Masisi democratises scholarship on wildlife management

17 Sep 2018

One little but highly inconvenient detail about the young Ian Khama that Mmegi publicised years ago is that he would routinely rub out art drawings by his big sister, Jacqueline. The paper couldn’t resist dining out on this juicy anecdote, describing the childhood high jinks as a metaphor for the adult President Khama’s conception of and approach to team work: his contribution to national development is to destroy what others have built but completely failing to build replacement structures with superior stature and sturdiness.

In the early 1990s, when Lieutenant General Khama was still army commander, Botswana was experiencing a constant decline in wildlife populations, part of such decline resulting from poaching. President Sir Ketumile Masire’s response was to adopt a Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme which initially focused on safari hunting as the main tourism activity. The rationale, as Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the University of Botswana explains, was simple enough: “When local communities derive economic benefits from tourism development in their area, they begin putting a higher economic value on natural resources around them and become obliged to conserve them.” 

The results of the CBNRM programme were positive and immediate. Gains included positive attitudes towards wildlife conservation and decline in illegal hunting, increase in populations of some wildlife species and, improved livelihood of communities in CBNRM areas. In under a decade, a review of the CBNRM programme undertaken by the Centre for Applied Research in Gaborone (which is ranked one of the best in Africa by Fraser Institute) found that communities that derived benefits from safari hunting reported that the illegal wildlife exploitation in their areas had gone down in the 1990s and 2000s. This particular study also noted that in CBNRM areas, wildlife populations such as giraffes and buffaloes had increased.

Safari hunting was trumping photographic wildlife tourism at every turn. Between 2006 and 2009, safari hunting by communities generated P33, 041, 127 while photographic tourism generated only P4, 399, 900. In 2008, safari hunting generated P7, 382,097 while photographic wildlife tourism generated only P2, 374,097. Some of this money was reinvested in lodges, campsites, sub-leasing and land rentals of concession areas. In 2011/12, a total of about P35, 517, 534 was generated by CBNRM projects in Botswana. On the whole, safari hunting by communities generated almost two-thirds of the tourism revenue compared with photographic tourism which generated only a third of community revenue.

CBNRM was not just literally putting money in the pockets of villagers, it was also enhancing their food and nutrition security. According to Mbaiwa, communities always entered into agreements with safari operators hunting in their concession areas to receive the meat from all animals shot as trophies. Meat from animal species like buffalo, impala, and kudu was the most preferred by rural communities. Poor members within the community were always given free meat while some of it was auctioned off. Meat of less preferred animal species (elephant, baboon, hyena and lion) was usually given to people free of charge. In 2009, a year after Khama took over from Festus Mogae, each community was allocated a total of 22 elephants or 154 tonnes of meat and protein from these elephants. On average, the African elephant weighs 2.5–7 tonnes.

However, all that was about to end. In 2011, a wildlife conservation NGO called Elephants Without Borders (EWB) concluded a wildlife statistics aerial survey following which its director, Dr. Mike Chase, raised the argument that wildlife populations in Botswana had been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veldt fires. By his account, some 11 species had declined by an average of 61 percent since a 1996 survey. These included ostrich (reported to have declined by 95 percent), wildebeest (90 percent), tsessebe (84 percent) warthogs and kudus (81 percent) and giraffe (66 percent). He added that having fallen below the minimum of 500 breeding pairs to be sustainable, wildebeest were on the verge of local extinction. It is this study, Mbaiwa contends, that was used by the government to inform the decision that led to the hunting ban in 2014.

Solely on the basis of EWB’s findings, a campaign to ban hunting (featuring Khama as its chief salesman) began to gather pace. He touted the importance of non-consumptive tourism, telling a Maun kgotla meeting in 2013 that this type of tourism contributes more than 12 percent of overall GDP. He announced that there would be no hunting licences issued after 2013, and that all hunting in Botswana would end by 2014. When that happened, all the safari hunting concession areas in Botswana were converted to wildlife photographic tourism areas.

It was then that what Masire had built in the 1990s came tumbling down.

An astounding amount of evidence shows that the hunting ban is contributing to increasing incidents of poaching in Northern Botswana. A year after Khama imposed the ban, the New York Times dispatched a reporter to the affected areas and he found that the ban was contributing to increasing incidents of poaching. A Department of Wildlife and National Parks official reported that “poaching incidents increased to 323 in 2014 from 309 in 2012.” Illegal hunting for meat may now be “the most significant factor to account for the recent declines in herbivore species in the Okavango Delta.”

Mababe’s tourism income dropped from P3.5 million to P500 000 and 35 employees were laid off; Sankoyo’s dropped from P3.5 million to P1.8 million and 35 jobs were lost while Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust’s income fell from P4.8 million to P2.5 million and laid off 40 people. The Chobe Enclave Community Trust (CECT) annual income dropped from P6.5 million to P3.5 million in 2014 and 15 employees (including game trekkers, escort guides and skinners) lost their jobs. Communities in the Boteti area lost in excess of P40 million over 6 months and in excess of 600 jobs were lost. Additionally, conservation costs borne by the government of Botswana increased.

At the time of the ban, the Ngamiland CBNRM Forum also noted that other impacts affecting all beneficiaries would include more retrenchments, stoppage of social responsibility and development funds stopped such as funeral assistance, scholarships, old age/destitute funding, small business funds, sport funds and the loss of (mostly elephant) meat. Sankoyo, which had an annual quota of 22 elephants, lost 154 tonnes of meat from elephants, nine buffalo - or 11.7 tonnes of meat, two zebra, three kudu, three wildebeest, seven tsessebe, 12 lechwe, 42 impala, five warthog, six steenbok and three ostrich. Naturally, this meant that the hunting ban had compromised the food and nutritional security of the communities involved.

The latter is worth pausing on in order to point out an oddity that is tangentially related to it. Not getting enough protein necessarily led to health problems, thereby inflating the government’s health bill. Two years ago, when officials from the Ministry of Health and Wellness told then President Khama that there were facing serious budgetary challenges due to high healthcare costs, he typically reached for a low-hanging common-sense solution: remove   “self-inflicted injuries” (drunk-driving, riding motorbikes without helmet, failure to use seat belts for self or children as passengers, participation in riots and mass gatherings involving violence leading to injury, lung cancer associated with tobacco and tobacco products, and attempted suicide related to alcohol or drug abuse) from the government’s medical cover. This policy came to be known as “let-them-die.” In 2001, Botswana Wildlife Management Association had estimated that 25.7 percent of revenue from the safari hunting industry was used at the national level – which means that some of it could have gone towards the national healthcare budget.

Khama’s one-size-fits-all model of tourism didn’t suit areas like Boteti. Ecosurv, an environment consultancy based in Botswana, found that the area was unsuited to high cost wildlife photographic tourism and that the one conservation option that ensured both wildlife protection and economic return in the area was safari hunting. The three sites that took up wildlife photographic tourism failed to replaced jobs lost jobs from the abandonment of safari hunting. All told, Ecosurv found that some 4800 livelihoods had been adversely affected by this transition.

“In addition to the loss of jobs and income by communities after the ban on hunting, communities also had to stop some of the community projects and benefits due to the lack of funds. Revenue generated from safari hunting in Northern Botswana funded several community projects, these include: the construction of houses for the needy, funeral insurance and expenses for all members, scholarship and household dividends,” Mbaiwa writes.

“Houses for the needy” should be of particular interest to those who are familiar with former President Khama President’s Housing Appeal for the Needy. The Boteti case is one fraught with bitter irony: enterprising communities doing their best to live up to the national principle of self-reliance by housing their needy had a thriving commercial venture that was sabotaged by a Father Christmas president, forcing them to rely on the government.

Indeed, as early as December 2014, the Ngamiland CBNRM Forum was also lamenting that benefits that accrued to communities - like better housing, water reticulation, income to households, better diet, infrastructure development such as lodges and vehicles for transportation - had been stopped as a result of lack of funds to finance them. The Chairperson of CECT in the Chobe District also noted that these community projects have been stopped due to lack of funds.

In as far as conservation goes, the country is back to where it was in the pre-CBNRM era. Says Mbaiwa: “If communities in Northern Botswana are no longer able to derive meaningful benefits from wildlife conservation, they will not be obliged to conserve wildlife species, in this regard, wildlife decline is thus bound to continue.”

Using scholarly conventions, Mbaiwa tells this informative, if depressing story in “Effects of the Safari Hunting Tourism Ban on Rural Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation in Northern Botswana,”, an academic paper that should long have found its way to the upper floor of the Office of the President. It never did and while she took great care to be judicious in her choice of words during last week’s press conference, the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Unity Dow, was basically lamenting a decade-long anomaly in which research of only one organisation mattered. As conveyed by Dow, the message of the new president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is that all voices matter. Botswana has spent billions of pula to educate hundreds of thousands of its citizens but in as far as scholarship on wildlife management was concerned, only one person mattered under Khama. As Mbaiwa states, those who questioned Chase’s findings back in 2013 were not listened to despite the valid points they raised.

He writes: “Ironically, participants in public meetings and workshops opposed the hunting ban. For example, academics criticized findings by Elephant Without Borders which informed the ban having methodological flaws. Academics also argued that the study was a snapshot and should not be relied on to inform decisions on the hunting ban. Instead, knowledge on long-term wildlife trends or time series data on wildlife populations in Botswana were required before a decision on the ban is made.”

In one tragic respect, Khama’s preferential treatment of Chase means that he actively and severely limited the nation’s educational productivity on wildlife management.

Those who know what happens behind the scenes have suggested that “personal interest” was put above “public interest” when the hunting ban was imposed. Interestingly, Minister Dow used those terms in similar context. Conflict-of-interest standards should have made it impossible for Khama to seek the guidance of EWB on the hunting ban but that never happened. Masisi and parliament are on board with regard to lifting the hunting ban and it is a matter of time before that happens. While this development will return CBNRMs to profitability and communities to relative prosperity, it will also take away huge chunks of profit (possibly billions of pula) from wildlife photographic safari tourism. EWB gets funding from Wilderness Safaris, a luxury wildlife photographic tourism behemoth that dominates Okavango Delta tourism. Khama and his family members are shareholders in this venture. Khama and Chase are also board members of Tlhokomela Wildlife Trust. It has been alleged that the alarm about heightened elephant poaching that EWB sent out to the international press a fortnight ago was merely a ruse to catalyse fierce international campaign against lifting the hunting ban.