It's strange, this week's mission has reminded of an experiance I found deeply touching and inspiring at the time, but had completely forgotten about.
I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, so I may be biased but I still think it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. Besides the tourist trap of the Victoria Falls there are thousands of truly magical places. From Hwange, a game reserve the size of Wales, to the rolling green hills of the Eastern Highlands. Gonarezhou has some of the most awe inspiring landscape this side of the Grand Canyon and the topaz blue water in Chinhoyi caves is hypnotising.
I was lucky enough to have parents determined that we make the most of these natural wonders, so we spent a great deal of time in government 'National Parks and Wildlife' accommodation. It was basic, under funded, but always spotlessly clean and the staff were usually very friendly.
So it felt as a bit of a betrayal to National Parks when I heard we were going to a CAMPFIRE project.
When we got there I was impressed. The accommodation, while still basic, had a bit more character and personality put into it than National Parks. I can't remember which site it was, nor why we stayed there because what struck me was the concept behind it.
National Parks and all the wildlife in them were owned and run by the state. Poaching had always been a problem and a great deal of money was spent on tracking, catching and prosecuting poachers. Sentences were harsh but it didn't seem to have much effect. I suppose when your children are starving the chances of getting caught seems worth the risk.
CAMPFIRE was a way around that. Rather than being owned by the state, the land and wildlife was handed over to the local population. They were taught about tourism, given training and seed funding to build accommodation, hire staff and so on. A local Village Committee would handle the day to day running, with further democratically elected committees at Ward, District and National level.
It was a huge risk at the time. Many critics predicted complete deforestion in a matter of months. Even the more liberal felt that the organisation was too top heavy, a decentralised, local ownership system would work better.
Fortunately, the critics were wrong. The number of species actually increased at most sites. The layers of committees prevented anyone dominating a village committee for their own ends. The fact they were democratically elected meant the most innovative and successful were promoted and good ideas were passed to other sites fairly rapidly.
What really struck me, however, was the power and wisdom in the African traditions. An Indaba was the traditional way of managing village affairs. Roughly translating to 'talk', at an Indaba anyone could have their say, and could talk as long as they liked. An indaba could sometimes go on for days because of this. And in the end it a headman would make a decision, it wasn't even a vote. This appeared a terrible waste of time to European sensibilities. If you were to have a debate then restrict it to experts, have a set procedure and then move on.
However, the power of the indaba was that everyone felt they had a part to play. When dealing with something like what to do with land, it meant everyone had an opportunity to have a say about the running of it. That gave them a sense of ownership of it. It may not exactly be time efficient, but it gets far better results for it!