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President Mokgweetsi Masisi is facing a vicious push back from the all powerful tourism old boys’ network which was the invisible force behind former President Ian Khama’s administration.
The recent elephants’ massacre propaganda war waged by tourism interests against the Masisi administration is believed to be part of a big “death by a thousand cuts” strategy employed by former President Khama’s allies to chip Masisi’s power.
Former President Khama is part of a powerful international network of photographic safari operators with financial interest in the Botswana tourism industry.
The network is mobilizing to protect the gains it made under former President Lt Gen Ian Khama in their long battle with trophy hunting safari operators.
Fighting the photographic safaris corner alongside Khama is Mike Chase Director of Elephant Without Borders (EWB) who last week shared an unconfirmed report with the international media breaching his contractual agreements with his employer, Ministry of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism (MEWT).
Addressing a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) sitting on Friday Permanent Secretary at MEWT Thato Raphaka said the right to disseminate that kind of information lies with the Ministry and not the contractor, EWB.
He said they were still investigating the motive behind Chase’s rash behaviour with a view to hand the matter over to the Attorney Generals Chambers for possible litigation. “His actions amount to breach of contract,” Raphaka said.
Even worse, it has emerged that Chase has failed to substantiate claims of the ‘87’ poached elephants that he alluded to in his controversial report that went viral last week. Instead of the alleged 87, only seven elephant remains were spotted by the team of Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and other security organs that went to investigate.
Sources close to the old boys’ network insist that Mike Chase’s elephants massacre claims are less about protecting elephants and more about defending vested interests.
Former President Ian Khama, his brother Tshekedi who is also Minister of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism and Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders all sit in the board of Tlhokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust. The trust is pushing the photographic safari agenda against trophy hunting safari.
Also defending the photographic safari juggernaut alongside Khama and Chase is Microsoft Co- founder Paul Allen who is a major sponsor of Elephants Without Borders.
Allen part-owns Abu Camp in the Okavango Delta, which is managed by Wilderness Safaris as one of their 'Collection' properties. Both Allen and Khama are part of the Wilderness Safaris “Collection” properties which has brought together champions of photographic tourism.
Allen also funds the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust's Bio-Boundary Research Project through the Paul G Allen Family Foundation.
Allen’s connection with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama runs deeper. Khama’s personal lawyer Parks Tafa played a major behind-the-scenes role in the award of a disputed multi-million Pula tourism land to Paul Allen. Promotive Investments a firm owned by Allen was favoured in a controversial allocation of a lucrative tourism land in the Okavango Delta by Tawana Landboard and Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO).
The matter became the subject of court action by leaseholder, Kwara. Khama’s legal advisor and confidante Parks Tafa played a complex multi-faceted role in the process, which apparently had his law firm, Collins Newman and Company, advising BTO on how to deal with the concession, and then switching to a new role as legal advisor to Promotive Investments and finally joining Promotive Investments to become one of its directors, two months after his partner at Collins Newman and Company, Laurence Khupe had decided on the concession and allocated it to Promotive Investments without a tender.
Khupe was sub-committee chairman of BTO Investment Committee. Documents show that on the 22nd of April 2009 at a Board meeting, Khupe, allocated the management area classified as NG20 to Paul Allen’s company without going through a tender process. Until two weeks ago who sat on the board of Paul Allen’s Promotive investments was also chairperson of the Wilderness Safaris board in which Khama’s nephew Marcus Ter Haar is also a member. The tourism old boys club is where all the work is done; where the unwritten rules defined the insiders and the outsiders.
Another champion of the photographic safari is National Geographic film director National Geographic’s Derrick Joubert. Who is a friend of the former president and a business associate under Wilderness Safaris.
For decades the Botswana tourism industry existed, not to serve Batswana, but as a site for rent extraction by the very small minority that controlled political power.
Before stepping down as president, Khama allegedly extracted a promise from his successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi that he would appoint his brother Tshekedi Khama as Vice President.
Ian Khama appointed Tshekedi Khama to the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism where he protected the family jewels and the powerful vested interests. His ascendance to vice president and subsequently president would ensure that the network not only survived, but continued to thrive.
Masisi shakes the old boys club
When Masisi took over as President, he however went back on his promise to appoint Tshekedi Khama as vice President. The new president went further and challenged Khama’s hunting ban. The decision struck right at the heart of the old boy’s club business interests and threatened to reverse their victory against trophy hunting safari operators.
Former President Ian Khama’s hunting ban was the master stroke for the country’s photographic safari operators in their long running war with trophy hunting safari operators.
Among the first things on President Masisi’s “IN” tray was to appoint a Cabinet Committee to consult with communities on Khama’s hunting ban.
Masisi’s plan to reverse Khama’s move to promote photographic tourism at the expense of trophy hunting tourism gained traction when it received the full backing of Parliament. Members of parliament last month passed a motion to consider lifting hunting ban and shooting of elephants.
Thato Raphaka, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism told the international media that "prior to the adoption of this motion, Government had already appointed a Cabinet Committee to consult with communities on hunting ban."
Government has already made indications to start consultations, though the ban on hunting and shooting of elephants is still in force, Raphaka said.
This came at a time when unhappy tour operators were complaining that the Old boys club had conspired to kill trophy hunting. They spoke out against the unholy trinity of former President Ian Khama, Wilderness Safaris and National Geographic’s Derrick Joubert.
The conspiracy theory was backed by the web of business interests and social ties connecting Khama, Joubert and Wilderness Safaris. Joubert like Paul Allen and former President Khama are shareholders in subsidiary companies of Wilderness Safaris.
The ban on trophy hunting was the highest watermark in the intense rivalry between hunting safaris and photographic safaris in Botswana. In their website, Wilderness Safaris makes a veiled reference to the rivalry. The tourism company which prides itself in being motivated by the concern that “the world's - most unique areas would be under threat and lost to future generations” states that “we then realised that we too are part of this wild place, that as custodians of our planet we need to do all we can to protect these places; that there are real choices we can make.” “Wilderness Safaris was established in 1983 by a group of individuals who had a dream; a dream to share some of the most remote wilderness areas on the African sub-continent with guests from all over the world, in a way that lightly touched the environment but left a big imprint on the soul”, states the website. At the time, states the website, “Botswana was a little-known safari destination. Photographic safaris were generally restricted to using the national parks, while hunting safari companies controlled large tracts of the Okavango Delta.” Now with the hunting ban, photographic safaris have finally won against hunting safaris. Joubert has in the past confirmed meeting Khama were he raised concerns about trophy hunting. In a curious coincidence, Khama, Joubert, Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders, Paul Allen and Wilderness Safaris are not only friends and business associates, but also share a common position against trophy hunting.
Critics of Khama’s hunting ban argued that the former president was succumbing to such organizations like Conservation International which have for years been putting pressure on Khama to parcel the country into zones for photographic tourism, with Joubert, a film-maker for National Geographic as the most articulate proponent who has been clever to use his friendship with the President to get what he wanted.
Professional Safaris hunters go as far as to say when it comes to hunting ban, Joubert overreached himself not just by placing an imposing nudge on the president but also going as far as to explicitly peddle his influence to determine a national policy with potentially explosive international consequences for the country and the president.
Debbie Peake, who is a director at Mochaba Development, which is a trophy safari in Maun, told Sunday Standard at the time that Joubert was influential in the government decision to ban trophy hunting.
She went further to accuse Joubert of sabotage. “His [Joubert’s] position against hunting safari is a personal vendetta against some individuals. He just makes wild claims that are not scientifically proven. His sentiments are just a public stunt meant to put him on the map as a National Geographic filmmaker,” said Peake.
Graeme Pollock of Safari Botswana Bound agreed, adding that everybody should be worried that for all his influence on President Khama, Joubert has no scientific background to guide a decision which as it turns out he now enjoys the singular ignominy of almost single-handedly having forced on government.
“What scares me is that he has no scientific background. People who like to make movies and go to Hollywood like to make noise because they come up with these crazy ideas to get attention. Unfortunately they are the ones who the authorities listen to,” added Pollock.
Joubert, made no attempt to underplay let alone hide his friendship with Khama. He however brushed off insinuations that he used his hold on the president to orchestrate a hunting ban.
“I don’t have influence in the decision making of the government. When you see the declining of wildlife species, hunting and poaching cannot be tolerated. I had a conversation with the president and I don’t think I would be held responsible for influencing the ban because one person cannot influence such a move,” said Joubert.
A Researcher and Director at Okavango Research Centre (ORC) Professor Joseph Mbaiwa told Sunday Standard at the time that the decision to ban trophy hunting was motivated by politics and not scientific research. Professor Mbaiwa proposed that government should come up with policies barring political leaders from owning shares in the tourism industry to avoid a situation where they make decisions that only serve their personal interest.
Two weeks before he stepped down as president of Botswana, Lt Gen Khama restated his position against hunting in Botswana, especially elephant hunting. The former President even slammed US President Donald trump for lifting the ban on certain elephant trophies.
"I want to take this moment to condemn in the strongest possible terms, the decision taken by... the (Donald) Trump administration who on the 1st of March this year... issued a memorandum that with immediate effect, the US government would consider issuing permits for certain elephant trophies from six African countries," said Khama while addressing an anti-poaching summit in Botswana, two weeks before he stepped down.
With Masisi moving against the old boys club, this powerful interest group is believed to be waging a well-funded propaganda campaign to subvert his administration. Mike Chase’s quotes in the western media offer a good indication of its tenor: "Each day we are counting dead elephants," said EWB director Mike Chase. "The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date." Chase went further to blame the government's decision to disarm park rangers as the prime reason for the increase in poaching. Chase curiously omits to mention that the place where the alleged massacre happened is under the watch of the heavily armed Botswana Defence Force anti poaching unit. The elephant scientist further omits to mention that the arming of game rangers and attendant shoot to kill policy is actually not a policy (which would be elaborate, scientific, comprehensive and lawful) but an unlawful anti-poaching tactic that the former president authorised his younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, to use. One very important law-and-order standard that Botswana has traditionally observed since independence - but was relaxed under Khama - is arresting suspects and subjecting them to the full spectrum of requisite legal processes. The nation learnt about the character of the shoot-to-kill tactic for the very first time when Minister Tshekedi explained it to a foreigner, a British film-maker called Tom Hardy. According to Tshekedi, even citizens were not exempt from a tactic which he enforced rigorously through heavily-armed game scouts. Under normal circumstances, laws and policies are published in the Government Gazette and fully explained to members of the public – MPs included – because they are the ones who are expected to obey them. That never happened with shoot-to-kill and hadn’t the minister done an interview with Hardy, it is likely that people would still be expected to steer clear of danger unmarked with signs
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