Chikwawa, a district lying on the southern end of Malawi, is known for a number unique things which tip on both positive and negative sides.
Because of its extremely harsh hot weather, the district, which covers about 4 755 square kilometres, is a hotspot for malaria—one of Africa’s deadly killer diseases.
As a result, Chikwawa is always a beehive of activity as international organisations criss-cross its length and breadth, implementing various interventions to help reduce the threat of the disease.
On the other end, the district is home to expansive conservation wildlife habitat called Majete Wildlife Reserve. Among all the flora and fauna that it boasts of, the reserve site prides to be the only place enjoying the presence of the ‘Big Five’—Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino and Buffalo.
This fact, among other things, has made the wildlife reserve a preferred destination for both local and international tourists.
From 2003 Majete Wildlife Reserve has been under the management of African Parks, on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with the Malawi government, making it one of the 20 protected areas that African Parks oversees in 11 African countries in which they operate.
Park manager John Adendorf said the state they found Majete Game Reserve in 2002 was deplorable and sorry, with only few species remaining then, rampant poaching, extensive logging, fire, charcoal burning, limited resources and inadequate funding eating the life out of the natural habitat.
“That time, the whole area had only 12 members of staff against the 169 we have presently. The element of tourism had collapsed. No tourists visited in 2002 with an improvement recorded the following year when only three visitors were received,” he said.
The African Parks then embarked on a mission to restore and rehabilitate the reserve. The initiative included introducing new species in the park such as Buffaloes, Zebras, Black Rhino, Leopards, Giraffe, Cheetah, Nyala, Impala sourced from within and countries such as Zambia and South Africa.
Right now the reserve is a complete departure of the place that it was in 2002, having undergone massive transformation under the new owners.
Adendorf says now the reserve stands for both tourism and communities within and around it.
“We did not need the communities as adversaries but partners and the success of our story has thus been in part to their assistance and cooperation,” he said.
The park manager said they have strived to make communities around them key to all their operations such as the small-scale agricultural initiatives like bee-keeping, fish farming and running a community campsite which are aimed at boosting the economic status of the communities.
“We focus on tangible investments into the communities and not just lip-service. If the people around us are not happy then we will have running battles every day,” he said.
With the restored and growing tourism potential, the African Parks trained community tour guides (CTGs) who provide services to tourists visiting the place. Right now, the place has six CTGs.
One of the tour guides Paul Dickson, 30, from Maganga Village, Traditional Kasisi attests to the impact his engagement has had on him and his four-member family. He says in a good month he can make up to K400 000.
Dickson said: “When visitors come, we take them through the behaviour of the wild animals and the importance of some trees in herbal creation. Previously, the camp was using rangers for such a service, which was not right.”
This year, the ministry of Wildlife, Tourism and Culture led celebrations for the World Tourism Day, which falls on September 27, under the theme ‘Tourism For Inclusive Growth’.
Regional tourism officer (South) Christine Chimangeni said, among other facets, the theme is encouraging players in the sector that as the industry is recovering from effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it should include all who were affected by it.
Chimangeni said: “You will agree with me that tourism creates jobs for local communities. There are so many ways that communities benefit from the sector, so as we are recovering, we want to bring in all the different players that support the tourism industry.”