Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Tommy Nambahu, shares with Mathias Haufiku some of the ideas he is considering for the Ministry, that is, the importance of sustainable trophy hunting and the need to ensure that conservancies benefit communities equitably.
Please share with us the contribution of tourism to the Namibian economy?
We are glad that tourism has really kept up with its mandate as a sector, to compete with others and still come up as one of the top contributing sectors to the GDP (gross domestic product). It is true that tourism is actually the third contributor to GDP after mining and agriculture. If we were to be given all the resources required, we do not see why we should stay at that number because we can even up our contribution and perhaps become number two after mining.
Developing the tourism [sector] has been a difficult task in a way because when we came here, we found some strategies and policies that needed updating, which we did. We also launched the growth strategy, the investment strategy and now we are trying to map out a direction for investors to come in to also map out areas where potential is untapped or where potential is not exploited to the fullest. We realised that we needed to do more when it comes to marketing. But I must say all these strategies are starting to pay off.
You have spoken so much about strategies and objectives; we know that diversification is one of the key factors to growth. In terms of domestic tourism, how is your Ministry ensuring diversification?
In terms of domestic tourism, we are still working out strategies. One of them is awareness, not many people know that when you are working you get exhausted and sometimes you just need to go out and rejuvenate. You need to go out there with your family and bond. We need to go out there and also get to know our country better and come back more informed, rejuvenated and energized.
So in terms of awareness, I think there is much to be done for us really to impress our people but it is necessary for them to travel in order to know their own country. It is also necessary for purposes of nation building. For example, we were in Etosha commemorating those that died during the struggle for liberation but very few people will tell you the date on which it took place and very few people will actually tell you where around in Etosha the shrine is located.
Travelling will help you, as a patriotic Namibian, to be able to relate to your history and all that is necessary for purposes of nation building. If you are talking about the battle of Hamakari, how many of our people have been to the shrine, not many. We have to create awareness around this domestic tourism and we have to create incentives for people to travel. People should not only travel for funerals or weddings, sometimes we must just go during our free time and travel our country.
Of course, we have a challenge because those that have the money do not always have the time to travel and those that have the time do not have money. So it becomes a paradox, which we have to encourage people to save in order to partake in these kinds of activities.
I must say there is a need to create cultural festivals for people to expose the cultures of the folklore of those people that live in those areas. So it will be interesting for me to go to //Karas to learn how the Namas live, for example, and come back better informed. Other areas might also have distinct features, take Usakos for example. The town was famous for its train station because all the trains were repaired [there]. I understand even trains from South Africa were brought there for repairs. So, how about Usakos creating a railway museum, which will surely draw visitors, or create a mining museum in Tsumeb.
We are simply saying there is a need to create monuments that will educate our people while they are touring the country. We are glad that towns like Outapi have Olufuko, which is a well-attended event because people are happy to go there and learn about that practice, other towns can emulate that. The income generated there will not come to the ministry, it will be there in those areas and subsequently used for development purposes. We can help [as a ministry] to market those events by putting them on the map and sending them to our foreign missions so when a person comes to Namibia they can visit our missions and get more information on what to expect.
These are some of the things that we want to look at in terms of domestic tourism. I think time has come for us to speak about this, at times we have investors coming here telling us where they are going to invest instead of us directing them. It then becomes the responsibility of those people in the earmarked areas, who want to tap into the tourism potential, to create a conducive environment where investors feel at ease to spend their money.
Issues such as cleanliness across the country should also be prioritized if we are to attract tourists, whether domestic or international.
We must be mindful about these things so that each and every one of us is aware of that. Taxi drivers must also be aware that their attitudes form part of the package used to lure tourists. Like people say, tourism is everybody’s business.
You have spoken a lot about development, the other arm of tourism also deals with nature conservation, how do we balance tourism development and also at the same time conserving or preserving nature?
There are some practices that have to be regulated. When you go to our parks, say Namib Naukluft, where some filming activities have been taking place. You will know that there are certain types of vehicles that we allow in such an environment. There are certain regulations that guide park users on what they can and cannot do.
As long as these regulations are kept or adhered to, we do not have a problem. But obviously if you are going to carry out a certain activity or development, we always require an environmental impact assessment study to determine the impact the activities you wish to undertake will have on the environment.
The permits we issue clearly state that the person who applied for it is required to restore the site to its initial condition prior to the time that any activities took place there.
When we are talking about development there are those that think the environment is a standalone thing, but it actually includes the people who cannot be devoid of their cultures and norms. Therefore, we equally tend to say we want people to come and see us the way we are. We are not going to transform ourselves, deprive ourselves of our values just to appease the tourists. Tourists come here to see us as we are, to see Namibia as she is not for us to try to modify ourselves to attract tourists. When it comes to cultures, we are aware of the impact that tourism can have on our cultures, norms and customs. We are therefore required to be aware and guided against these kinds of prejudices. The impacts that they may have on our culture and any other development should also be considered because people have to look at cultural preservation just as much as they concentrate on attracting tourists.
In terms of conservation, although there are some who do not agree with this, we would want to market or promote certain activities like hunting, for example. Hunting that could plough back into conservation. Tourism, if properly carried out, can generate millions and this money can be ploughed back into the community and to manage animals. That is how we are conserving and promoting tourism simultaneously.
So what you are telling me is that nature conservation and tourism development can coexist. Is that what you are saying?
Then why do we have communities that always have issues when it comes to conservation activities, especially human-wildlife conflicts?
The conflict will always be there. The history of conflict between humans and animals dates back to the days of dinosaurs. So what we have now is the growth of both species. Humans are increasing in numbers and so are the animals. As a result, they are encroaching and sometimes the poor animals are not left with anything since human beings are all over their place. The animals are simply reacting to the unwanted presence of humans having an upper hand. Since the humans complain more in public, we tend to sympathise with them because they are able to speak louder than the animals that cannot defend their case. Like now during the drought, the scarcity of water and grazing is forcing animals into the spaces occupied by humans. So, yes, we do not agree with animals disturbing humans but we must also sympathise with the wildlife that is trying to survive by all means. These kinds of conflicts between humans and animals are mainly exacerbated by the scarcity of resources.
It is unfortunate but it is something that we are working on, it is something that we have to ameliorate and also create awareness for people to be able to know how to handle the animals. There are times when a person sees an elephant and they start beating drums calling the entire village for help and they end up facing an attack because the animal starts to panic. But sometimes this animal was just passing by on its way to a water point. But if our people were well educated on some of these issues we could probably avoid these kinds of things. We are trying to enhance our efforts to ensure that.
Talk to me about conservancies; is the Ministry happy with how the programmes of conservancies has been implemented and how it is running so far? How is the reaction from the communities out there?
There are those that want community conservancies to be established in their areas of jurisdiction. The problem always comes in during the demarcation process. You find that a community wants to have a conservancy and in that same community you have someone who wants to set up a plantation in the middle of that conservancy. Those are the problems we face with the communities.
Despite the challenges, we are satisfied with the conservancies in the country and we are working hard to ensure that they benefit our rural communities.
We have to be frank, and I told the colleagues that I found here [in the Ministry] that we must have clear-cut benefit distribution formulas in place instead of leaving it to the market forces. If we don’t pay attention to those things, we will not achieve our objectives for which these things were formulated. Some areas have challenges but there are those where people are happy because they have received substantial benefits from the conservancies.
But there is still room for improvement on the benefit-sharing formula to ensure that each and every person in a specific conservancy benefits equally.
You seem to be concerned about the beneficiary formula. What is being done to ensure that it really benefits the masses?
These things are sometimes left for people to complain. It is like in law where you say the courts are there and if you are aggrieved you can lay your complaint. This is a country governed by the rule of law of the Constitution but sometimes it also boils down to the capacity factor. In law, we say you are applying an equal law to unequal people, how many of our people out there have the capacity to file these kinds of complaints and to stand up against those that might not be doing things in a proper way.
There are many government initiatives in this country where the resources are supposed to be benefitting the communities at large. When people apply to acquire certain rights and quotas they promise all kinds of things but as soon as they acquire what they applied for, they ignore the promises they made. If you do not have a formula, you will end up only empowering a certain few. These are the things that we must be concerned about, as a country and not just the conservancy area.
Let’s talk about trophy hunting. Many Namibians still feel that trophy hunting is not sustainable, how do we clear this perception?
For us as a Ministry, trophy hunting is a benefit. When trophy hunting takes place, most of the benefits are ploughed back into the communities and to take care of the various animal species. We don’t see how that is a bad thing. I cannot think of a better way that we can adopt to ensure that we reap the benefits in a sustainable manner from our resources. We never advocated for an elephant killing spree because all these are done on a quota basis, it is done as per the scientific methods of identification of which animal should be hunted. Trophy hunting is informed by our culture. All these things are done in terms of international law.
So you can vow that trophy hunting in Namibia is not done in an unsustainable manner?
Yes I can.