Ngorongoro – A meeting filled with contrasts!

Do tourism affect people`s everyday life in Ngorongoro?

At the border to Ngorongoro National Park we meet lush farmland only limited by a 2 m wide fire road to the National Park. In the park and also just outside there are luxurious lodges that meet all requirements of discerning tourists. Here in the northern part of Tanzania, in the Arusha District, many, many tourists from all over the world are visiting each year. This is actually one of the most visited tourist spot in Africa. Ngorongoro Crater is where everyone stops on the way to and from Serengeti further north west. Many also combine Ngorongoro with a Kilimanjaro tracking.

On this trip to Africa we wanted to travel at a leisurely pace, not rush from one national park to another. Ngorongoro Crater was our main goal and we therefor decided to stay 5 nights at one place. The choice was Neptune Ngorongoro Luxury Lodge just outside the gate to Ngorongoro National Park. This was a perfect place for a relaxing trip to Tanzania and a good starting point for long walks in the surrounding area.

 

Our own bungalow with a view to Ngorongoro Crater.
Our own bungalow with a view to Ngorongoro Crater.

On our last day at Exploreans Lodge we went out to explore the nearest neighborhood. It is mainly farmland and a beautiful and easy landscape for walking. A young man came along as a local guide. Not many do walking in this area. Most people come to see the animals and go on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater. We had an interesting and exciting walk and learned a lot.

It was heartbreaking to see the poverty just outside the tourist`s secluded luxury bubble. The families living just 200 m from one of the world`s greatest tourist spot and nearby some of the most luxurious accommodations in Tanzania are in no way affected by the profitable business taking place in the neighborhood. They are still as poor as they have been for the last hundred years.

The children collect mud to repair the huts at the same place where the elephants come at night to get minerals. Ngorongoro.
The children collect mud to repair the huts at the same place where the elephants come at night to get minerals. Ngorongoro.

The Catholic Church in Tanzania owns the area around Exploreans Lodge. They have their own odd system for the families living on their land. The families are allowed to cultivate the land, but the first year they must also work for the Church. Then after 3 years they have to move and change house with another family and work one year for the church again. As such tenant farmers they are worse off than the traditional tenant farmers where in Norway a hundred years ago. I have tried to check out the veracity of this information without luck. But from what I know after travelling in Africa for many years, I am not surprised if it`s true.

Families seldom live more than 3 years in the same house and they are not allowed to build a brick house. They have to be content with the traditional mud huts. After 3 years they have to move, may be only the next neighbor`s house. It is a recycling system that I have a hard time to understand the meaning of, except to hold people down in poverty. This system prevents people from making plans and to think about the future. Under such living conditions you will hardly find time to think about anything else than the day today!

Our local guide often used his weekly day off to play with the kids in this neighborhood and trying to motivate them to go to school. There are no schools nearby so the kids have a long way to walk. But a small and primitive schoolroom is recently built. Two or tree days a week the kids come here and learn the most elementary. A young, idealistic and educated man comes back to teach the children. But its not much he can do. They are lacking everything; books, paper, pencils. It`s also a problem to get the children motivated for school. With a meal of porridge during the day they hope to get the children to come to the small schoolroom.

The small schoolroom is hopefully better than nothing. Ngorongoro.
The small schoolroom is hopefully better than nothing. Ngorongoro.

So in this area just next to the Ngorongoro National Park a large part of the population do not participate in the development happening because of the tourists visiting the area. The people we met on the land owned by the Catholic Church belong to a tribe that originally came from Ethiopia many centuries ago. Malaria is a problem in this area and someone told us that enormous sums of money from western countries are assigned to distribute mosquito nets for free. But as is often the case, someone put the money in his or her own pockets. No one had seen any mosquito nets and not for free anyway. Mosquito nets costs normally 12000 chilling and these families do not have that kind of money. The same with malaria medicine. I know that both Norway and USA have provided funding for malaria medicine in this area. But when people have struggled to come all the way to the hospital, they are only told to go to the drugstore and buy the medicine. And again – it costs money – money they do not have.

It`s horrible to hear such stories. At the same time it is encouraging to meet young, bright people that see this problems and want to do something about it. But it is not without danger to get involved in such matters. Tanzania does not have a democracy in the sense that we are used to. For the poor there is no future. For him it is crucial to get food on the table each day.

These conditions also play an important role when understanding the poaching problems in the area around Ngorongoro National Park. The authorities give nothing back to the locals as compensation for the problems they have living so close to the park. The fences at the national park are no more than 50-70 cm high and consist of some barbed wire. Nothing can stop an elephant or a water buffalo getting through this pitiful fence. During night these big animals cross the fire gate and the fence and eat the farmer`s crops. Because of this the farmers put out poison stuffed in corn or sweet potatoes and animals dies frequently. Then they eat the animals or they sell them on to buyers from far away. Even Japanese come to the villages to buy endangered species at ridiculous low prices. The authorities have no organized guard at the Ngorongoro outer limits. Poaching and killing with poison is going on all the time. The locals are often protecting the poachers because they believe they have the same interests.

In these small huts they sit guard during night to scare the elephants off with burning sticks. Ngorongoro.
In these small huts they sit guard during night to scare the elephants off with burning sticks. Ngorongoro.

For you as a tourist, it costs a lot to visit Ngorongoro National Park. But it seems like none of this money is benefitting the local community. The Government supplies not even water. We visited a coffee plantation nearby run by a German lady. According to our guide a very nice woman who provides employment to many of the families. A coffee plantation needs a lot of water. She gets her water from inside the park and pays the Government for this. It is a lot of water in the mountains inside the National Park and not a problem to get it down to the small villages. At the coffee plantation people can come in the morning and in the afternoon to get as much water as they want for free. It is lively around the water pump and people come from far away. Often it is the children who are responsible for getting the water home and they learn at an early age to balance heavy buckets of water on their heads.

Coffee beans drying at the coffee farm, Ngorongoro.
Coffee beans drying at the coffee farm, Ngorongoro.

Of course we wondered why the Church maintained this, in our opinion, ancient tenant system? We did not manage to get a reasonable answer. In the district capital Arusha and in many of the small towns on the way to Ngorongoro, tourism is affecting people`s life. There are many jobs in the hotels and in transports. And if you are lucky enough to go to college and study for a Wildlife Ranger, you can have a good life in Tanzania. And if you can afford to buy a safari car as well, you have a lot of opportunities. But that requires that your family have the financial ability to give you an education. For the poor life goes on with no hope!

When I am travelling in Africa I find it an ethical dilemma when confronted with this issue. I do not believe it is a solution to stop travelling. I believe it is important to learn about these issues and pass on the information. As tourists in Africa it is important to show respect and to pay for the service we are given. Use local guides and pay them a decent wage. Talk to people you meet and contribute to an active and mutually cultural exchange.

The mud huts need repair all the time. Ngorongoro.
The mud huts need repair all the time. Ngorongoro.
Only 100 m from the fire gate the elephants come to eat minerals during night. Ngorongoro.
Only 100 m from the fire gate the elephants come to eat minerals during night. Ngorongoro.
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