By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Stand back, Independence Celebration! Here comes the Centennial Celebration! The country’s biggest national tourist attraction, the Etosha National Park, is to celebrate its 100 years of existence a day after independent Namibia celebrates her 17th birthday. Preparations for this significant centennial celebration will last for a period of one year during which various stakeholders in the tourism sector will be busy putting their heads together to create awareness about the upco-ming event. Consequently, in making this centenary year a success, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism together with the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), Team Namibia Fenata and the private sector have planned a myriad of events to mark this important occasion. Speaking at a media briefing in the capital yesterday, Minister of Environment and Tourism, Willem Konjore, said that through these centennial celebrations, Etosha National Park will also be promoted internationally at tourism fairs such as the ITB in Berlin, the Indaba in South Africa, and also locally at the Namibian Tourism Expo, the Ongwediva Trade Fair and the Windhoek Agricultural and Industrial Show. Furthermore, a function is planned for March 22, 2007 in Windhoek, when NamPost will launch a series of stamps marking the start of all other activities to come during the year. Late in the year – September 28 – a commemorative ceremony will take place at the renovated Namutoni to mark the official celebrations. “This event will highlight the importance of the park to the biodiversity, the national heritage and the Namibian economy,” said Konjore. He added that there is actually a whole lot of upgrading being done at most resorts of the NWR within the park itself. “During the course of the year much of our focus will be on operating the park for the next one hundred years, While we would like to organize large-scale celebrations in and around the Etosha National Park, most of our funding is going towards much-needed upgrading of infrastructure,” said Konjore, appealing for more funds from the private sector. Lately, as part of its Turn Around Strategy adopted last year, the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) has been upgrading its three existing resorts of Namutoni, Okaukuejo and Halali at a total cost of N$60-million. “We will be finishing Halali by the end of March and Okaukuejo before the end of May this year. The Waterberg is opening during the first two weeks of March,” said Managing Director of NWR, Tobie Aupindi, when speaking to the media at the same function yesterday. Aupindi added that whilst this upgrading is going on, however, visitors and tourists alike will still be guaranteed the best possible experience at the resorts. “We are trying by all means not to disturb the guest experience. Recent market research has shown that people appreciate it if, after so many years of neglect, the Etosha National Park is being upgraded,” he said. A further N$10,5- million has also been made available by government for the construction and erection of entrance gates, sign-posting, new permits and road maintenance equipment. On the issue of roads, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Dr Malan Lindeque, said: “With the new grading, the Okaukuejo-Namutoni stretch is under quite good condition at the moment.” Since last year’s raging veld fires, the national park has also recovered, especially from eastern Okaukuejo, while the western part is still in need of follow-up rains. Quite significantly, for the first time after many years, Cabinet decided to purchase neighbouring land for the marginalized San group, namely the Hai//om community, some of who live in the park.