Development is a walk in the park...
Renovated at a cost of $2.4m, Forodhani is an example of how conservation can help alleviate poverty, writes Fred Oluoch
Sandwiched between the historic Stone Town and the Indian Ocean, Forodhani Park in Zanzibar is an excellent blend of old and new.
The park was rehabilitated recently by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture at a cost of $2.4 million.
It is now a good blend of modernity and history. The success is hinged on the historical houses and cultures that are Zanzibar’s main attraction.
Ever since Arab traders arrived on the island using monsoon winds in the 8th century, the island has been a hub of commerce and culture — a melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European influences.
Most of the houses were built in the 19th century when Zanzibar was one of the most important trading centres in the Indian Ocean region.
Now the enhanced aesthetics of Forodhani Park will boost tourism, the backbone of Zanzibar’s economy.
The opening of the park coincided with the advent of the tourism high season that begins in August.
Forodhani Park lies at the foot of the Old Fort — also known as Ngome Kongwe — and the former palace of the sultans, which was also used by European colonialists. It is now the Beit El-Ajaib National Museum.
In the old days, the park hosted the main port and was a landing point for former sultans of Zanzibar. It has remained a central meeting place for leisure and entertainment.
More exciting to local people is the fact that the park will provide many employment opportunities not only to those in charge of its maintainance but also those who engage in small businesses such as food vending.
They will be catalysts of social, cultural and economic development of the area.
Already, some 75 vendors have been registered and trained in hygiene and customer service, bringing more people into the formal economy.
They are expected to boost their earnings fourfold.
While opening the revamped park, President Amani Abeid Karume said it was important to Zanzibar not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for its impact on the country’s growth and poverty reduction plans.
The supply chain has also been expanded, with each vendor dealing with at least four suppliers.
The idea is to demonstrate that if countries invest more in cultural programmes, the ripple effects will improve lives and alleviate poverty.
Restoration of the park goes hand in hand with expanded micro-credit facilities to vendors and other small scale enterprises.
The Aga Khan announced that the micro-financing institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network recently launched a programme in Zanzibar that will extend some 1,000 loans in the coming year, totalling $500,000.
He said his interest in Zanzibar goes back beyond his own lifetime. “My grandfather helped build schools here a century ago.
“Our Aga Khan Development Network and its precedent institutions have been operating hospitals and clinics here for over 50 years. Community health programmes, early childhood education and programmes to strengthen civil society continue to be important areas of emphasis,” he said.
As part of its multi-sectoral programme that involves health, education and culture, the Trust will spend $40-50,000 annually to maintain the park.
In addition, repair of the entire 315 metre seawall is going on and will cost $600,000.
The project will prevent the sea from encroaching the Forodhani shoreline and will also protect the Stone Town.
The Trust has also worked with the government and international partners — such as the government of Sweden and the Ford Foundation — to provide workshops on conservation and traditional construction methods for craftsmen, building professionals and government officers.
Other countries where the Trust has restored and rehabilitated public spaces and historic buildings to spur social, economic and cultural development are Egypt, Kenya, India, Mali, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
The aim is to enable the rehabilitated public places to sustain themselves in the long run.
In Cairo, the Trust’s construction of a 35-hectare park on top of a rubble dump in the poorest part of the Historic City now draws 1.5 million visitors a year, employs over 1,000 people and pays for its own upkeep.
The project's impact has since extended to revitalisation of the entire district adjacent to the park.
In Delhi, the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb — an overgrown, rundown and underused green space — were restored to their original Mughal splendour.
Now, they generate more than enough funds for their maintenance.