Privatise Africa's neglected parks: a bold move by a Dutch millionaire to privatise some of Africa's smaller national parks could be the saving of these wildlife sanctuaries. But critics say national assets should not be sold off. Milan Vesely has the details.

Author:Vesely, Milan
Position:Tourism
 
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Most African countries are so hard pressed to finance their social programs in education, HIV/Aids prevention, health care and basic infrastructure development that only those parks that attract the most visitors receive adequate government funding. Those least visited are usually neglected with the park's facilities, game ranger salaries and the maintenance of park roads being considered a low priority.

The result is that many smaller African parks and reserves are totally neglected, with only the most adventurous visitor making a trip to locations badly served by passable roads. Poaching is therefore rampant in these reserves, while local inhabitants also kill the game for food.

But now a Dutch multi-millionaire operating through a South African--based company has come up with a novel idea that could turn the situation around--privatise those parks that the governments of Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda are unable to develop.

In this context, the privatisation of such parks has gained widespread support with conservationist groups, and even the US State Department and the World Bank giving their approval to the idea.

Privatising Africa's smaller parks is the brainchild of Dutch tycoon Paul van Vlissingen. Extremely wealthy through his family run chain of Makro wholesalers, Van Vlissingen has an abiding interest in wildlife.

In a discussion with Nelson Mandela in 1989, Van Vlissingen was struck by Mandela's comment on how hard pressed the South African government was to find the necessary funds to maintain the country's wildlife heritage with social services taking vast sums out of the central government's budget. This led to the formation of a private company, the African Parks Management and Finance Company, to bring together both public and private resources to develop parks in five sub-Saharan countries.

Among the reserves selected are the Sioma Ngwezi and Liuwa Plains parks in Zambia, the Marakele National Park north of Johannesburg and the Majete reserve in Malawi. Management contracts for parks, in Kenya and Uganda are also under discussion with their respective governments.

"The state can bring in local expertise, scientists, wildlife from other parks and supply the land while I bring in international management expertise and the drive to make the parks a success," Van Vlissingen claims. "This will result in additional income to the governments who would otherwise earn nothing from such smaller parks." Van Vlissingen's...

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