Last week the Malawi Government and African Parks Network (APN) signed an agreement in which the latter had been given a 20-year mandate to manage Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park. Our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI caught up with Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture KONDWANI NANKHUMWA on the sidelines of the signing ceremony to explain more on the agreement.
What compelled government to surrender the two parks to APN?
Two things; the first is that there has been massive poaching at the two game parks whereby government has and continues to lose a lot of wildlife there. Due to the poaching, these parks have been depleted of their wildlife, particularly iconic species such as rhinos and elephants. The second factor has to do with the resource envelope which has been small and we were even failing to sustain the operations of the two parks. These are the reasons we had to put a tender so that we find a partner through Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement that government and the private sector should come together to manage the parks. This is also aimed at promoting stakeholder participation in conservation of wildlife and we know that the private sector becomes crucial because of their financial muscle and fundraising capabilities. Just to add that Liwonde National Park has also been facing a different problem of human-elephant conflicts.
Most often partnerships such as this one result in job losses. Are workers at the two parks assured of their jobs?
Let me assure staff working at the two parks that nobody is going to lose their jobs. However, in the event that some of them are no longer required to continue working there, they will be redeployed to other parks such as Kasungu and Nyika National Parks. So job security is guaranteed at all cost and we shall go by that because it is what we have agreed with APN.
What significance will this partnership have on Malawi’s tourism industry?
Well, I will give you an example of Majete Game Reserve [in Chikwawa] where APN are already working. There is a success story and the reserve is being managed well and the number of tourists visiting the place has increased significantly. Therefore, we anticipate that it will be the same with Nkhotakota and Liwonde parks. When APN was taking over the management of Majete, it was almost in the same state that Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is currently, but within a short period the situation is different and Majete is a fully stocked with game coupled with all tourism and management infrastructure such as roads, fences, lodges, campsites and a community outreach programme.
We understand that government will be getting 10 percent of revenue realised from the parks. How did you arrive at that figure because it seems to be small?
This was arrived at after high level consultations and technical meetings between the two sides. The 10 percent is going to be distributed to the people surrounding the parks through a community outreach programme and it will be used to build bridges, roads, schools and provision of potable water. APN has a commendable track record across the region and it has demonstrated to have strengths that are beneficial to Malawi because it has access to the necessary budgets to achieve the goals that are in line with the conservation needs and objectives of government. I must also categorically state that government has only outsourced management services for the two parks and has not sold them to APN as some quarters seem to suggest. The parks remain government property and we are going to provide regulatory functions. Fundamentally government wants to utilise a partnership that combines world class conservation practices with business expertise which places emphasis on financial sustainability of parks principally through tourism associated private enterprises which also serves as a foundation for economic development and poverty reduction. Government will do everything possible to ensure that the firm is provided with moral, social and political support.