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Nobel Winner: Africa Sacrifices Wildlife for Farms

July 20, 2005

JOHANNESBURG — Africa must stop pushing out wildlife to make way for farming or it will lose out on crucial tourism revenue, Kenya’s Deputy Environment Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai said Wednesday.

If used properly, Africa’s wildlife could bring in enough cash to massively improve public services, Maathai said in Johannesburg after giving the annual Nelson Mandela lecture in front of the former South African leader, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and other dignitaries.

“We are sacrificing wildlife for agriculture,” she said. “In Kenya, we would be able to provide free secondary education if we manage our wildlife better and manage our tourism better instead of encroaching on savannah and wildlife.”

Most wildlife reserves in Kenya are owned by foreign operators or white Kenyans, and local people should see more money from tourism coming into their communities, said Maathai who won the 2004 Nobel prize for her work as an environmental activist.

“Because our people have not valued wildlife as a resource because of the pressure on land and the expansion of agriculture, we push wildlife out and are more interested in planting maize and beans,” she said.

Many African governments were keen to address the problem and work to salvage environments such as the Congo basin that had been devastated by mining, forestry and industry, she said.

But they might need outside support and would fail unless they could convince their own people, she added.

“In the Congo, the law alone will not do it and the governments there do not have the capacity to protect the environment alone. You need the participation of the people.”

Control and use of land was often an emotive issue in Africa because of its colonial past, she said, and governments had to show strong leadership to prevent clashes, she said, mentioning Zimbabwe where critics accuse President Robert Mugabe of using seizures of white-owned farms to cement his political position.

“I am quite sure this issue is about party power and using land to help rally people around you. You really need a very safe and secure leadership to deal with that issue without using power to victimise those who are in a weak position,” she said.

But Maathai — once whipped, tear-gasses and beaten in clashes with the Kenyan authorities, but now part of President Mwai Kibaki’s government — said African governments were moving forward on good governance and environmental protection.

“I don’t think things are moving as fast as we would like,” she said. “Heads of state are talking much more openly about good governance than they did before. I don’t think (former Ugandan dictator) Idi Amin would survive today in Africa.”




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