Outside magazine, June 1996
James ulysses blanchard III has a new plan for Mozambique. In the late eighties, you'll recall, the Louisiana millionaire and hyperactive libertarian schemed to overthrow that country's communist regime by propping up an army of rebels. During their unsuccessful fight, these troops razed crops, poached elephants, and killed 100,000 fellow Mozambicans.
Now the fiery Blanchard is dabbling again, this time, believe it or not, in the environment. Blanchard hopes to reinvigorate some 400 miles of war-damaged coastline by building an $800 million, 500,000-acre ecotourist paradise amid Mozambique's coastal wilderness--a sort of Walt Disney World meets the bush. "We're talking big," says Blanchard. "We want to use it as a place to bring back the hippos, lions, zebras."
That won't be cheap. About 500 of the 600 elephants that once occupied the park-to-be are dead, and most of the rhinos have been killed, too. Blanchard wants to help wildlife pay its way with, uh, value-added habitat nearby. The centerpiece of the resort would be a luxury complex with thatch-roofed game-observation lodges, a marina, and a golf course with hippos in the water hazards.
Actually, the plan is just one of about 20 that various moneymen have proposed for the coastline. But Blanchard's competitors lack the Louisianan's clout with the locals. Waving blueprints for his so-called paradise, Blanchard emerged last year as something of a hero, promising 11,000 jobs, new roads, and an ice factory. And while Mozambican officials haven't yet indicated when or even whether they'll approve Blanchard's plan, Mahomed Rafique Jusob Mahomed, a vice-minister of tourism, recently said, "We have been through a very tough time. We need something like this."
Skeptics like Mozambican biologist Mia Cuoto worry "about the plan, not the man," pointing out that the scheme would mean relocating fishermen and farmers. Another problem is money. Blanchard admits that he currently doesn't have enough, though he hopes to attract resort chains like Club Med.
Of course, there's still time for Blanchard to shoot himself in the foot. When John Perrott, his representative in Mozambique, spoke recently to the New York Times, he said he hoped to import Kalahari Bushmen to the area. "I'm not talking about a tourist attraction," he noted. "I say let the little guys in and let them hunt."
Says Blanchard: "I don't know how that got printed. That was a joke. A joke."