Stephanie responds to Georgetown Questions

Stephanie Hanes, for the Pulitzer Center
Gorongosa, Mozambique

Hi there.

Thanks so much for the great questions.

Q: My question is similar to those posted below. How do the local residents feel when Carr, who is an outsider, comes to give them a presentation about why they should change their way of life? You mentioned in a photo caption that some villagers were "suspicious." I'd be curious to hear more about the range of reactions. Thank you!

A: In terms of reactions, I've seen a range. I've seen people look angry (there was this one time when Carr and his crew showed up in a red helicopter, even though the color red was banned in that particular area for spiritual reasons) and I've seen them acting super friendly and happy. It depends a bit on the village. I think those places a bit closer to the park have had more face-to-face time – and more trust – with Carr and his team, while some people farther out are a bit more wary.

But the truth is, I don't really know how people feel. This was one of the things Steve and I were trying to get a better sense of this trip. But it's quite difficult to measure – especially given the cultural and language differences.

You know, there are a lot of NGOs and aid groups in Africa, and many people in this part of the world have seen white people come and go, often without delivering on promises.

Q: What do you consider some of your most important and significant accomplishments with your work in Gorongosa?

A: Gosh, this is a hard one. I think we're just hoping to capture the various nuances in this story, and to make it accessible and interesting to American viewers and readers.

Q: What made you decide to go to Africa and report on conflicts that generally receive little to no media attention?

A: I hear from editors all the time that readers "don't care about Africa." Or if they do, it's because they are worried about AIDS or poverty or famine – what we often call the "woe is Africa" topics. I think there is much more here, and many issues that have global implications. And to be honest, I think that many editors have misjudged Americans' interest – and intelligence – when it comes to this continent.

I could go on like this for a while, but the short answer is that I believe this place does matter, and want to tell these stories.

Q: Have you gotten any sense of what the natives think about your presence and your interest in their homeland? If so, what are some of their opinions/concerns about your endeavor to inform outsiders about the importance of this park and its dire situation?

A: I think you've got to keep in mind that a lot of people we're talking to live without television, newspapers, radio, or books. Some of them have never traveled to other parts of Mozambique. The concept that these two white people – one from Washington DC – are interviewing them for a broadcast thousands of miles of way, is just not part of their worlds. Now, this isn't true for everyone, obviously. But we're not sure how much people actually get what we're doing.

Q: Is the main goal of revitalizing Gorongosa to bring back the tourism industry to Mozambique? How does the work that Carr is doing create jobs (which you mentioned was important as far as creating another viable option for poachers)?

A: One of the goals is to bring tourists to this part of the country. But that's really a means to an end – Carr wants to lift this region out of poverty, and he believes that a tourism industry here will do that.

Because he's revitalizing this park, there are lots of jobs – construction workers, road crews, housekeepers, cooks, etc. There are also rangers and biologists and park administrators.

His hope is that this will spill over into the communities outside the park.

Q: Thank you so much for your time. I was wondering what the attitude of the Mozambique people is with regards to the movement for environmental restoration? Is there a large support base within the Mozambique citizens? Is this largely a foreign driven concern or is this being led by the locals?

A: This is a great question. I think the answer is mixed. Mozambique is a very poor country – one of the poorest in the world. Many people are just trying to get by day to day. They probably don't think much about conservation. They need to get food, they need to collect wood to cook it, they need to walk to get water (often miles).

That said, there are many Mozambicans who are very involved in conservation – the warden here, Roberto Zolho is Mozambican; so are a few other members of the park's top management. And I think a lot of the rangers and staff here – and probably their families in nearby villages – understand the importance.

But your question raises a great issue for a later time – there is a lot of talk around southern Africa about "conservation colonialism."

Q: Besides trying to clear landmines, what are some of the first steps people are taking to restore the environment and how are they getting locals to agree and participate?

A: In terms of environment, there are a few things – one of the most obvious examples is animal reintroduction. Starting next month, the park will bring in groups of zebra and wildebeest to start restocking the park.

As to the second part of your question: getting the people around the park on board is really the most challenging thing for this project. The park staff talks about it constantly. The key is to get results to people quickly – ie, to show them that the park will make their lives better.

One area where this is really pressing is on Gorongosa Mountain – the heart of the park's ecosystem. People are clearing trees for farms at a very fast rate, causing ecological damage that threatens the park. The park staff needs to get them to stop.

We're going there tomorrow to see how Carr's team is trying to do this, and also to talk to people who live there and see what they think.