In the following section, the findings will be presented starting with a brief historical overview of nature conservation and infrastructure in the Zambezi region. In a next step, the nexus of infrastructure development and the expansion of the tourism sector will be explored. Finally, it will be examined whether rural residents are included in the tourism-driven growth.
Accessing a Resource Frontier: Corridor Development and Nature Conservation in the Zambezi Region
Since the early stages of colonialism, wildlife in the Zambezi had attracted travellers and hunters and hopes were pinned on the exploitation of its tourism potential. However, history reveals that the formation of a tourism industry did not unfold before three interrelated trends led to more favourable conditions: firstly, the transition from a conflict-affected region to a more peaceful region, secondly, nature conservation policy efforts to expand tourism and thirdly, the improvement of infrastructure connections.
Located in the north eastern periphery of Namibia, the Zambezi region has been regarded as a resource frontier ever since the arrival of European settlers to Southern Africa. Formerly known as the Caprivi strip, the motive for adding the region to the colonial acquisitions in South-West Africa was its presumed value as a transport corridor to the eastern parts of the continent. The dispossession of land and the establishment of white settler farms in Central Namibia was a rapid process starting in 1884. In 1907, the German colonial administration proclaimed that policing should be restricted to the “sphere of influence of the railway line or main roads” (Werner 1993, p. 193) which did not include the Caprivi. Between 1890 and 1909, the Eastern Caprivi strip functioned as “an El Dorado for shady characters, criminals or prisoners who went into hiding and a happy hunting ground for both part time and professional trophy hunters” (Kangumu 2011, p. 132). Game was abundant, as hunting was previously controlled by Paramount Chief Lewanika who lived in Western Zambia (Kangumu 2011). Although Grootfontein was connected to the railway system in 1908, the Caprivi was still difficult to access, with the result that “the German Resident” in Katima Mulilo lived “as in exile” (Meyer 1910, p. 279). It was only in 1909 that Kurt Streitwolf, a German captain, was installed as Kaiserlicher Resident in Schuckmannsburg in order to extend German colonial administration to the Caprivi (Streitwolf 1911). However, this administration only lasted until 1914, when the Caprivi was seized by Southern Rhodesian troops and administered by the High Commissioner of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (Curson 1947). Although the administration was formally handed over to the South-West Africa Protectorate authorities in Windhoek in 1930, the inaccessibility of the region made it necessary for administrative duties to be handled by the Native Affairs Department in Pretoria from 1939 onwards. By then the Caprivi could be accessed by train, bus or boat from Livingstone or Kasane, or by plane (Curson 1947). As early as 1947 the development of a tourist industry was identified as a potential for growth in the region, besides the exploitation of timber, commercial crop farming and logistics on the Zambezi River (ibid.).
Under South African rule, the Odendaal Commission recommended government-driven development, which resulted in an upgrading of infrastructure, including the development of unpaved road connections to Western Caprivi and Ngoma (Zeller 2009). The region gained military importance due to ongoing clashes with liberation forces in Angola and Zambia during the 1960 s and 1970 s (Lenggenhager 2015), which led to further investment in infrastructure, for example the construction of the Mpacha military airport near Katima Mulilo in 1965. Parallel to the infrastructure development, conservation areas were declared: Western Caprivi was proclaimed a Nature Park in 1963 and in 1964 Katima Mulilo and its surroundings were granted the status of a nature reserve (Kangumu 2011). However, the declaration of nature reserves was mainly motivated by security considerations (Lenggenhager 2015). While first resettlements for the creation of conservation areas date back to the 1930s, the establishment of a state forest and the development of two game reserves, Mamili (today Nkasa Rupara) and Mudumu, caused further relocations during the 1970s and 1980s (Bollig and Vehrs 2020). The latter two areas were designated as nature reserves in 1989, setting a milestone for the creation of “an anthropogenic wilderness (ibid.: 34)” that serves the vision of an economically productive conservation landscape. During the 1980s, the centre of military conflict shifted westwards, away from the Caprivi, which permitted the emergence of the first camps and fishing lodges. The presence of military forces had caused a depletion of the game population, as officials had hunted excessively, both for sport and to trade ivory (Lenggenhager 2015). Formalised trophy hunting came into being in 1988, when two concessions enabled PHs from Central Namibia to expand their business to the Caprivi. Yet revenues from trophy hunting remained limited and were estimated at 163,000 USD in 1994 (Barnes 1995). Table 1 shows the increase in the number of tourism establishments in the Caprivi. Prior to independence in 1990, the number of lodging facilities was distinctly low. The economic potential of the wildlife was not fully exploited until the region was connected to the rest of the country and nature conservation policies were introduced.
Despite the political unrest triggered by the independence movement between 1994 and 1999, known as the “Caprivi conflict”, the number of tourism establishments in Zambezi increased considerably until 2005 (Table 1). After independence, the construction of the TCC was planned to overcome regional disparities caused by the colonial system. The Zambezi region retained a peripheral status until the road connecting it with the rest of Namibia was tarred from the mid-1990 s and officially opened in 1999 (Zeller 2009). The construction of a bridge spanning the Zambezi River and connecting Namibia with Zambia in 2004 was a milestone of the corridor development, allowing access to the landlocked copper mines in northern Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the following years, the TCC was to be integrated into a transnational vision of infrastructure connectivity and was subsequently known as the WBNLDC.
In 2000, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group was established to manage four growth corridors connecting the port in Walvis Bay to the landlocked hinterland, including the WBNLDC. The members of the group are stakeholders from Walvis Bay, e.g. Walvis Bay Port Users’ Association (WBPUA), logistics companies (Namibia Logistics Association) and Ministries. In addition to the development of “hard” infrastructure, like roads, rails, ports, electricity grid, water and ICT, the corridor plan drafted by the Australian consultancy AURECON foresees the instalment of complementary programmes such as truck stops, green-schemes, agri-hubs and logistics parks (cf. Fig. 1, AURECON 2014). Furthermore, catalytic investments in key sectors (mining, energy, manufacturing, water, aquaculture, agriculture, property and tourism) are planned with the aim of inducing broader economic stimuli in selected hubs along the corridor. Due to its strategic location on the borders of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, Katima Mulilo is highlighted in the national logistics strategy as possessing “the most viable and unique nodal development opportunities” (Walvis Bay Corridor Group 2018). Given its vicinity to nature parks and attractions, substantial growth potential is expected for the tourism sector (Ministry of Lands and Resettlement 2015). Subsequently, the Tourism Investment Strategy encouraged the formation of a public-private partnership for tourism-related waterfront development in Katima Mulilo (Ministry of Environment and Tourism 2016), which, however, failed to materialise due to maladministration and financial irregularities (https://www.namibian.com.na/148511/archive-read/Zambezi-waterfront-closes-doors).
Simultaneously to the improvement of infrastructure and the accompanying policies for fostering tourism, two newly introduced nature conservation policies, CBNRM and KAZA, expanded the previous efforts to conserve nature and resulted in the formation of a conservation landscape. CBNRM projects started to emerge across Southern Africa during the 1980s in response to more exclusionary conservation policies. In Namibia, CBNRM after independence was linked to the political agenda that aimed to overcome territorial disparities caused by colonial administration (Dressler et al. 2010). CBNRM policy permits communities to form a conservancy and grants them the right to market wildlife as a resource for the tourism industry (Kalvelage et al. 2020). The first conservancy to be established in Zambezi was Salambala in 1998, 14 more have emerged since then. The attention of international donors shifted increasingly towards the concept of trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCA) during the late 1990s and early 2000s (Büscher 2010). Thus, an international alliance of donors and conservationists pushed ahead the establishment of the Kavango-Zambezi Tranfrontier Conservation area (KAZA), which integrates the Zambezi region into a wider network of nature conservation attempts in the neighbouring countries (cf. Fig. 3). After an initial memorandum of understanding in 2006, KAZA was finally launched in 2012. The stakeholders include international donors (e.g. German Development Bank, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, World Bank), large conservation organisations (e.g. Peace Parks Foundation, World Wide Fund for Nature, African Wildlife Foundation) and government bodies (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Southern African Development Community, ministries of the participating countries). The proclaimed aim of the KAZA initiative is “to sustainably manage the Kavango-Zambezi ecosystem (www.kavangozambezi.org)” and to transform the KAZA region “into a premier tourist destination in Africa” (https://tfcaportal.org/system/files/resources/KAZA%20TFCA%20Treaty_SIGNED.pdf). To this end, administrative units are formed with the aim of working towards a harmonised legal framework. Today, 54% of the Zambezi region is protected to varying degrees, including national parks, communal conservancies, a state forest, tourism priority areas and wildlife corridors (own calculation). Continuing a strong critique of earlier conservation approaches, these policies are not undisputed: research has revealed discontent among smallholder farmers regarding harvest losses caused by wildlife, residents claim the distribution of conservancy income does not reach individual households and that the designation of areas for tourist activities negatively affects agriculture (Hulke et al. 2020).
The number of accommodation establishments in the Zambezi region have nearly doubled from 2005 to 2018 (Table 1), in 2005, 24 establishments catered for an estimated 31,000 guests in the Zambezi region (Suich et al. 2005). By 2018, the number of businesses had risen to 47 (Kalvelage et al. 2020), although the total number of guests per year is not clear. In an analysis of border post data, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) counted 1,499,442 arrivals to Namibia in 2017, with 580,519 arrivals reporting that their trip was for holiday purposes (cf. Table 2). This figure is confirmed by data collected by the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), which recorded 588,086 guests in 2017. The 27 enterprises that participated in the business survey reported 26 beds on average. By applying this figure to the missing 20 values, we estimate that 456,980 overnight stays can potentially be sold per year. The average occupancy rate of the surveyed enterprises was 41.42% (HAN data suggest an occupancy rate of 50.21% for northern Namibia and 48.64% nationwide), which means that 189,281 overnight stays were actually sold in 2017. The average duration of a stay in Zambezi hospitality enterprises was 3.15 days. Dividing the number of overnight stays by this factor yields an estimated 60,125 visitors in 2017, a figure that seems realistic when it is taken into consideration that both the number of establishments and the number of visitors have doubled since 2005. About one third of tourism in the region is domestic, while Europeans account for the largest group among the foreign visitors (Table 2).
Against the background of an overall increase of tourism arrivals in Namibia (Kavita and Saarinen 2016) and the increasingly peaceful conditions in the Zambezi region after the end of apartheid, the impact that improved infrastructure access and targeted nature conservation policy interventions have had on the tourism sector is not clearly identifiable. In order to examine the correlation between growth corridor policies and the development of the tourism sector, the remaining two sections of this paper therefore aim to clarify first, whether growth corridors succeed in enhancing value from tourism, and second, whether the value created via tourism reaches rural households in the region.
Do Tar Roads Bring Tourism? The Territoriality of a Growth Corridor
Qualitative interview data with tourism operators suggest a causal relationship between infrastructure improvements and the expansion of the tourism sector in the Zambezi region. However, findings of the traffic census indicate that positive effects exist, but unfold along the central nodes of the corridor.
Prior to the tarring of the TCC, tourism logistics were challenging in the Zambezi region: “we started by doing logistics around the Caprivi. Because […] roads were very bad. I mean a lot of them have been tarred since we opened, and people were scared of coming to north with self-drives because the cell-phone signal was bad […] (TO2)”. The improvement of the infrastructure has increased the potential of tourism in the region: “Well, I guess, since the Trans-Caprivi tar road was finished [tourism has improved], from Rundu to Katima was gravel, a nightmare, 500 km gravel, straight ahead (TO1)”. The good condition of roads in Namibia has been used to market Namibia as a self-drive destination (BA1) and the share of independent travellers has been growing steadily: “Twenty years ago, nobody dared to come here except by bus. Because they said, you know, I get on a bus, I have a driver who takes me everywhere safely. But at some point they realized, you know, Namibia is so easy to travel. The roads are actually good, the tarred roads (TO3)”. This development has led to an overall increase in traffic, as “before there was a bus with 30 people, now there are 15 cars with two people (BA1)”. Not only tour operators, but also hunting outfitters highlight the importance of infrastructure quality for business. Although most hunting clients arrive at the airport in Katima Mulilo, the road has a crucial function for the acquisition of spare parts and food supplies from Windhoek (PH1).
However, the Zambezi region remains simply a stopover on the way to the main tourist attractions of Chobe National Park in Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe: “Up in the Zambezi, you can now drive from Rundu to Katima everything on tar and even the loop down there in the corner is already tarred. Did it bring more tourism? It is of course faster tourism (BA1)”. Stakeholders in the region aim to overcome this shortcoming: “(…) we are working hard with all the accommodation and other bodies here to keep people in the Caprivi for long (…). So our focus has shifted from just that to trying to get more activities and accommodation streamlined to get people to stay here for four days or a week (TO2)”. On the one hand, infrastructure improvements have facilitated tourism activities in the region which has led to an increase in tourism-related traffic. On the other hand, challenges remain for the domestic tourism industry to increase the duration of stay.
These findings are supported by traffic census data. Traffic was classified into three categories: tourism, cargo and other. The first category includes all vehicles with the markings of a tourist car rental, tour buses and self-drive tourists. The second category includes all trucks and cars with a company sign or logo. The remaining vehicles were classified as “other”.
Figure 2 shows the traffic flows on 3 days at the different posts. A total of 1795 vehicles were recorded, with tourism-related traffic accounting for 25%, cargo and other business for 36% and other traffic for 39%. While Wenela, the border post close to Katima Mulilo, did not exhibit a significant number of arrivals and departures, the share of tourist-related traffic was considerably higher in Ngoma. The poor condition of the roads prevents tour operators from offering tours to Zambia (TO1). The quality of the infrastructure is a crucial cost factor for tour operators: “I think right now [tour operator] is replacing the shock absorbers on every sprinter [Mercedes Sprinter] after every trip, it costs N$ 7,000 every time, so there, infrastructure is very, very important (TO1)”. Therefore, traffic at Wenela border post is dominated by freight traffic. Freight traffic to and from the port in Walvis Bay to the mines in Zambia and Congo is significant (LOD1). At Wenela, 76 trucks travelled south with 7 containers, 33 loaded with copper, 14 with timber products and 22 with other cargos. At Ngoma, a significantly higher share of tourism related traffic was identified, which is not a surprise as the classic tourism route in Zambezi leads to Chobe National Park in Botswana and further onwards to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The Victoria Falls, however, would also be accessible via Livingstone on the Zambian side. The bad condition of the road inhibits tourism in this part of Zambia.
In addition, the origin of the vehicles has been recorded as illustrated in Fig. 3. 59% of the vehicles were registered in Namibia, followed by Zambia (20%), RSA (11%), Botswana (7%) and other origins (4%). The total number of vehicles registered in the Khomas region (479) surpassed even Zambezi (187) by far, followed by the neighbouring Erongo region (142), where the port city of Walvis Bay and the tourist resort of Swakopmund are located. It is striking that the vast majority of the number plates were from Windhoek and the neighbouring Erongo region, the country’s economic powerhouse. While this analysis may serve as a rough indicator of the territoriality of the corridor, company headquarters identified by the markings on vehicles can give some indication of how far the impact of the corridor development reaches. The majority of the companies identified are located in the towns along the corridor: Windhoek accounts for 88 companies, followed by Ndola (59), Lusaka (57), Swakopmund (28) and Walvis Bay (22). Most of this traffic consists of trucks transporting primary goods from the copper mines in Northern Zambia and Southern DRC to the coast in Namibia. Windhoek acts as a gateway city for tourism and is as well home to a large number of tourism companies: “(…) the main tourism actually starts here in Windhoek. The people fly mainly all to Windhoek or to Walvis Bay and from here the whole tours start (BA1)”. 22 vehicles from tourism companies based in Katima Mulilo were recorded, as well as vehicles from companies in Kasane (9) and Livingstone (7). These findings indicate that positive growth effects from tourism mostly unfold along the central nodes of the corridor, since the majority of companies is based there.
The corridor serves primarily as a transport route from the resource extraction sites (the copper mines in Zambia and DRC) to Windhoek and the port at Walvis Bay. Yet, during the high season, large shares of the traffic in the Zambezi region is tourism-related. Growth in Zambezi region is however limited to accommodation, whereas other segments of the tourism industry, such as tour operators or car rentals, are based in Windhoek and Kasane. Moreover, the Zambezi region serves merely as a stopover for tourists, as interview data and the low number of visitors in the national park indicates (Table 2). The question arises as to whether the policy objectives of promoting growth in rural areas are being met, in other words, are rural households benefitting from tourism?
Who Benefits? Local Effects of a Growth Corridor
From a GPN perspective, regional development is closely bound to the ability of regions to capture value. A previous study had found that conservancies as local institutions are able to enforce value capture at local level, with roughly 20% of the tourism value remaining in conservancies (Kalvelage et al. 2020). However, other literature suggests that conservancies are prone to elite capture (Silva and Mosimane 2014) and households actively participating in the conservancy benefit more (Bandyopadhyay et al. 2008). Hence, value capture at conservancy level cannot be equated with an inclusive development strategy for large parts of the population. To assess the effects of tourism on household income, household survey data are analysed.
As tourism is the primary source of funding for conservancies (over 95%), tourism-related benefits for rural households in Zambezi can be classified as direct benefits (through employment at a lodge/hunting camp or tourism business activity) and indirect benefits via conservancies (employment at a conservancy, cash pay-outs and other benefits, cf. Table 3). There are additional indirect benefits that are not revealed by the data, for example the revenues generated from the supply of food and building material to lodges. However, a previous analysis found that the effect of local procurement is small (Kalvelage et al. 2020).
In the survey sample, it was not possible to identify any entrepreneur with a direct link to tourism. A previous study found that a lack of industry-specific skills, capital and a network constitute entry barriers for local entrepreneurs (Kalvelage et al. 2020). However, 41 respondents reported that they were employed by a tourism enterprise, which represents 2.83% of the total workforce in the sample (1447, aged between 18 and 60). The average monthly wage is 1614 N$ (114 USD). This low figure can be explained by the fact that the respondents are mainly employed in low-wage jobs, e.g. as waiters/waitresses, security guards or bartenders. Interestingly, the vast majority of the employees live in close vicinity to their place of work (97.5%). According to the Zambezi 2011 census, the rural population figure for Zambezi is 62,234. Given that the sample represents 5.256% of the population, the rural population of Zambezi earns roughly 15,105,023 N$ in annual wages from the tourism sector (Table 3).
Projecting the number of jobs (41) to the whole population indicates that tourism enterprises in Zambezi provide 780 jobs, both formal and informal. Naidoo et al. (2016) found that lodges employ between 20 and 50 staff members and hunting camps 8–10. Given the total of 47 accommodation facilities and 11 hunting operators in the Zambezi region (Kalvelage et al. 2020), this would suggest an employment potential of between 1028 and 2460 employees in the tourism sector. However, the business survey includes smaller enterprises in urban areas, such as backpacker hostels with a considerably lower job creation effect. The finding based on the household survey therefore appears more accurate.
We add the indirect benefits resulting from the conservancy structure to these figures. The survey found that 15 individuals (or 1.04% of the overall workforce) are employed by a conservancy, e.g. as game guards, enterprise officers or managers. The average monthly wage is 1196 N$ (85 USD), which adds up to a total contribution of household net income amounting to 4,095,890 N$ (250,000 USD) per year for the whole population. Furthermore, 75 households reported having received payments from a conservancy, either as part of a benefit-sharing programme (64) or as a Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) offset payment (11). These payments amount to 1,310,864 N$ (79,000 USD, cash pay-out) and 277,550 N$ (17,000 USD, HWC offset payments). 45 households reported having received non-monetary benefits, the most common being meat, electrification programmes and community funds (however, this is not included in the analysis). Totalling 20,789,327 N$ (1,471,850 USD), benefits derived from tourism for the Zambezi population as a whole represent 5.5% of the net household income. In comparison, the Basic Social Grant is a monthly unconditional allowance of 1100 N$ paid to all residents over the age of 60 (https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/RessourcePDF.action?id=53959). Our sample found n = 388 household members aged 60 or older. Projecting this number to the whole population, we estimate that in the rural Zambezi region, 7382 elders receive a total of 81,202,000 N$ (5 m USD) per year, which four times higher than the household income derived from tourism.
Surprisingly, these figures are not in line with the results of an earlier report (Kalvelage et al. 2020) which is based on the annual financial reports from the conservancy managements that are collected by The Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO). While these self-declarations report that direct cash pay-outs to members total 400,000 USD in 2017, household survey data suggest a total amount of 96,000 USD in 2019. Possible reasons for this discrepancy could be the methods used, that the data were collected in different years or that there was a shift in policy from direct cash pay-outs to investments in development projects. However, as the figures differ quite strikingly, there is a need for further research. Despite the overall growth of the tourism sector partly facilitated by improved accessibility, the data indicate that the intended benefits of conservation do not fully reach the conservancy members. In general, value capture from tourism at community level in Zambezi is low.