Thursday, April 27, 2006

NEWS: Conservancy in Caprivi Region Appoints First Female Manager

The Namibian (Windhoek)

April 27, 2006

Linda Baker

COEDILIA Muyoba, only 21 years old, has a huge responsibility on her slender shoulders.

As Namibia's first female conservancy manager, she co-ordinates activities for Kwandu Conservancy in eastern Caprivi.

Situated on the eastern bank of the Kwando River, Kwandu has the highest recorded number of human-wildlife conflict incidents in the country.

Bordered by Zambia to the north, Bwabwata National Park to the west and the Trans-Caprivi Highway to the south, the conservancy is a virtual highway for thousands of elephants travelling between Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Zambia.

Much of Muyoba's work involves placating irate farmers who have suffered damage to crops by elephants and hippos or have lost livestock to marauding lions, leopards, hyenas or crocodiles.

But she firmly believes that proper, sustainable management of resources will lead to financial improvements for communities, which can then decide on how to use funds for community upliftment.

"Through education, farmers have come to realise the value of wild animals in terms of tourism and trophy hunting," she explains.

"But they also want to prevent further damage and need their fields and livestock protected."

Muyoba has a natural talent for approaching problems in a pragmatic manner and states that the correct approach is a large part of the solution.

Recently, she was sponsored by Conservation International to attend a workshop in Livingstone where participants were taught to make 'chilli bombs' from Tabasco chillies and animal dung.

The day after her return, a farmer arrived at the conservancy office to report elephant activities in his fields.

In the absence of community game guards who usually investigate such incidents, Muyoba demonstrated how to craft chilli bombs.

Thefarmer was later successful in deterring the pachyderms from his fields and was grateful for the prompt action from his conservancy manager.

WINNING RESPECT Appointed just four months ago, Muyoba's sympathetic approach and efficiency in dealing with problems has fast won respect and acceptance from community members and her conservancy committee.

Kwandu Field Ranger Kebby Likwando scored Muyoba's performance so far as 'a thousand per cent'.

He was particularly impressed with her ability to deal with staff problems, comparing her nurturing nature to that of a woman tending to her crop fields.

Muyoba's week starts with a regular Monday staff meeting at which the week ahead is planned, along with staff movements and responsibilities.

She regularly liaises with Government departments and local non-governmental organisations, is involved in joint venture negotiations with lodges and co-ordinates community activities including meetings.

Muyoba also co-ordinates a human-wildlife conflict working group for the Mudumu North Complex Forum - a partnership between four conservancies, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and NGOs - and chairs a trans-boundary community forum known as the Sesheke West Community Resource Board in Zambia and Kwandu Conservancy in Namibia.

She is a keen learner and spends her spare time reading and listening to radio news broadcasts.

In the past, she says, education for women was frowned upon, but slowly, the importance of schooling women has been accepted.

She believes that traditional authorities have come to realise the role of women in society and now encourage girls to go to school.

RURAL REVOLUTION Muyoba is part of a rural revolution sweeping Caprivi, in which women's contributions as resource users, managers and decision-makers are taken seriously.

Wildlife and natural resource management was previously seen as the domain of men.

But as the primary users of natural resources, women have become empowered to make decisions.

"Men now call for proper representation of women in meetings," says Janet Matota, field co-ordinator of Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation.

Matota, who was the first recipient of the prestigious Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) environmental award in 2000, explains that between 35 and 40 per cent of conservancy committees in eastern Caprivi are represented by women.

And women are not merely there as window dressing.

"Our voices are being heard," remarks Matota.

"Our ideas are being listened to and our plans implemented."

IRDNC has been instrumental in encouraging women's participation in conservancy activities by organising a series of workshops that have helped women gain self-confidence.

Joyce Sitapata, an IRDNC field officer, runs assertiveness and public-speaking training courses.

"Women are now confident enough to stand up and have their say in public forums," says Sitapata.

"They organise meetings, share their ideas and make decisions about resources and management."

Meanwhile Muyoba is delighted to report that Kwandu Conservancy has also appointed the region's first female community game guard, Peris Mbambi, who performs all of the duties of her male counterparts.

"The time is ripe for women to come forward to show their commitment and co-operation to our conservancies so that common goals and objectives can be achieved through a common vision," she states.

Muyoba believes in the adage: "Educate a woman and you educate a nation".

Small wonder, then, that Muyoba, Matota and Sitapata are fast becoming role models in their own right to women throughout eastern Caprivi and Namibia.

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