Re­cov­er­ing from war, Mozam­bi­can na­tional park faces con­flict

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

A frag­ment of a bul­let-pocked wall in this Mozam­bique wildlife re­serve is a re­minder of a civil war that ended in 1992. To­day, an am­bi­tious re­vival of Goron­gosa Na­tional Park is un­der­way, but trou­ble looms again from the con­flict’s old foes. One of Africa’s rich­est ecosys­tems, Goron­gosa his­tor­i­cally has been a strong­hold of the coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion group, whose ri­valry with the rul­ing party has spi­raled into am­bushes, tit-for-tat as­sas­si­na­tions and other at­tacks in the last few years. The two sides have been ne­go­ti­at­ing, and a re­turn to war is un­likely. But the Goron­gosa Restoration Project, which is push­ing ahead with a 2017 budget of more than $8 mil­lion, is tread­ing a del­i­cate line be­tween ad­ver­saries.

Some funds go to aid for poor com­mu­ni­ties in con­tested ar­eas around the park. As in other parts of Africa, a well-funded agenda is vul­ner­a­ble to po­lit­i­cal un­rest be­yond its con­trol. “We re­ally are neu­tral,” said Greg Carr, an Amer­i­can phi­lan­thropist who leads the Goron­gosa non-profit group and has tele­phone num­bers for lead­ers of both fac­tions. Many of the 500 peo­ple work­ing for the wildlife park back Re­n­amo, the op­po­si­tion, and some sup­port Fre­limo, the rul­ing party, though man­agers dis­cour­age any sen­si­tive talk on the job.

One re­cent morn­ing, as in­sects trilled in the heat, rangers in uni­form saluted Rui Branco, the park’s head of law en­force­ment, be­fore de­part­ing on a pa­trol to thwart poach­ers who kill an­i­mals for their meat. “We’ve had op­por­tunism. You get poach­ers try­ing to pre­tend they’re some­one, or one of the sides, and they hope they’ll get let go be­cause of that,” Branco said. “In the be­gin­ning, it worked for them. The scouts would be afraid. And then we re­al­ized what was go­ing on.” Gov­ern­ment forces and Re­n­amo fight­ers stay out of most of the un­fenced park. The ri­val groups “know who we are, and they re­spect what we do,” Branco said.

The civil war that started in 1977 killed up to 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Fre­limo was a Marx­ist guer­rilla move­ment when it took power, and Re­n­amo rebels were backed by white-mi­nor­ity rulers in what was then Rhode­sia, and in apartheid South Africa. Af­ter post-war elec­tion losses, Re­n­amo (the Por­tuguese acro­nym for Mozam­bi­can Na­tional Re­sis­tance) now wants more re­gional au­ton­omy from Fre­limo (Mozam­bique Lib­er­a­tion Front), a process that could re­quire con­sti­tu­tional change. Euro­pean Union me­di­a­tor Mario Raf­faelli trav­eled to Goron­gosa in Oc­to­ber to try to meet Re­n­amo leader Afonso Dh­lakama, who can­celled af­ter al­leg­ing gov­ern­ment troops launched an op­er­a­tion.

To save our flora and fauna

Un­de­terred, the Goron­gosa Restoration Project is ex­tend­ing a joint man­age­ment plan with Mozam­bique for an­other 25 years. It believes it can build on gains that in­clude the par­tial re­cov­ery of lions, ele­phants and other wildlife pop­u­la­tions that were slaugh­tered for food dur­ing the war. Carr, who signed a Goron­gosa man­age­ment deal with Mozam­bique in 2008 af­ter a gov­ern­ment in­vi­ta­tion, has sup­port from the United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, or USAID, at $2 mil­lion a year, and the Global En­vi­ron­ment Fa­cil­ity, with a $7.5 mil­lion grant man­aged by the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram.

In a let­ter to Goron­gosa war­den Ma­teus Mutemba, USAID praised the park for progress “while sur­rounded by armed con­flict.” A re­cent cer­e­mony at Goron­gosa could sig­nal an ex­pan­sion of the 4,067square-kilo­me­ter (1,570-square-mile) park at a time when many African wildlife habi­tats are shrink­ing be­cause of hu­man en­croach­ment. En­tre­posto, a Por­tuguese busi­ness group that runs an ad­ja­cent hunt­ing con­ces­sion, said it wants Mozam­bique’s gov­ern­ment to add that land to the park, cre­at­ing tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties and a wildlife cor­ri­dor to the Zam­bezi River.

An­te­lope grazed in the dis­tance dur­ing the sign­ing event at dusk on a Goron­gosa plain. Guests in­cluded Maria AmÈlia Paiva, the am­bas­sador of Por­tu­gal, Mozam­bique’s colo­nial ruler un­til 1975. “We all die ...” sang Pe­dro Muagura, the park’s di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion. A cho­rus mostly com­posed of rangers and stu­dents study­ing in the park fin­ished the line: “... to save our flora and fauna.” It was fes­tive, but some park of­fi­cials wor­ried that the news might be ma­nip­u­lated for po­lit­i­cal gain. One the­ory is that Re­n­amo could al­lege that plans to ex­pand the na­tional park are a gov­ern­ment ef­fort to in­crease in­flu­ence in the area.

An­other worry is Mount Goron­gosa, whose in­cor­po­ra­tion into the park in 2010 was praised by con­ser­va­tion­ists and opened the way to re­for­esta­tion and cof­fee­grow­ing projects. How­ever, the area has been a vir­tual no-go zone amid re­ported in­cur­sions by the mil­i­tary. Sci­en­tists stopped work­ing on Mount Goron­gosa be­cause of the “po­ten­tial dan­ger,” said Piotr Naskrecki, an en­to­mol­o­gist who is help­ing to de­velop a re­search lab­o­ra­tory in the park. Goron­gosa’s de­vel­op­ment will pro­ceed, in­sisted Mutemba, the war­den. “We are op­ti­mists,” he said. “We’re not wait­ing.”

Dar­ryl Hen­dricks moves into po­si­tion on a break­wa­ter to pho­to­graph sea smoke ris­ing off the wa­ters of Casco Bay, in South Port­land, Maine. — AP

—AP

An ae­rial view shows part of Goron­gosa Na­tional Park in Mozam­bique, which is one of Africa’s rich­est ecosys­tems, with forests, grass­land, a lake and a moun­tain.

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