Despite the political situation in Zimbabwe, some small camps still operate…
Zimbabwe: is visiting ethical?We try very hard to be ethical about our business, encouraging trips that have a positive effect and avoiding those which are likely to have negative impacts. We certainly wouldn't want our travellers to prolong the power of an unethical regime.
Zimbabwe's problems over recent years have been largely political, and any question of the morality of visiting Zimbabwe is bound up with its politics. Hence we make no apology for discussing these issues here, and would be happy to go into the debate in more depth if you wish; just call us.
Zimbabwe's recent history started with the 2008 election, which was won by the opposition party, the MDC. Victory was then stolen by the incumbent ZANU-PF and their leader, Robert Mugabe. Both Mr Mugabe and his party showed the same contempt for the law that they had demonstrated over the previous ten years.
Following much difficulty and delay, negotiations with international moderators led to a 'unity government' being formed in February 2009, with the two parties sharing power. Although imperfect and unfair, this gave the opposition access to some power, including the posts of Prime Minister (Morgan Tsvangirai) and Minister of Finance.
The MDC used these positions to reform what they could: they made big improvements to the economy, which has turned a corner; Inflation has been in single digits since 2009 – down from staggering levels. The MDC gained much credit for making life easier for many ordinary Zimbabweans.
In March 2013, a new constitution was approved in a referendum which abolished the role of Prime Minister and limited the President to just two terms in office. Mr Mugabe won the elections in July that year with two thirds of the vote, although this was hotly disputed by his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai. Despite winning the elections, however, Mugabe’s health and influence are fading and there is a sense that Zimbabweans are, put simply, getting on with their lives as best they can.
In terms of tourism, in the past five years, many safari professionals have returned to Zimbabwe, having left for other parts of Africa when the tourism business plummeted and opportunities diminished. There’s a new confidence in Zimbabwe now. Politics in Zimbabwe is changing; progress may be slow and will have stumbles and setbacks, but change is afoot. Of course, the situation is far from perfect - there are still many issues and Mugabe’s succession will inevitably be tricky. We will be keeping a close eye on the situation and will advise you should there be any concerns whatsoever.
Throughout the last decade, Expert Africa continued to offer trips to Zimbabwe using BA Comair and South African Airways and carefully chosen, small, independent camps. We didn’t promote these strongly, but we always offered them. We did this as a matter of principle, to support good people whom we have known for many years struggling to make their small businesses survive, and to aid Zimbabwean wildlife conservation.
Supporting the more positive elements of Zimbabwe's recent political and economic changes – and the small, independent camps that we focus on – is one key reason why we are now very happy to actively promote Zimbabwe to our travellers.
Rest assured that if we felt our travellers, by visiting Zimbabwe, would worsen problems for Zimbabwe’s people, or prolong President Mugabe’s grip on power, then Expert Africa would refuse to organise trips here. However, we don’t believe that this is the case and we feel our form of targeted, responsible travel to Zimbabwe is a positive stance.
For a few more of the many views on this question, some recent press articles stand out:
Why safari in Zimbabwe? It’s got the best-trained guides
April 2013: The Globe & Mail (Canada)
Published under the original title "Game on", Tim Johnson's article concentrates on his time at Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park, whilst also talking about Zimbabwe's recent political troubles and the prospects for its future.
As the tourists head back to safari in Zimbabwe, is it on the Rhodes to recovery?
January 2013: The Daily Mail
Graham Boynton, a renowned travel writer on Africa, recounts his experiences of his visit to Zimbabwe in January 2013, detailing the events that led to its decline and its slow but steady recovery.
The ethical new Zimbabwe safari
February 2010: The Times
An excellent piece by a very experienced Africa journalist, Lisa Grainger, who has a strong background in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe: A beautiful land in need of a change of fortune
Feb 2009: The Independent
A discussion of the subject including links to views by The Independent's Travel Editor, Simon Calder, who is known for his strong ethics; and also The Independent's Southern Africa correspondent.