Shubert and community children: working with GMFER’s “Guppets” (hand puppets) at Lugalo Primary School in Tanzania’s Wilolesi village, sharing the story of Africa’s wildlife and her people.
“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”
– Wangari Maathai
By Visala Kantamneni, GMFER Core Strategist
The first time that Shubert Mwarabu saw an elephant was when he was a child while on a train from Makambako to Dar es Salaam through the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.
“I was thrilled and fascinated; many rural black Africans NEVER have the opportunity to experience Africa’s iconic wild species. I fell in love with wild Africa, with my heritage, my inheritance,” he says.
Over the years, Shubert became more and more involved in protecting wildlife. He is currently leading a nationwide campaign to save Tanzania’s elephants. In 2017, he also became a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders.
In August 2016, The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER) invited Shubert to sing and speak on behalf of the organization and a month later, for the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) at the CITES/CoP17 conference in Johannesburg. His good work was also acknowledged and used by the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources in its broadcasts and awareness-raising programs.
Shubert is perhaps most well-known for his beautiful singing and songwriting skills. His first song, “Let’s Talk About Poaching,” or “Tupige Vita Ujangili” in KiSwahili, was played on Tanzania’s national radio station, and he has sung many times since then at a number of important campaign events. In this song he supported Appendix 1 and anti-trade regulatory proposals by the African Elephant Coalition. Shubert also amplified China’s Ivory ban and called on other nations to follow suit in his song Worth More Alive. His work in Tanzania was featured in National Geographic.
Today, Shubert is passionate about engaging fellow Africans in the conversation about conservation, about listening carefully and helping his people understand the importance of protecting and caring for the continent’s wild heritage.
Today, Shubert is passionate about engaging fellow Africans in the conversation about conservation, about listening carefully and helping his people understand the importance of protecting and caring for the continent’s wild heritage. Still, while Shubert has profound ties with local communities, he has not had the opportunity to deepen these relationships in the context of wildlife in a meaningful and scalable way; he lacks the infrastructure, technology and resources to do so.
The absence of indigenous voices in the conversation that governs the demise of Africa’s wildlife is an issue that (even) well-funded international and national conservation organizations have been unable to address in a believably and scalable fashion. Many of Africa’s wildlife reserves were established in the colonial period during which large numbers of indigenous were forced to move from tribal lands. Today, the problem is compounded by chronic and rampant corruption within the body politic in many African nations. It is also the case that many modern conservation organizations are primarily based outside of Africa, while working to protect and serve humans and wildlife within, thereby amplifying the palpable distance between the people of the land the governance of wildlife and wildplaces.
Many of these organizations still work as many did during the colonial era – by overlooking indigenous black Africans. A non-insignificant number of wildlife advocates, particularly in the west, view indigenous Africans as being indifferent to poaching and localized species extinctions. This perception is (largely) inaccurate, Africans support conservation action and cherish Africa’s wild heritage. Problems arise though, when animals are prioritized over local communities; a significant reason community upliftment and engagement is vitally important.
Shubert thinks so as well. He works with a number of organizations, as a core member of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER), and also as an ambassador to both Generation Awakening and the African Elephant Coalition. He hopes to launch a recording studio in Tanzania’s hinterland, close to his village of birth. The studio will be a local community hub to generate music about conservation as well as a resource that provides a space to record broadcasts featuring vigorous dialogs about conservation and stories about Africa’s wild wonder. These stories will be broadcast to communities in rural Tanzania and the world through podcasts and radio. GMFER will share the podcast across all its social media platforms.
Follow-up on the broadcasts and conversations will be sustained through WhatsApp groups; many indigenous Africans cannot afford computers and lean to the use of smartphones over computers. These WhatsApp groups will amplify the conversation, create a space to dive deeper into them and grow a community of engaged indigenous voices whose love for wildlife and human communities will be nurtured and cherished.
The idea is to inspire and allow for individuals living in these areas to become (more) actively involved in protecting their own wildlife, their own wild heritage; to become part of the leadership and decision making process governing conservation in Africa.
GMFER and Shubert hope to establish proof of concept of a creatively disruptive and cutting edge paradigm through the studio and in the context of indigenous humans and wild creatures in rural Tanzania. The idea is to inspire and allow for individuals living in these areas to become (more) actively involved in protecting their own wildlife, their own wild heritage; to become part of the leadership and decision making process governing conservation in Africa. We hope for an outcome whose impact will straddle the multiple social intersections influencing race, gender, age and cultures, we hope to grow a civil society in a hinterlands of Tanzania deeply involved in the decision making process governing the fate of wild Africa.
GMFER will also collaborate with Shubert to help source funds for his music and storytelling, to help establish the studio and amplify a message of love and compassion. We ask humbly that you help Shubert and GMFER amplify the voices of disenfranchised human and wildlife communities.
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