Rich Man’s Safari in Poor Man’s Country

This week I’ve been looking into some ways of experiencing the abundant nature of Tanzania, rich habitats with intact food chains. Looking for a place where large herds of wildebeests can be seen on their migration, where lions lie low, where cheetahs chase, where antelopes frolic around and where vultures wait patiently for predators to open up a carcass. Possibly with an opportunity to visit a local village and see how former hunter gatherers live these days.

I can tell you straight away: these places still exist and they are even accessible. Usually by air with modern and safe planes to air strips in the middle of nowhere. Comfortable 4×4 vehicles then pick up guests and deliver them to luxurious tents. A sumptuous meal in a prime location overlooking a river or a water hole can be enjoyed while lanterns romantically light up the tropical evening. Think the movie “Out of Africa” with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and you get the gist of it.

This comfort comes at a steep price tag of $500-1000 per person and night. This is about what it costs to spend a comfortable day in the most expensive city of our planet: Zurich, Switzerland. In Selous Game Reserve, Serengeti or Kilimanjaro just entering the national park costs $50-140 per day. Let’s not get into the discussion of affordability, as Tanzanian nationals pay a much lower fee. What I’m driving at is where does the money go? Why do guides, staff, trackers, porters and cooks expect tips of $5-10 per day? Because their salaries are  in the range of $10-25 per day. At least I know that this part of remuneration will reach their communities where people live on the proverbial dollar a day.

The World Bank has estimated that over 1 million international tourists visited Tanzania in 2013. We could do some math and find out how 1 million tourists spending $100 a day could support a population of 50 million Tanzanians. But I don’t want to go there. What I’m really wondering is how everything is related: Grace, the single mother of 4 children struggling to grow enough food in a rural arid area. Nuru, the entrepreneurial spirit who borrows from a microfinance institution to build a better life.  Joseph the accomplished guide with a keen ear for mating lions who gets tips from tourists. And Godfrey from Dar, who is posing as a Masai in Zanzibar, chatting up women on the beach in perfect Italian “Ciao bella, come stai?”, hoping to find a sugar mama.

The new facts are: these days there are no longer “the people in poor countries” but instead two thirds of the worlds poorest are living in moderately wealthy countries like India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ok, Bangladesh and Congo might be poor countries. What I’m driving at is that the poorest people are living in city slums of Indian and Chinese megacities. In Tanzania this is probably not different, however some poor also live in the countryside, where 25% of the people try to cultivate the land by hand and relying on rain without any irrigation. They sure see very little of the money the rich men and women spend on their safari holidays. (Sources: World Bank, Rural Poverty Portal)

(photo by Brad on flickr)

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