Saturday, December 19, 2009
The New Yorker: Gorongosa National Park
The December 21st issue of the New Yorker has a great article about Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. The story is mostly about American Greg Carr's efforts to use his personal fortune to restore the eco-system that was lost during Mozambique's Independence and Civil Wars. He is bringing back the large animals that could increase tourism and give the people of the area jobs. But he is facing some cultural problems as the Régulos and fetiçeiros of the mountain do not trust his intentions. At one point the author talks to Mia Couto, who came to speak to my Peace Corps training group. And he told us the same story he tells the author, about the monkey and the fish. The short version is this: A monkey passed by a stream and saw a fish swimming. But the monkey thought that surely the fish was drowning and he took the fish out and placed it on land. Even as the fish suffocated, the monkey felt that he had saved the fish. The point is, some people don't need outsiders, who don't understand the situation, to come and "save" them. But the author pointsout the contradictions of placating to a culture that has only emerged since the civil war. The people who live on the mountain now were not there before the war. Their traditions of slash and burn agriculture do not work on the mountain and will likely destroy it.
ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about philanthropist Greg Carr and the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Back in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, Greg Carr made a couple of hundred million dollars developing and marketing voice-mail and Internet services. In 1998, he quit all his for-profit ventures and decided that he would become a full-time philanthropist. He didn’t just want to give his money away; he also wanted to give himself to his projects—body and soul. Tells about Carr’s involvement in the Market Theatre in Boston. After just two seasons, he shut it down. He had fallen in love with a national park in Africa. Gorongosa National Park is a wilderness the size of Rhode Island at the southern tip of the Great Rift Valley in central Mozambique, and when Carr showed up there five years ago, it had been all but abandoned. Tells about the history of the park, which was established in 1960, by Portugal, which had dominated Mozambique for five hundred years. The park was the scene of much of the heaviest fighting during Mozambique’s sixteen-year civil war. Many of the wildlife species in the park were severely depleted. In 2004, Carr said, you could walk or drive all day without seeing any other living thing but some birds. That was when he committed much of his fortune and much of the rest of his working life to resurrecting the park. Carr’s idea is to use his philanthropy to create conditions that will attract for-profit ecotourism businesses to the park, insuring its economic self-sufficiency. He has already spent twenty million dollars on revitalizing the park and its environs. Describes how he is restocking the park’s animal populations. And how he has created hundred of jobs in and around the park. In 2007, Carr signed an agreement with the government of Mozambique to run the park and manage its buffer zone for the next twenty years. Tells about Carr’s childhood, and his business, Boston Technology. Describes studies of the park done by the South African naturalist Ken Tinley. Tinley advocated expanding the park to include nearby Mt. Gorongosa, which was a key part of the park’s ecosystem. By then, the park was a civil-war battleground. Writer describes Carr’s attempts to negotiate with the leaders of the mountain’s two administrative zones, one of whom has been more coöperative than the other. Tells about deforestation on the mountain. Discusses the difficulties of balancing economic development and ecosystem preservation with respect for the traditions and authority of the local peoples. “I’m a human-rights guy and a conservation guy trying to do both at the same time,” Carr said.