Arusha — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has issued a new declaration aimed at strengthening conservation of the world heritage sites.
The document released, read and adopted at the end of an international conference on the heritage sites in Arusha which ended at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) over the weekend.
The “Ngorongoro Declaration on World Heritage and Sustainable Development 2016” was read before delegates by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Gaudence Milanzi.
“This is going to be a windfall to all communities around living within or around the world heritage sites across the world, including Tanzania and specifically here at Ngorongoro,” he said. The Declaration stressed that contrary assertion in some quarters, conservation was a key driver to sustainable development and must be embraced by policy makers in all countries.
Under it the main beneficiaries should be the communities living around them, he stressed as scores of delegates, many of them wildlife researchers, conservation experts and tourism officials toured the iconic Ngorongoro Crater.
A world heritage site is a place or man-made structure which is preserved because of its special cultural or physical significance to the global community and listed by Unesco.
Addis Ababa — Despite a cultural, historical and linguistic identity quite distinct from the rest of Africa, Ethiopia never became a major tourist destination on the continent.
But Ethiopia didn’t appear that bothered or did much to help itself in promoting its treasure chest of tourism gems. Where other countries would proclaim their natural heritage, beckoning tourists to come, Ethiopia chose modesty and hidden beauty.
The 2013 formation of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO), however, signalled a break with this trend and the Ethiopian government decided to take tourism seriously as a means of generating huge revenue for the nation and eradicating poverty.
The ETO was given a mandate to “boost tourism destination development and marketing, and enhance the benefits of tourism in a sustainable and competitive manner.”
Then in August this year, the Ethiopian Culture and Tourism Ministry made a bold announcement of a target to triple foreign visitors to more than 2.5 million by 2020. The ultimate goal: Ethiopia featuring in Africa’s Top 5 tourist destinations by 2020.
“There are many reasons tourism took a back seat but the number one was getting the basic infrastructure in place,” Solomon Tadesse, ETO’s CEO, told IPS. “Now, the government can fully get behind it based on the economic growth of the last ten years, which has also created a good impression with the outside world.”
Tourism in Ethiopia generates 2.9 billion dollars for the economy annually, close to a million jobs and about 4.5 per cent of the GDP, according to the World Bank. That percentage, however, trails the likes of Rwanda’s 9 per cent of GDP, and tourism accounting for about 11 per cent of global GDP.
In 2013, Ethiopia’s tourism industry was ranked 120th globally and 17th in Africa by a travel and tourism competitive index compiled by the World Economic Forum.
But for the past decade an upward trend–admittedly starting from a low base–has seen visitor numbers to Ethiopia increasing by at least 10 percent a year. During the fiscal year 2014/2015, more than 750,000 tourists came to Ethiopia, according to the ministry.
“Key tourism factors such as easy and fast growing air access, personal safety and local hospitality, rapid economic growth and, above all, fascinating discoveries to be made bode very well for rapid tourism growth,” Mike Fabricius of the South African-based The Journey, a tourism consultancy and marketing company commissioned by Ethiopia’s tourism ministry to develop a national tourism brand and marketing strategy, told IPS.
And Ethiopia’s tourism industry is looking to foreign partnerships, said Tadesse, to help it achieve this by investing in the likes of hospitality training centres, developing new niches such as adventure tourism–paragliding, hot air ballooning, mountain biking, highland marathons and the like suited to Ethiopia’s diverse and rugged terrain–and expanding beyond the country’s well established northern Historical Circuit to other regions that haven’t traditionally featured on tourist itineraries.
“The government has learned that, OK, we have these industries, textiles, mining, energy, this and that–so why not have tourism as another,” Tadesse said. “We know we are behind our neighbours and need to run and catch up.”
But catching up with African tourist powerhouses such as Kenya and Tanzania will require “gargantuan efforts,” Derek Schuurman, an African travel specialist with UK-based Rainbow Tours, told IPS.
While others within Ethiopia’s tourism industry urge caution, arguing Ethiopia doesn’t need to think in terms of catching up, rather should embrace its own unique tourism development model, and that the numbers game misses the main point.
“We could become the number one destination on the continent though not only by tourist numbers but for quality of the experience and the uniqueness of the landscape,” Greta Iori, a conservation and tourism professional with five years’ experience in Mexico, South Africa and Ethiopia, where she grew up, told IPS.
Most of Ethiopia’s tourism treats–including nine UNESCO World Heritage sites–the most for an African country–are fragile and risk being destroyed by hordes of tourists, Iori notes.
Another concern is that too rapid an increase in tourists can also lead to cultural clashes between locals and foreigners, resentment toward tourism for benefiting only the elite few, segregation of local societies, spiralling prices, money grabbing locals and increased crime.
“Generally it’s up-market tourism that works seamlessly, with the cheaper end that gives problems, and at the moment Ethiopia does not know which way to go,” an individual involved in Ethiopian tourism for more than 10 years told IPS, adding that mass tourism for Ethiopia could put its “golden goose in the pot.”
Those holding such concerns hope Ethiopia takes the more sustainable, lower volume option–compensating lower numbers by selling a higher quality product at a higher price–while tackling the weak operational state of its tourism industry by ensuring adequate facilities exist for tourists who respond to new, more proactive marketing.
This needs, they emphasise, to go beyond hotel investment and development to providing tourist information centres, well maintained public toilets, and official rest sites–providing the likes of restaurants, souvenir shops and medical centres–along major travel routes and around key tourism sites; common in other tourist destination countries but not so far absent in Ethiopia.
“Building infrastructure that meets the expectations of foreigners is key, as there is a limit to how much people are willing to rough it,” Greg Dorey, UK ambassador to Ethiopia, told IPS. “But the jury is out on whether it can build up the supporting infrastructure sufficiently well, given the huge obstacles it places in the way of foreign entrepreneurs investing in this sector–and foreign entrepreneurs, let’s face it, know better than most what foreign tourists want since their livelihood depends on understanding the requirement.”
For all the exciting projections and talk of transformative powers, tourism remains a fickle business–especially in Africa.
Just ask Kenya, which has seen tourist numbers decline since last year’s terrorist attacks and travel warnings issued by Western governments, resulting in deserted beaches and thousands of hotel rooms unoccupied. And when the Zimbabwean government announced in January a new 15 per cent tax on hotel accommodation for foreign tourists, the result was a slew of cancelations.
“This is a crucial learning point for Ethiopia,” lori said. “If we develop slowly and not at mass scale, the tourism industry will be more likely to cope with unexpected threats to tourist numbers and revenue, making it a long-term steady growth rather than a short-term gain. Rapid short-term development isn’t sustainable and has the ability to jeopardize the success and future of tourism for our nation altogether.”
Evidence suggests the Ethiopian government is at least trying to bring brains to bear in how to tackle the numbers conundrum. In addition to ETO, 2013 saw the formation of the Tourism Transformation Council, chaired by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn himself, and the Tourism Board to monitor the running of ETO.
“We’re starting from ground zero, though that’s not a weakness rather an advantage as we have learned from others’ mistakes,” Tadesse said.
Therein probably lies Ethiopian tourism’s greatest strength–there are still so many diverse cultures, landscapes and wildlife to be developed for tourist itineraries: the Simien and Bale Mountains; the forests of the South; the Sof Omar Caves; the Danakil Desert location of Lucy, the oldest and most complete hominid skeleton ever found, lending weight to Ethiopia’s claim as the cradle of humanity.
“This is the land of origins, here you get original human beings – you don’t get an artificial smile, you get an original smile,” Tadesse said. “Make it your travel destination and you’ll never be quite the same again. See you in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia has been named to be the World’s Best Tourism Destination for 2015. It was given the award by the the European Council on Tourism and Trade, who praised Ethiopia’s outstanding natural beauty, dramatic landscapes and ancient culture.
Thirty-one countries were considered for the illustrious award this year, with Ethiopia coming top of the pile. Ethiopia has nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, which were heralded by the commission and the aim is to boost tourist revenues to USD three billion this year – in 2013 revenues from tourism were at USD two billion. But instead of beach holidays and safaris, Ethiopia is promoting its imperial past, its natural beauty and its cultural heritage, one of which is Sidama’s New year, Fitche-Cambalala, writes Henok Reta.
Ethiopia has long been known for its cultural diversity. Words such as multi-lingual, multi-cultural and a typical heterogeneous society have been used by many to express these massive contrasts.
However, this time, the diversity includes the use of a different calendar. Visiting the land of the Southern Peoples, Nations and Nationalities at the present time would be an extraordinary experience for one who still wonders if Ethiopia uses a different calendar. Indeed, many have been surprised that the latest millennium celebration in Ethiopia took place nearly eight years after the rest of the world.
In Hawassa, seemingly attracting more massive numbers of local and foreign visitors than other bigger towns in the country, an ambitious plan is taking place–a plan that would probably make it an ideal tourist destination in East Africa due to its massive potential for tourism.
With a population of over 300,000 Hawassa is ever-working, ever-growing. The city is located 275km south of Addis Ababa, 180 km South of Ziway and 20 km south of Shashemene.
It is one of the fast growing cities in the country and can be considered to be model for many other towns all over the country. Since the current political administration took power almost 25 years ago, Hawassa has been named the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State.
Founded more than 50 years ago, Hawassa typically distinguishes itself as a home for more than 45 tribes in the southern region, which does not happen in other regional capitals. In spite of previous tribal conflicts in the regional capital, particularly between the indigenous Sidama tribe and others, nowadays Hawassa remains a capital of diversity. It draws tens of thousands of people for annual festivals and rituals.
Nevertheless nothing is as dominant as Fitche-Cambalala, the Sidama people’s New Year. According to socio-cultural heritages handed down by forefathers through generations to descendants, Sidama New Year (Fitche) has been celebrated for more than 2000 years.
The basis for such unique local New Year’s Day determination and celebration is the Sidama calendar which was an outcome of unreserved and relentless innovative efforts of selected knowledgeable and highly respected group of people who were actively involved in a profound study of the solar system among which the moon, earth, sun and stars are included.
Starting from the ancient times up to the present day this selected group of people has been undertaking comprehensive study on characteristics including shape, color, volume, distance between each other, mobility, change of their position through time and related situations of the solar system.
To accomplish the very tasks of such unique phenomenon in the locality, they get out of their living house at midnight and assemble outside and observe situations of the moon and stars for several hours a day for at least four to six days per month. Most of the time they perform such tasks collectively and on some occasions they carry out their study individually.
When undertaking the investigation in groups each will present analyzed findings of what he has observed and thoroughly discussions on observations and findings will be conducted to arrive at plausible conclusion. If observations and related investigations are done individually, investigation findings will be presented on appointed time and place where general meeting of the group is held.
Basically, it marks the herald of spring at least by a month beforehand. According to Aklilu Adelo, chief of Sidama zonal administration, the New Year celebration is based on a traditional wisdom of astronomy. Ayantos, respected elders, are the people who declare the day on which the New Year falls on after having appraised the stars in their calm night sky. He explains that Fitche-Cambalala has long been the most exciting holiday, featuring dramatic rituals for the Sidama people.
“Now, we have embarked on a new era to celebrate it with festivities and gatherings,” he says.
The regional capital is decked out with the Sidama clothing, dance and culinary activities on this three-day long festivity while the countryside continues celebrating for more than a couple of weeks.
From the very day the ayantos announce the start of the New Year, millions of Sidama people commence preparations at home. Somewhat conforming with another popular holiday – Meskel – everything, including food making, is held months ahead across the region. False bananas, locally known as enset, are the most significant source of food. A variety of Sidama’s traditional foods are made from enset.
Dances and merrymaking, popular activities among Ethiopians, have, for some time, been an incredible identity amongst the peoples all over the country. The first day of the festival features an eve revelry.
The eve of the New Year is popularly called Fitaari. During this event households residing nearby gather in the house of this eldest father in the neighborhood to celebrate the event.
As mentioned above, preparations made by each household to celebrate New Year had commenced several months ago and kocho or preferably bulla is prepared and mixed with butter. It will be served with milk to those who gather for the feast to welcome the New Year. Similar events take place on that very special event in each household in the communities.
Thousands of young men tour the city, dancing, chanting and carrying out the rituals that used to be made by their forefathers. The eve revelry starts at the city’s grand monument named Suduma and ends at the city’s rift valley lake.
The next day, the ayantos, gather at Gudumale, a savanna venue, to announce through a series of rituals that the New Year has arrived. An intense look into the lamb cecum (a pouch considered the beginning of the large intestine) by elders is also a basic part of the rituals held at the Gudumale that determines what is good or evil.
“We are not performing witchcraft, but we have an ancient traditional wisdom of prediction from the stars above and the pouch below,” Elder Shumumale Aluda, says. Despite a stern approach many of the youth have towards this practice, he believes they will ensure that their rituals live on. “Look at them. They are eager and willing to learn from us. They are all happy and proud of what we do.”
In fact, this reality is made clearer as the city sees an influx of young men holding spears and sticks, and wearing animals skins like their fathers did.
“We love our culture. We want to show Sidama’s culture is the best amongst the many Ethiopian cultures,” Teshale Fugamo, 24, says.
Sidama’s New Year, which is primarily celebrated in the Southern Region, does not only promote the young men, but also has a spot for girls and young women to display their attractive looks as well. Hundreds of young women and girls put on their typical traditional outfits for the festivities.
“I really enjoy it. I’m extremely happy to be a part of it. That’s why I can’t miss it every year, even though I live in Addis Ababa,” Lemlem, in Miss Sidama pageant winner, says.
Born from a traditional protestant family, Lemlem sees nothing that contrasts with her belief.
“I understand what many of my friends think. They’re wrong. It’s just a practice regardless of belief,” she explains.
According to the Sidama Zone Culture and Tourism Bureau, the regional government, along with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, are working hard to get United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO’s) recognition for its valuable preservation in the area of traditional rituals that can be used as a basis for science.
“We have a positive view with regard to its UNESCO registration. I hope it will be realized in a few years’ time,” Workneh Flate, the head of the bureau told The Reporter.
Cape Town – The United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has approved the designation of the Magaliesberg and Gouritz cluster ecosystems as Biosphere Reserves.
The two biosphere reserves add to the existing portfolio of six biosphere reserves in South Africa, bringing the total of these important protected ecosystems to eight.
South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs confirmed that the designation of the Biosphere Reserves was approved at the 27th Session of the Unesco Man and Biosphere (MAB) International Coordinating Council in Paris, France, on Tuesday. The Council is being held from June 8 to 12.
Welcoming the announcement, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa said: “South Africa is proud about the additional sites that have just been listed and the government, as the designation of these areas, supports national efforts of expansion of the conservation estate in addition to supporting the achievement of government’s development objectives”.
The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve straddles the Gauteng and North West provinces and falls within the Bushveld Bakenveld terrestrial priority area, which has been identified as a priority area for conservation action. The site is at the interface of two great African biomes, namely, the Central Grassland Plateaux and the sub-Saharan savannah with the remnants of a third biome, the Afro-montane forest.
The Magaliesberg Reserve covers approximately 360 000 ha and was located between the Pretoria and Johannesburg in the east and Rustenburg in the west, with approximately 262 000 people living within the designated area.
In addition, the area is endowed with scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich cultural heritage value while it is also of high archaeological interest as it includes the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa World Heritage site with 4 million years of history. The area contains rich floral biodiversity, a number of faunal species, and over 45 percent of the total bird species of Southern Africa.
The second newly designated site, the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve area covers an area of more than three million hectares and straddles the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. The area is globally unique as it is the only area in the world where three recognised biodiversity hotspots — the Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany hotspots — converge.
The entire biosphere domain falls within the Cape Floristic Kingdom which is the smallest, but one of the richest of the six floral kingdoms in the world, and the only one found entirely within the boundaries of one country.
The Gouritz Reserve is home to high levels of endemic plant species, threatened invertebrates and butterfly species. It also provides a migratory route for large mammals and serves as a nursery for marine species. Due to its immense historical significance, the biosphere reserve includes three components of the internationally renowned Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site.
The existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are:
Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998)
Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2000)
Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated 2001)
Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, designated 2001)
Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2007)
Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated May 2009).
“The government will continue to manage its growing portfolio of biosphere reserves in collaboration with land owners, communities and other partners to ensure that we meet Unesco standards and our own national goals of sustainable development,” Molewa said in a statement on Wednesday.
Molewa indicated that the implementation of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve management plan would create a number of alternative community opportunities in partnership with the private sector and mitigate negative industrial impacts in pursuit of sustainable tourism and cultural heritage development.
Molewa added that the designation of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, which was South Africa’s biggest biosphere reserve, “will enhance South Africa’s status as the third most biodiverse country in the world and enhance our effort to conserve the world renowned Cape Floral region”.
Launched in 1970 by the Unesco General Conference, the Intergovernmental Man and Biosphere Programme aims to improve human environments and preserve natural ecosystems. The Programme promotes research and capacity building with the main objective of reducing the loss of biodiversity and addressing the ecological, social and economic aspects. The Unesco network of biosphere reserves connects people around the world who were pioneering a positive future for people and nature.
The South African delegation was being led by the Acting Deputy Director General for Biodiversity and Conservation in the Department of Environmental Affairs, Skumsa Mancotywa, who was supported by the Heads of Departments for Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Thandeka Mbasa and North West Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development, Dr Poncho Mokaila.
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