Mozambique offers plenty for the visitor: a fascinating culture, historic architecture, spectacular scenery, and wildlife. Once a compelling tourist destination, Mozambique has faced its challenges the past three decades. A fifteen year civil war caused tourism to cease, and even after the war’s ending in 1992, only the last five years have seen modest tourist growth. Meanwhile, wildlife conservation took a huge hit, and Mozambique’s tourism industry to this date lags behind most of its neighbors.
Tourism still faces obstacles: the country of 23 million is still relatively isolated; air connections are few and flights are expensive. Visas are still a requirement for most foreign nationals. And Mozambique’s diverse wildlife, one of the biggest reasons for visiting this southeastern African country, is still recovering after decades of neglect and destruction. To that end, eco-tourism could be a tool for growing both sustainable development and economic opportunity. Now the World Bank is entering Mozambique’s eco-tourism market.
The World Bank and Mozambique’s Ministry of Tourism signed an agreement that will develop and operate an eco-tourism project that aims to both create jobs and pave the way for locals to participate in the tourism sector. Partnering with an association of 850 people from three communities, the agreement will lead to the construction of a lodge in the Maputo Elephant Reserve, a wildlife park that is also layered with stunning beaches, just 20 miles south of the country’s eponymous capital.
The agreement is important for a few reasons. Many outsiders cry with dismay over the destruction of Africa’s wildlife habitats because of development and of course, poaching. The engagement of locals will involve them in the management of their country’s natural resources, while taking a step to reduce poverty that induces some folks to illegally poach wildlife in the first place. Finally, the US$3 million investment will not solely be a commercial venture, but instead, be part of a community-private-public partnership that will create at least 50 jobs. Rather than being employees, local residents will also become business partners if the plan stays true to form.
The World Bank’s involvement stems from its partnership with the Anchor Program and the International Finance Corporation. The three organizations work with Mozambique’s government to identify tourist sites that can support tourism with a minimal environmental impact, while grooming Mozambique’s government to make the country more business friendly. If the results do end up with a site that encourages tourism without the destruction that can come with over-development, this community-based partnership could be model for other eco-tourism plans elsewhere in Mozambique, Africa, or even across the world.