Story | 19 Jun, 2019

A lifetime dedication to Tanzania's National Parks

Paul Banga is a Tanzanian dedicated to nature conservation and wildlife management. He has a career of over 22 years with the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), from park cadet to currently responsible for managing all the development investment programmes. He has a clear vision for further skills development and dreams about changing the vision his country has on the role of protected areas, by demonstrating their unique role in balancing global and local climatic factors.  

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Photo: Christine Mentzel

You describe yourself as “Tanzanian in every aspect”. What does this mean for you?

Paul Banga       Photo: Paul Banga
I was born in rural Africa and raised under the mud roof in the family of a farmer and livestock herder just like many Africans and received my Primary and Secondary schools while living in the same environment. My regional city- Arusha, is famously known as “Geneva of Africa”, situated in northern Tanzania. Arusha is famous as tourism city because of its proximity to the unique biodiversity centres and unsurpassed tourism destinations particularly Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Kilimanjaro Mountain (Roof of Africa), and Arusha National Parks and most importantly as a gateway to Nairobi-Kenya that links or connects our country with the outside world.

What motivated your choice for a career in nature conservation?

I was so much motivated by the rich biodiversity and diverse ecosystems in my region that has formed the backbone of the tourism sector growth.

Moreover, I always wanted and dreamt to study Wildlife Management and Tourism discipline in the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM). But a pre-condition to joining this college was previous work experience with one of the three mandated Wildlife-Management institutions in the country: Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCAA) or Wildlife Division. This was the beginning of my career with TANAPA, where I started as a Park Cadet when I was 22 years old and just graduated with an Advanced Certificate in Economics, back in December 1996.

Thus, your academic formation did not start with wildlife and conservation studies.

My Lower and Advance Secondary School Certificate was on Economics, English and Social studies where I graduated with Upper Second Class. I was also lucky that I schooled in Roman Catholic Seminaries in both levels, offering me a top academic preparation and teaching me about hard work and discipline.  

Later on, I started working with TANAPA. This is when I joined my dreamt career path at the College of African Wildlife Management and Studies, with a Diploma in Wildlife Management programme. I graduated with excellence by scoring First Class Grade.

Then I up-scaled my career to the Undergraduate Programme at the University of Dar es Salaam where I pursued my Undergraduate Degree in Wildlife Science and Conservation and graduated with Honours. The last but not least I believe is for the advance Degree in Masters Programme I studied a Project Planning and Management at the Bradford University, UK.

My big dream before then was to study Wildlife Economics and Strategic Planning discipline. I hope next year I will pursue my PhD on Strategic Planning Process and Wildlife Economy if will manage to secure funds for my fees. I am currently studying different offers from Universities and Colleges.  

Your career in conservation gravitates around Tanzania’s national parks. Can you tell us more about it?

When I joined TANAPA as park cadet, I was posted to the famous Serengeti National Park, as my first workstation where I served for 10 years, until 2006. Later, I served in several national parks, including the Udzungwa Mountains, greater Ruaha and Rubondo Island National Parks. I participated in, and later coordinated, a variety of tasks linked to protected areas management, supporting the local communities and local governments, research and projects management.  More specifically, I had the chance to work on, among others, protection operations and ecological monitoring, enforcement of National Parks Acts and Regulations, anti-poaching missions- that resulted into successful arrest of wildlife-related crimes and networks-, tourism management, implementation of general management plans and parks’ security.

Now the national parks remain at the heart of your mission, but your work is different.

I am currently based at the TANAPA Head Office in the Directorate of Conservation and Business Development as a Senior Assistance Conservation Commissioner, National Parks - Parks Development. I am responsible for managing all the development investment programmes, Managing donor/development partners funded projects, securing funds from donors, development partners and well-meaning individuals to support various conservation initiatives in our unique globally highly rated reputable organization. My other role is to Coordinate Enterprise Risk Management Unit in the organisation. Risk Management is centred on managing threats and maximizing available opportunities; this allows us to implement strategic and annual plans within the National Parks and areas and improve community welfare through the Corporate Social Responsibility approaches.

You first set food in TANAPA in 1996 as Park Cadet. 22 years later, you manage the development of investment programmes. What are your biggest achievements?

There are definitely several recognizable and outstanding achievements over the last 22 years in which I served my organization. I must say that first and foremost:

Conservation work is for the very passionate, committed, dedicated and the professionals who have almost foregone everything else and have sacrificed their lives to do this ever-noble job.

I have been able to secure funds for establishing the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Center, a field station whose mission is to promote and facilitate biological research and monitoring and increase our knowledge of the outstanding biodiversity of the Udzungwa Mountains.

With the USD 150M secured from the World Bank, key biodiversity and tourism infrastructures are under development in the Southern Protected Areas in Tanzania namely Ruaha, Udzungwa Mountains, Mikumi Parks under TANAPA and Selous Game Reserve  Park under Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA). From this overall budget, TANAPA earmarked USD 96M for conservation programmes and tourism growth in the National Parks, under the REGROW Project. This contributed to the diversification of livelihoods in the communities living in and around the national parks.

More recently, I secured another big initiative conceptualized for community enhancement, infrastructure improvements and modern communications for the effective tourism development and biodiversity conservation, with USD 100M from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) through the African Development Bank (AfDB) -an Accredited Entity. This initiative spans in the newly upgraded 3 parks which are constituted from five Game Reserve Parks: These Reserve Parks are  Biharamulo-Burigi and Kimisi, Ibanda and Rumanyika.

My experience with donors expands to the French Development Agency (AFD), with whom I am, at present, negotiating another Grant for financing climate resilient biodiversity conservation and tourism growth infrastructure around Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks Ecosystems (TME), Tanzania.

Cumulatively, these are a multi-million dollar or multi-billion Tanzanian Shillings initiatives that have a positive impact on Tanzania’s conservation efforts that I hope will warrant to print my name on the walls of the Tanzania National Parks conservation iconic remarkable professionals. 

What is the key to this success?

Of course I am forever grateful to my TANAPA Top Leadership and my fellow staff across the network of 19 iconic National Park sites that covers over 57,000km2 accounting for approximately 6% of Tanzania’s landmass for giving me a chance and lending their necessary support for me to do a right things in a precise and right way in the same spirit of team work of Together We Can!   

Knowing to negotiate is the skill that really matters in the contemporary conservation development and it is my best tool that I have used to always defend our very needed financing opportunities from donor and development partners whenever I was involved and of course will remain my ‘’professional weapon’’ along with my academic professional knowledge and skills and diverse experiences.

An important opportunity to enhance this skill was back in 2014 when I attended BIOPAMA Organized and Facilitated 5 days Training on Negotiation Skills in Protected Areas Management. This training has provided me with unique exposure in negotiating for the high-value conservation projects. I used my newly acquired skills in negotiating the World Bank Funds amounting to $150M which was conceptualized for Tourism Growth in Southern Tanzania National Parks. I therefore strongly recommend BIOPAMA to organize such capacity building initiatives for wildlife managers for the better management of National Parks in Sub Saharan Africa or in Eastern and Southern African Regions.

BIOPAMA training on negotiation skills for protected area management 2015       Photo: BIOPAMA Photos

I am forever grateful to my TANAPA Leadership for the opportunity that has brought a remarkable impact to the institution. I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to BIOPAMA Negotiation Skills training organizing Committee namely Viv Mesdagh and Christine Mentzel and of course the training facilitators too.

What are your next endeavours?

As for what I stand for in future, my biggest mission is to make sure that our parks make a significant contribution to the national economy and livelihoods of the people that surrounds them. Our Parks constitute protected landscapes and ecosystems that have a huge potential to support the livelihoods of millions of our communities and national economies. Many National Parks were established since the 1960s, through the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s, yet the national governments and public at large forget the environmental services and their unique roles of balancing global and local climatic factors.

So, I have a dream on how to come out with a policy and legal instrument that will warrant more public-private partnership approaches so that these protected sites can as well along with sectors significantly make their fair share of contributions to the national economies and livelihoods for the well-being of our communities. I know various models exist in Sub-Saharan and Southern African regions from which we can draw experiences from and see how we can engage with conservation partners by creating a win-win scenario. 

Editor’s notes:

1. Since the interview was taken, Paul has been promoted to Head of the National Parks Development Section at the TANAPA Head Office.

2. Between 2013 and 2015, BIOPAMA trained a significant number of protected area practitioners and stakeholders from the Eastern and Southern African countries on negotiation skills for protected areas management. Following up with graduates, we learnt that they applied their new-found skills in their daily work, contributing to a better management of protected area conflicts. Paul Banga is one of the graduates, whose story is presented in this interview.