Masisi turns tables on the Khamas’ grip on tourism

24 Feb 2019

BY CALISTUS BOSALETSWE

Khama’s vested interest in tourism, enjoying the trappings that come with it, has created a lucrative business conduit in photographic safari for a cartel of friends who still benefit disproportionately to the detriment of the community at large even in his retirement.

The tourism monopoly nevertheless is being dismantled every step of the way by President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration.

A 10-point plan that seeks the hunting ban to be lifted was handed over to Masisi on Thursday by a Cabinet Sub-Committee appointed by the president.

Led by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Frans Van Der Westhuizen, the sub-committee delved into the issue holistically and consulted stakeholders.

Under Khama’s administration, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism banned hunting of wildlife in Botswana in January 2014.

The move was widely interpreted as aimed at bolstering businesses belonging to few of Khama’s friends in the photographic tourism industry – alleged proponents of the ban – to the exclusion of the majority of communities who benefit from hunting.

The ban was imposed ostensibly to shore up Khama’s conservation credentials in the eyes of the international community especially Conservation International.

A cabal of photographic owners who were against the trophy hunting connived with the highest office in the land during Khama’s reign and  influenced him to introduce the trophy hunting ban. The move disadvantaged communities who were relying on trophy hunting for their own livelihood in the Chobe, Kgalagadi and Okavango wilderness areas.

The trophy hunting ban left a trail of destruction with a number of community trusts that were relying on trophy hunting collapsing under a government decision to convert hunting concessions into photographic safaris.

Most of the concession areas that were initially allocated for trophy hunting were later allocated to companies that had links with Khama after being converted to photographic safaris.

Pundits argued contrary to believe that trophy hunting ban was behind the decline of  the wildlife species noting that Khama’s decision was not based on scientific knowledge but to appease his cronies.

The committee recommendations comes at a time when Botswana’s  poster boy conservation  stance on elephants haunts government as it continues to bleed the government coffers in the past two years close to more than P50 million

 The government is of the view that the compensation to farmers as result of elephant is not viable in the future as the government struggles to compensate farmers.

The government revealed that the compensation to farmers which has overstretched the Department of Wildlife and National parks.

The government indicated that currently the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is dispatching 2016 compensation to farmers.  The committee recommendations took into experts’ views on trophy hunting hence calling for lifting of the hunting ban.

 After a wide consultation the committee agrees with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN ) briefing paper titled “Informing decisions on trophy hunting” that  legal, well regulated trophy hunting programmes can, and do, play an important role in delivering benefits for both wildlife conservation and for the livelihoods and wellbeing of indigenous and local communities living with wildlife.

The committee was of the view that when communities realize the potential value and associated income to be derived from wildlife resources and related activities , they will be converted to be good conservationists as opposed to concentrating on negative aspects of property destruction and loss of human lives caused by wildlife.

IUCN also support the idea of well managed trophy hunting, which takes place in many parts of the world, can and does generate critically needed incentives and revenue for government, private and community landowners to maintain and restore wildlife as a land use and to carry out conservation actions (including anti-poaching interventions).

The international organisation working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources argues that it sustainable trophy hunting can return much needed income, jobs, and other important economic and social benefits to indigenous and local communities in places where these benefits are often scarce.

“In many parts of the world indigenous and local communities have themselves chosen to use trophy hunting as a strategy for conservation of their wildlife and to improve sustainable livelihoods. Time-limited, targeted conditional moratoria – particularly if accompanied by support for on-the ground management reform – may be useful tools in driving improvements in hunting practice. Such moratoria could focus on particular countries or species. But poorly targeted or blanket bans or restrictions affect both good and bad hunting practices,” argues IUCN.

IUCN argues that rather than bans on trophy hunting, poor practices could be improved by sustained engagement with and support for responsible national agencies to improve governance frameworks and on-the ground management.

“If decisions to ban or restrict trophy hunting are taken, there is a need to identify and implement in advance viable alternative long-term sources of livelihood support and conservation incentives.”

“While tourism can be a viable alternative in a limited number of cases, it requires access, infrastructure, guaranteed wildlife viewing opportunities and political stability – all conditions that are missing in many of the places where trophy hunting is working,” added IUCN.

The University of Botswana, Professor, Joseph Mbaiwa, also argues that the hunting ban was not influenced by scientific evidence.

Mbaiwa who criticised Khama’s trophy hunting ban concluded the ban was influenced by some individuals who were close to Khama as opposed to scientific findings.

He posits the communities tend to care more about wildlife if they are benefiting from them. He indicated that issues of poaching also go down because the communities now tend to look after wildlife species.  Mbaiwa was of the view that the number of elephants have increased hence there was need to continue hunting to keep elephants away from communities.

In his research paper titled “Effects of the safari hunting ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana” Mbaiwa found the ban led to reduction of benefits to local communities. Such include unemployment opportunities, scholarships and income required to make provision for housing the needy.

“After the hunting ban, communities were forced to shift from hunting to photographic tourism. Reduced tourism benefits have led to the development of negative attitudes by rural residents towards wildlife conservation and the increase in incidences of poaching in Northern Botswana,” he said.

“The implications of hunting ban suggest that policy shifts that affect wildlife conservation and rural livelihoods need to be informed by socio-economic and ecological research. This participatory and scientific approach to decision-making has the potential to contribute sustainability of livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Botswana,” added Mbaiwa.

The Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Ministry spokesperson, Boikhutso Mashona, said at the height of an international “storm in a tea cup” over the alleged poaching and killing of 87 elephants which attracted worldwide condemnation, compensation extended to farmers as a result of wildlife damages stand at P50,3 million.

“It has over stretched the department’s resources as espoused by the backlog for example in Maun they are dispatching 2016 compensation backlog,” said Mashona.

According to Mashona elephants contribute to most of damages Ngamiland, Chobe, Boteti and Bobirwa areas as result of increasing elephant population.

Mashona further noted that other areas where elephants continue to be a menace to farmers are Maun, Okavango, Chobe, Boteti, Bobirwa, Tutume, Nata/Gweta. These are hot spot areas not to say that damages are better in other areas.

He indicated that currently the government has paid farmers Chobe farmers an amount of P1 900 000.Kgalagadi District stand around P600 000,Central stand at P10 million while Ngamiland stand around P500 000.

Mashona said Boteti sub district is one of the areas that rank first among hot spot areas where elephant destruction is a problem. He says elephants continue to be a problematic to peoples’ lives as elephants trample people who come into contacts with elephants to death. He says since 2015 there were 11 people who were trampled to death by elephants.

The committee recommended for the development of a legal framework that will create an enabling environment for growth of safari hunting.

“Unfortunately they were 22 people who were killed by wildlife since 2015. Elephants accounted for 11 deaths followed by hippo with 7 while the remainder were killed by buffalo, crocodiles and lions” said Mashona.

Mbaiwa is of the view that there is a need to reduce the number of elephants in Botswana. “We should have a solution since this elephants are becoming a problem. Its either we donate or sell them to other countries,” added Mbaiwa.

He argued that it was a pity that Botswana no longer has an elephant management plan which could guide the country on how to address the elephant population. According to him the country elephant management which was drafted in 1991 state that the country should have 50 000 elephants. “ It seems like that elephant management plan is no longer in use which makes it difficult to manage elephant which stands around 200 000,”said Mbaiwa.

Mbaiwa also indicated that the country has never had capable individual who could convince the organisations such as Convention on International Trade in Endangered species of Wild Fauna and Flora to reduce the numbers of elephants. 

Botswana move to turn the tide against the trophy hunting comes at a time when local researchers who are against trophy hunting are mobilising smear campaigns to discredit the possible return of trophy hunting. The campaign started after Masisi set up a cabinet sub-committee on hunting ban dialogue.

At the time when the dialogue was ongoing, a local conservation NGO, Elephants Without Borders’ director Mike Chase released a report alleging massive poaching of elephants in Okavango. The flawed finding was leaked to the international media - the BBC in particular.

Side bar: Westhuizen’s committee recommends:

    •    Hunting ban be lifted.

    •    Develop a legal framework that will create an enabling environment that will create an enabling environment for growth of safari hunting industry.

    •    Manage Botswana elephant population within its historic range.

    •    Department of Wildlife and National Parks should undertake an effective community outreach program within the elephant range for Human Elephant Conflict mitigation.

    •    Strategically placed human wildlife conflict fences be constructed in key hotspot areas.

    •    Game ranches be demarcated to serve as buffers between communal and wildlife areas.

    •    Compensation for damage caused by wildlife, ex-gratia amounts and the list of species that attract compensation be reviewed.

    •    All wildlife migratory routes that are not beneficial to the country’s conservation efforts be closed.

    •    The Kgalagadi south-westerly antelope migratory route into South Africa should be closed by demarcating game ranches between the communal areas and Kgalagadi Wildlife Management Areas.

    •    Regular but limited elephant culling be introduced and establishment of elephant meat canning, including production of pet food and processing into by products.