The KAZA Heads of State Summit: A Leap Forward for Regional Conservation and Development

Steve Collins's picture
7 June 2024

The KAZA Heads of State Summit: A Leap Forward for Regional Conservation and Development

The first Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) Heads of State Summit on 31st May in Livingstone, Zambia concluded with a series of strategic decisions aimed at bolstering tourism, wildlife conservation, and sustainable development across the five partner states of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Summit was preceded by a series of technical meetings, from which emerging issues were considered by the Ministers and finally the Head of State.

The host President of Zambia Mr. Hakainde Hichilema noted that, “The five countries are united in their approach and to the KAZA program which must focus on helping the most vulnerable and deliver social value to our people while conserving nature.”

The theme was Leveraging KAZA’s natural capital and cultural heritage resources as a catalyst for inclusive social economic development of the eco-region.

The technical and partners meetings and Heads of State Summit were attended by around 400 delegates from the 5 governments, the SADC and KAZA Secretariats, International Co-operating Partners, and NGOs marking a pivotal moment and acknowledgement of regional transboundary collaboration.

Highlights of the Summit’s discussions and recommendations

Regional Tourism Enhancement: The summit encouraged the adoption of the KAZA UNIVISA system and the immediate implementation of the KAZA Destination Brand to improve financial and non-financial benefits from the tourism industry.  The “Rivers of Life” tourism destination brand, launched at the KAZA Heads of State Summit, reflects the commitment to promoting conservation and sustainable tourism. It serves as an invitation to experience the region’s natural and cultural heritage without borders. The new brand was developed through a consultative process including the private sector. The launch of the new KAZA Tourism brand shows the commitment of the Ministers & the Partner States to marketing KAZA as a single tourist destination.

In further commitment by the countries to encourage tourism the Heads of State signed off on establishing the long awaited KAZA Univisa.

The Summit further noted the need of establishing a mechanism for engagement by communities in the tourism value chain which needs to be reviewed to enable improved financial and non-financial benefits from the industry and diversify tourism products on offer at the in-country and transboundary scale.

A call was made to enhance regional connectivity through direct flights, efficient and friendly border management, and improved transportation infrastructure.

Exciting news was that the Angolan Government will be investing over $300 million to improve border facilities, roads and internet access in their portion of KAZA. This will encourage new tourism routes into Angola and the source of KAZA’s rivers.

Conservation and Sustainable Use: The summit underscored the progress made since KAZA’s inception and thanked international cooperating partners in particular German Government who had provided anchor funding for the support received so far.  There was a call for the swift operationalization of the SADC CITES Engagement Strategy to strengthen the region’s stance at the upcoming CITES COP 20 in Geneva.

In his address Mr. Elias Magosi, SADC Executive Secretary said “The increased wildlife trade restrictions at the international market and at CITES penalize and undermine KAZA’s success in conserving wildlife and protecting is human population, thereby depriving this region of the critical revenue for sustainable wildlife conservation and enhanced livelihoods for our local communities. “


Human Wildlife Conflict. Many of the 3 million people living in KAZA face negative impacts from wildlife. In KAZA elephant human conflict is a problem that must be better managed and mitigated with a confirmed 230 000 elephants in the landscape and the likelihood that climate change will increase conflict around reduced water resources.

Improving TFCA management and Ranger training in SADC: The new funding facility  to support  Ranger and TFCA Mangers training was launched at the summit. The Training Facility and Programme for Wildlife Rangers and TFCA Managers in the SADC Region is a regional initiative designed to provide needs-driven, workplace-related training for wildlife rangers and TFCA managers in specific conservation areas focused on transboundary conservation management. By joining fragmented wildlife habitats across international boundaries, this programme aims to maintain biodiversity, enhance the socio-economic conditions of rural communities through eco- and cultural tourism, and ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. For more information go here.

Wildlife and Trade Policies: Deliberations on harmonizing wildlife ownership models and legal frameworks for Carbon Credit Trading and forestry management were seen as important going forward. KAZA has 85 forestry reserves in then landscape and these assets should be sustainable managed. The summit set a 2030 deadline for these initiatives to , aligning with the SADC RISDP, including a ban on exports of raw timber within KAZA region.

Community-Centric Approaches: The urgent approval of the KAZA TFCA Livelihoods Diversification and Climate Change Strategies was noted, emphasizing synchronized community benefits and improved livestock and rangeland management practices. It was noted that in future summits there should be community based organisations representing some of the 3 million inhabitants of the KAZA landscape.  The countries agreed to work towards harmonizing the CBNRM policies and frameworks to ensure synchronized community benefits within the KAZA region, and implement the SADC Guidelines on Commodity Based Trade Beef (CBT) of beef in Foot and Mouth Disease endemic areas to support improved livestock husbandry practices, rangeland restoration and enable farmers to access beef markets, foster human wildlife co-existence and re-evaluation of fences as the primary disease risk management tool.

Integrated Land Use Planning: The summit advocated for more cross-sectoral land use and infrastructure planning. The Elephant Movement Policy Brief was acknowledged as a method to foster conservation connectivity and reduce risk to community farmers.

Economic Valuation of Natural Assets: It was noted that Strategic Environmental Assessment Planning Tool should be applied to economic and infrastructure programs. The value of the natural capital  being protected in the KAZA area should be accounted for and it was recommended to establish Natural Capital Accounts and explore green finance solutions.

Infrastructure and Connectivity: As national governments implement infrastructure programs they were urged to include the transboundary natural connectivity in their planning and implementation. This calls for national level multisectoral planning that includes the KAZA vision in new plans when they are updated.  

Knowledge Exchange: The summit highlighted the importance of sharing best practices in wildlife economy and sustainable finance solutions.

The Sustainability of KAZA: There is a need to explore sustainable financing through more innovative means that create bankable nature based solutions and green financing that can cover the costs of transboundary co-operation. This is necessary to move beyond donor based funding currently supporting implementation of KAZA.

The KAZA Summit demonstrated a collective dedication to advancing the region’s natural heritage and ensuring the prosperity of its communities through sustainable practices which support a growing green economy.

In his address to the Summit the President of Namibia, Dr. Nangolo Mbumba, noted that “This Summit’s theme perfectly aligns with Namibia’s strategies, plans and vision for a green economy which encourages balanced economic development while safeguarding the environment.”


About KAZA TFCA: The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is the world’s largest conservation area, spanning five southern African countries. It is a beacon of transboundary conservation efforts, promoting biodiversity, socio-economic development, and regional peace and stability.

For more information go the KAZA Homepage and to the Communique of Summit of KAZA Heads of State