by Godfrey Maravanyika / Financial Gazette – Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE (September 25, 2002) – Zimbabwe’s participation in the tripartite Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, now hangs in the balance as it emerged this week that the cash-strapped southern African country will require an estimated $10 billion to clear its side of the park of landmines planted in the area during the 1970s war of liberation.
The project — which also involves South Africa and Mozambique and is on the Zimbabwean side — is being hampered by problems of land mines strewn within the Gonarezhou National Park area which borders the Kruger National Park of South Africa, the Financial Gazette established yesterday. There is no money with which to remove the land mines from the Zimbabwean side of the park.
Although other partners in the project, Mozambique and South Africa, have made significant progress in developing their sides of the park, Zimbabwe which has failed to shed its financial handcuffs against a background of bleak near-term economic outlook, has made very little, if any, progress, amid lingering fears the project implementation clock could grind to a halt.
This has made Zimbabwe the only country among the three failing to implement the project, or at least move at the same speed with its counterparts. This means Zimbabwe will not immediately benefit from the park, the world’s largest wildlife sanctuary straddling the borders of three countries.
The regional wildlife park was set up to promote tourism in the region. In Zimbabwe, tourism was at one time the only bright spot in an otherwise sagging economy but has now lost its glitter as the country suffers dwindling international tourist arrivals in the face of dented international credibility.
Tourism industry sources who cited a string of last-minute complications and financial glitches, as having scuppered developments on the Zimbabwean side of the park, yesterday said Zimbabwe, facing a crippling foreign exchange crunch, needed to raise at least US$2 million to clear the mines. This is a top line ripple for a crisis-hit economy struggling to break out of the doldrums.
Environment and Tourism Minister Francis Nhema this week confirmed they were facing problems of land mines in the Gonarezhou. “It is true we are facing some problems of land mines but it is not the whole Gonarezhou that is affected but just a portion of the park,” said Nhema who could not indicate the cost of the exercise nor the extent of the minefield.
“Last time we managed to remove some of the mines because of the assistance we received from the Germany embassy who financed the de-mining exercise. “However, there is still a portion to be cleared,” he said.
The government, in the face of an unprecedented economic melt-down that has seen business scale back on expansion and instead mount a wave of cost-cutting measures, does not have the wherewithal to finance the mine clearing exercise, casting a pall over the country’s early participation in Africa’s biggest transnational park.
The situation is worsened by the fact that international support for Zimbabwe, now increasingly considered a bad debtor and a pariah state, has since evaporated.
“The South Africans have made a lot of progress in developing their side compared to us. Even the Mozambican side has so far progressed well,” said one official. “However, our problem so far has to do with the issue of land mines, because there is a portion that has to be cleared and that is hampering everything. Besides the land mine problem, infrastructure that was ruined by cyclone El Nino is still to be repaired,” he said.
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