After visiting Zambia, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although there is a lot of poverty, Zambians have a high quality of life. The people were happy and very friendly to tourists. This shocked me as in most of my travels abroad I’ve had to be careful not to be taken advantage of and even robbed. There’s some frustration in Zambia that the country doesn’t perform as well as it could, but the reality is that it’s doing great for a nation of its type. Zambia is a very stable country that has never fought a war. Part of the country’s success is that the government recognizes all of the nation’s 73 chiefdoms. Each chief controls his own land and the profits from any economic activity in his area. Each tribe speaks its own language, but the tribes are able to communicate with each other in English due to their colonial history with England. It is rare for a county with such diversity to get along, particularly in Africa. The reality is that the people of Zambia are very peaceful, which is surprising given their northern neighbor, the Congo, is fighting a civil war. These peaceable traits could make Zambia very attractive to a strong tourism industry if there were enough investment. According to our guide, who has led safaris in Africa for eight years, “Zambia is the real Africa.”
Livingstone is known as the tourism capital of Zambia. This is due to its location near various national parks including the World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the country’s third largest industry only behind copper mining and agriculture. The city itself is completely reliant on this industry either directly or indirectly. Local villagers profit from the falls by selling merchandize to tourists. I don’t know if a better example of globalization exists than Zambia’s tourism industry. In a formerly isolated black country, it is now common to see white tourists on the streets. In the city, many locals work to attain desirable jobs in lodging and restaurants, while others try to sell any goods they may have to tourists on the streets. This has affected the village way of life visibly as locals exploit this new market. Though village life is common, they have also modernized due to western influence. For example, the Makuni village near Victoria Falls has a paved road leading to it, has walkway signs for its dirt trails and its chief owns his own vehicle. This success is largely due to the chief working with the tourism industry to arrange for foreigners to visit villages where the locals are more than happy to give tours and sell goods. The villagers benefit economically from this practice, but It is also changing the culture and identity of these people.
Most visitors come to Zambia to visit the grand Victoria Falls. This site is the major funder of the rest of the country’s 20 national parks due to the large amount of visitors is receives. One of the major faults in the industry is that the country’s other parks aren’t well advertized by the government either domestically or abroad. The government doesn’t provide enough funding for brochures to be printed for display at the visitor centers or lodges. For example, even though Victoria Falls receive a lot of visitors, the park which surrounds the falls is hardly recognized by visitors. These are places where the industry could expand.
The other inhibitor to expansion is that most the money the tourism industry brings in goes to companies abroad. All lodges except one we visited were foreign owned. It’s one of the major hurdles a developing nation such as Zambia has to overcome. The lack of wealth in Zambia equates to a lack of domestic investment.
My first few days in Zambia were focused on studies on the local tourism industry as well as learning about locals, their culture and lifestyles. We spent the days visiting local organizations, trusts and lodges and following up on what we learned with afternoon discussions. The focus on the class was on the importance of the tourism industry to local economies and the conservation of environment and wildlife which attracts visitors. We spent a lot of our time with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) which serves in the same manner as the National Park Service in the U.S.
The largest issue with conservation in Zambia and its surrounding countries is poaching. It’s done in such a large scale that it’s nearly eliminated lion and rhino populations and heavily affected water buffalo, elephants and other species. The issue is so severe that there are only nine white rhinos in the country which are guarded 24/7 by armed guards from poachers. Most illegal hunting however is done with the use of snares. Snares are simply tangles of barbed wire and are so widely used that ZAWA has a difficult time keeping up. To put it into perspective, the lodge we stayed at after our first week would sweep its roughly 100-acre property each week for snares. Wildlife organizations we visited in the area would also display snares they’d picked on large stacks by the hundreds. It is difficult to catch the culprits since there is so much land they cover and they are able to set up traps under the radar. Those who are caught are usually found when checking on their snares. They face a prison sentence when they do. Much of the issue is due to a lucrative market for such animals in a heavily impoverished area. This makes it a challenge to keep people from resorting to poaching for a living.
One of the more attainable methods to combat poaching is through education. In Zambia, education is not easily attainable, but it is possible. Public schools are often underfunded and sometimes hard to reach. Even so I was impressed to see how many kids attend school, which was visible when we drove by as classes were dismissed. Toward the end of our stay we were able to visit a public school that was well funded by the African Wildlife Foundation. They renovated their facilities and also the style of education, focusing on conservation of the environment and wildlife. I wonder what the long-term impact could be if all schools were that way.
ZAWA has only limited funding, so is its ability to operate is limited. This leads to a lack of confidence in the organization by locals and businesses. The owners of our lodge indicated they would be willing to work with ZAWA, but there is little interaction between them and other tourist lodges. Perhaps the private sector could help the organization’s operations in the future.