Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Masisi upsets Khama’s tourism interests

Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama’s hunting ban was one of the first things on President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s crosshairs, Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.

Khama’s hunting ban was the master stroke for the country’s photographic safari operators in their long running war with trophy hunting tour operators. Khama who has big tourism business interests had staked his business on photographic tourism.

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 this week when it received the full backing of Parliament. Members of parliament on Friday 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 on Friday 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 comes at a time when unhappy tour operators are arguing that the unholy trinity of former President Ian Khama, Wilderness Safaris and National Geographic Derrick Joubert had conspired to ban trophy hunting in Botswana.

The conspiracy theory was backed by the web of business interests and social ties connecting President Khama, Joubert and Wilderness Safaris. President Khama is a shareholder in subsidiary companies of Wilderness Safaris and a friend to Joubert, the National Geographic Filmmaker. Joubert on the other hand also has a business relationship with Wilderness Safaris. His company Great Plains was at the time the decision to ban trophy hunting, marketed by Wilderness Safaris. Both Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains have are champions of photographic 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 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 pressure from 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, who also owns Selinda Reserve in the Okavango made any 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.

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