Last October President Sata of Zambia dissolved the board of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) claiming that it was ineffective and ignored the needs of local people. When the board was dissolved, with immediate effect, there were promises of a new look authority in the future. Details are now appearing about the new organisation and it looks like it means business.
Over last weekend one of the biggest ever wildlife and conservation conferences was undertaken in Zambia to put in place a plan for the future. The new proposals aims to break the cartel of foreign ownership of hunting rights to allow the wealth generated by tourism to be spread down to local people. There’s also plans to boost the equipment of the wildlife rangers so they will be as well armed as many of the poachers the rangers are expected to confront.
Lieutenant General Mihova, chairperson for the Central Joint Operations Committee, was at the unveiling of the new uniform and stated, “You (ZAWA officers) are now comrades in uniform. Poachers pose a threat to national security because most of them belong to organised international syndicates”.
Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo announced on Monday during a live TV programme during the conference that she will break the cartel of a small number of foreign operators who currently dominate the wildlife sector in Zambia. She proclaimed that she will break the ‘wildlife barons’ in order to spread the wealth around, “There’s so much ignorance by the local people when it comes to wildlife. About 98 percent of these hunting licences are run by our colleagues from outside the country“.
Calls were also made at the conference for a total ban on the issuing of hunting licences for between 2 and 5 years to allow wildlife to recover. Many once common species such as antelope are close to depletion in the country.
The call for the ban on hunting was led by the Lusenga Trust Wildlife Company and supported by hundreds of tourism lobbyists and protestors who demonstrated at the meeting with placards displaying slogans such as “Shoot animals with your cameras, not with guns” .
Ms Masebo asserted the government’s support of tourism and wildlife by announcing that easy access to special hunting licences and abuses of those licences are a thing of the past under the new administration. “The PF government is committed to developing tourism, and wildlife is a cornerstone of this sector,” she said.
And Ms Masebo said, like Minister of Home Affairs Edgar Lungu, she does not want anyone to go to her office to lobby for special licences. “And to my friends, please don’t come to my office to ask for special hunting licences. Those are for traditional leaders during ceremonies,” she said.
The conference also saw a new look to the ranger service of Zambia with the unveiling of a new ‘zebra stripe’ uniform replacing the 40-year-old previous look. At the unveiling of the new uniform a committment was made by Ms Masebo that the officers will be equipped with modern and sophisticated weapons by the end of the year to allow them to ’declare war’ against the poachers.
Lieutenant General Mihova, chairperson for the Central Joint Operations Committee, was at the unveiling of the new uniform and stated, “You (ZAWA officers) are now comrades in uniform. Poachers pose a threat to national security because most of them belong to organised international syndicates”. He also highlighted how many terrorist groups now use profits from poaching to fund their activities.
ZAWA director general Edwin Matokwani said the commissioning of new uniforms for officers is in line with the PF’s promise to change the face of ZAWA. “ZAWA will do its best to protect wildlife so that we can unlock the tourism potential,” he said.
Mr Matokwani said ZAWA will transform into a paramilitary organisation with the skills to take on the operations of poachers.
Ms Masebo also announced that the government is looking into the option of a major refunding of the Zambia Wildlife Authority to make it effective again. She noted how when ZAWA was first formed from the National Parks it inherited a number of aircraft and 3,000 troops. Today ZAWA have no planes and it’s troop numbers are down to just 1,250 personnel.
Ms Masebo offered no definite plans for a future board for ZAWA saying that there are options for either bringing the rangers back to operate within the remit of the National Parks service or if a new ZAWA board is put together then it would need to be radically different a progressive and be dominated by Zambians rather than dominated by foreign operators and representatives.