EAC destinations with a single visa.
Study suggests challenges with community conservation partnerships
Current partnerships for wildlife, forestry and marine resource conservation have had limited or no impact on local communities, according to a recent study. It proposes a number of steps for the arrangement to be improved on, to provide the desired results.
The five-year study, from which results were launched on 6th April, 2023, was a collaboration between researchers from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Copenhagen Business School and University of Roskilde (Denmark), University of Sheffield and the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Experts who were based in the districts of Kilwa, Rufiji and Mtwara Rural presented evidence to stakeholders and the government to enhance their methods of conservation of natural resources in relation to the livelihoods of local residents. The project ‘New Partnerships for Sustainability’ (NEPSUS) suggests that while complex partnerships that link donors, government, community organisations, NGOs, consultancies, certification agencies and other intermediaries have been emerging to address the sustainability of natural resource use, this has not yet delivered better outcomes for local communities.
The findings led to the publication of a book titled “Contested Sustainability: The Political Ecology of Conservation and Development in Tanzania.” The authors argue that to a large extent, the results of those partnerships have been beneficial for the elite class. According to the research, village groups around natural resources, especially in coastal areas, face governance challenges related to structural, financial and participatory failures.
They propose that in the formation of community groups, the local community are sometimes involved at the beginning, but the process ends up being captured by the central government and local elites. ‘’Financially, most local groups such as Beach Management Units (BMUs) are poorly equipped and the funds accrued from fines and fees are not enough to facilitate the setting up of alternative livelihood activities,” reads part of the report findings. Despite deliberate, evolving and persuasive efforts by government, NGOs and companies to raise awareness about the relevant rules and regulations, the results suggest that sustainability partnerships have struggled to gain and maintain legitimacy. They argue that “local communities are yet to perceive these partnerships as responsive, accountable and trustworthy arrangements that strike the requisite balance between community welfare and conservation goals”. The findings indicate that much of the economic benefits are primarily realised at the community level rather than the household level.
Prof. Christine Noe from UDSM, one of the report authors, says that they aimed to have evidence to advise the improvement of various government policies. “To whose benefit do we conserve?” she inquired, adding that many community members have been seen as enemies of conservation and recommending that alternative sources of livelihood that make sense to local communities should be facilitated. According to Prof. Noe, greater efforts should be made to facilitate contact between local communities and other key actors before the establishment of sustainability partnerships, to maintain them during their operation and to ensure that the benefits accrued from the income resulting from partnerships need to be distributed evenly and avoid elite capture.