"Africa doesn't need saving!"
"Africa doesn't need saving!"
This was a line I heard in response to a brief explanations of my plans for this website. It is a fair comment, and one which suggested I need to explain myself better, because it is not the point of this site. I am not trying to save anyone.
But the comment also came from someone behind a reception desk in a luxury lodge, into which tourist dollars pour into abundance (at 50% occupancy, a reasonable assumption, it is turning over close to US$4m), and out of which flow many interesting initiatives to support and develop the wider community in which it is sited. Its position as both a profit-making business and a local benefactor is assured. It could do more, I'm sure, on that turnover (although a breakdown of costs at any remote lodge will show slimmer profits than you might assume), but it is also rising substantially above merely paying lip service to the idea of sustainable travel. From the lodge's point of view, it makes sense to be doing what it is doing: conserving nature, developing humans, providing an incredible experience to visitors. And this particular lodge's sense of mission and 'buzz' is real, and exciting, and will rub off on you (no, I won't tell you which one it is - you'll have to go and find it).
So, I agree that Africa does not need "saving". But I would argue, and I do below, that it does need developing. And before you call me patronising, or neo-colonial, or worse, let me explain how.
My ideal society is one in which basic rights and opportunities are available for all, where there is law, health, prosperity, a benign but functioning government, fundamental rights etc. Essentially, one which most western travellers inhabit, when they are not travelling (despite what the demagogues will tell you). Poverty denies you all of these. There is dignity and forbearance in it, sure, but it is not noble, and barely a choice.
Travel is a luxury, even if it isn't luxury travel. But it is also a chance to connect. And it bothers me that in the 21st century we do our interacting with strangets largely transactionally, and in increasingly pre-ordered interactions ("How is your meal?"), while looking at the scenery and posting pictures of it on our social media feeds. There is so much more to travel than this, especially in Africa. Which is why this site is text heavy, and the blog wordy. There is more than enough 'Big Five', 'The Real, Unspoilt Africa' marketing out there. I want to tell stories of the vast patchwork of cultures and landscapes which make up this continent. It will change more than any other in the next decades, and if wildlife is to be part of the story, it has to come with a stake for all in conservation. This is where you come in. Travel there, and spend wisely.
So, essentially, this site will be a marketing tool for places I believe in, which are doing incredible things locally, and an honest, if cheerleading, guide to them for travellers. Most of them are lodges and other travel businesses, but some are NGOs and charities (see the pictures on this page), often supported by the aforementioned businesses. I want the people and places featured here to be at least as much an active driver of their local community development and environmental preservation as they are a staging post on a luxury skim around the world. I hope to persuade you that this matters.