Sunday, November 27, 2022

Gordon Bennett! Khama’s plans go up in smoke

“I have heard rumours that I was to be declared a prohibited person in Botswana,” intimated Gordon Bennett; his young daughter by his side, 20 minutes before his Kenya Airways flight was scheduled to take off from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport last Friday.

His 12-day stay in Botswana has delivered a sweet, swift victory for the Ranyane residents’ fight against government eviction from their settlement. Bennett, 65, views the victory as a clear expression of the court’s declaration of displeasure at government’s action.

Indications are that Bennett’s victories are getting in the way of President Ian Khama’s way of helping American conservation outfit, Conservation International (CI), and several of their partners into turning parts of the Kgalagadi Desert into a grand conservation corridor for wildlife.

CI’s dreams of creating the Southern Africa Wilderness and Transfrontier Conservation Program already has the main ingredients lined up, political will of the Botswana government and funding from sources including the British High Commission in Gaborone, among others. This is all according to their past newsletter article titled, “Conservation Corridors in South Western Botswana.”

Although at first glance it may look like there is no connection between government decision to impose a visa restriction on Bennett, the alleged impending declaration of British lawyer as a persona non-grata and the great scheme of things, connecting some dots paints a sordid picture.

Could it be that the CKGR and Ranyane residents are tripping up these magnificent plans? However, getting them out of the way will give rise to a seamless eco-system restoration and end the human-wildlife conflict.

In the great scheme of things, “the arid Kalahari savanna ecosystem of southwestern Botswana was historically home to extensive wildlife migrations of thousands of springbok, wildebeest and hartebeest moving between the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in search of water and other scarce resources.

These movements have ceased almost entirely due to a combination of factors, including the erection of fences, fragmentation of land for cattle ranching, human settlements (which monopolise the open water sources), and, possibly, unmanaged hunting. The region offers scant economic opportunities to its inhabitants (primarily San ÔÇô otherwise known as Bushmen or Basarwa ÔÇô and the Bakgalagadi).” This is according a newsletter.

“Guided by science and focused on addressing the complex mix of challenges, CI is helping national and local stakeholders to protect wildlife and build conservation-friendly livelihoods.
Financial support for the project is provided by FFEM, the John Swift Foundation and the British High Commission in Gaborone, as well as CI.

While the primary objective of the project is to re-establish conservation corridors in a fragmented ecosystem, this objective is only sustainable if local people can find livelihoods that are compatible with conservation. CI will, therefore, assess a range of such opportunities.”

Before the interview, Bennett had been in the company of Duma Boko and some unidentified associates in black suits; the two had combined forces to fight a similar battle some eight years prior and won.

“I am pleased that the rumour seems unfounded and that the reputation of government of Botswana for fair play and respect for rule of law seems to be justified,” he says, amid his daughter’s reminders that their boarding call has already been made.

Bennett last week embarrassed and scuttled the mighty power of Botswana government for the second time in 10 years; in 2006 he defended CKGR Basarwa/San in a marathon legal case that has been christened the ‘most protracted and expensive’ in Botswana.

This time around, he made newspaper headlines as having stopped government and its local government machinery from removing the engine that pumps water for the Ranyane settlement, or removing the residents until at least 48 hours after the residents had spoken to an attorney.

The planned evictions have been linked to the above-mentioned proposed ‘wildlife corridor’ by Conservation International. President Khama sits on its board. President Khama is also the current Patron of KCS and has served in the KCS Main Committee since 1986. In 2011, he received the prestigious International Conservation Caucus Foundation’s (ICCF) Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award.

In the same publication purporting to be from Conservation International, The Botswana government, French GEF (FFEM) and Conservation International (CI) supposedly conducted a combined scoping exercise through extensive consultation that gave birth to the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor (WKCC) project.

Conservation International was appointed as the Implementing Agent over a four-year period in partnership with the Botswana government, through its Department of Wildlife and National Parks, in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. The project was to be run by a team of five permanent staff in collaboration with a number of local partners, such as the Kalahari Conservation Society, Botswana Community Based Organisations Network, Phytotrade Africa, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Cybertracker, the Botswana College of Agriculture and the Kuru Family of Organisations.
However, Conservation International issued a statement distancing itself from the allegations.

“Contrary to recent reports, Conservation International (CI) has not been involved in the implementation of conservation corridors in Botswana since 2011. When it was, although the Ranyane community resides within a broader study area in which CI previously focused sustainable development efforts from 2007-2011, CI had no direct engagements with the community. Prior to 2011 and during its four-year initiative, CI was explicitly supportive of the San people and their rights in the region, designing projects to facilitate this goal and encouraging livelihood development. Statements otherwise about CI’s ongoing implementation of any conservation corridors in Botswana, such as the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor (WKCC), are erroneous and outdated,” read the first paragraph of the statement.

Back to the Ranyane situation: Through Justice Lot Moroka’s ruling, government officers will no longer be permitted to go into any of the Ranyane resident’s homesteads without permission, as per Section 3 of the country’s constitution.

This, according to Bennett will give the resident an opportunity to choose not to listen to government officials on any further relocation talks. Essentially, government officers have been barred from pestering Ranyane residents about the planned relocations.

Fervent and unyielding champion of San rights, the tribal peoples watchdog Survival International recently published pictures of supposed government trucks and workers camps near Ranyane at the height of the recent eviction threats.

The fourth point of agreement at last week’s court action was that if government relocation teams do go to Ranyane, they are not allowed to parks their vehicles or pitch their tents near the kgotla because the last time it happened, “people were overheard by officials” when they were consulting amongst themselves.

No one was seen accosting Bennett or even approaching him and his daughter in the SKIA terminal, and the assumption is that he will reach Nairobi, Kenya and make contact with the Sunday Standard soon.

His reason for worry at the rumour is simple and straightforward. It would be best he gets served now, and not upon his impending return about a month from now.

“I’m quite sure that the government of Botswana will not wish to deny Basarwa their right to be represented by the counsel of their choice. “

Bennett had been in Botswana for two reasons; other than the Ranyane court case, he was also hoping to see his CKGR clients about a forthcoming matter scheduled to be heard end of July.

“I had wished to advice the residents of CKGR about their claim to be allowed access to the reserve without having to get a permit,” he said.

However, he himself was refused a permit to access the CKGR last Friday, so he couldn’t meet them. But Bennett is no stranger to government refusals to consult his CKGR clients. The same thing had happened in August of 2005.

Although very little has been reported in the local media about the CKGR residents since their thunderous land rights victory seven years ago, a piece of writing being attributed to Bennett with damning allegations that President Khama may have been behind a 2012 prosecution of a group of hunters in the CKGR has surfaced on the World Wide Web.

“…President Mogae insisted that Bushmen would be permitted to hunt with bows and arrows (rather than with horses and spears, presumably, because Bushmen have never used guns). He said the same thing in radio interviews within Botswana. But when the pilot of a light aircraft spotted a small hunting party in the Reserve in 2012, the fact that it had had been armed only with bows and arrows did not stop a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately for the Bushmen the pilot was President Ian Khama, who does not share the views of his predecessor.”

It remains to be seen whether Bennett will be allowed back into Botswana to represent his world-famous CKGR clients in July.

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