Thank you for allowing us to air our views on an article of Mr. Tanonoka Joseph Whande titled “Namibia to the highest bidder” in the Sundaystandard of 19-25 January 2014, painting a picture of Namibia being up for sale to the highest bidder. We respect the right of speech as guaranteed under Article 21 (1)(a) of the Namibian Constitution and the author exercised his democratic right in line with the fundamental rights and freedoms, which our SADC region equally upholds and advances.
I must state that freedom of expression is limited to a certain extent in any democratic state. At least, in the Republic of Namibia, even though freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 21 (1) (a), Article 21 (2) limits it. I therefore write in response to the article within the ambit of the latter constitutional provision. As I respond to the article, I am fully aware that sensibilities differ across societies. The High Commission hereby confirms that indeed the decision was made by the competent and legal government of a sovereign state namely, the Government of the Republic of Namibia in line with its policies and laws governing nature conservation. I commend Mr Whande and others for raising their concerns to protect black rhinos that are considered as one of the endangered species in the world. There are, however, a number of fallacies that are peddled in his comments that cannot go unchallenged. This letter is meant to flag them and to provide facts on the decision and to show Mr. Whande’s biases.
ÔÇó “Namibia is alleged to have flouted (perhaps floated) an invitation to professional hunters to come to Namibia to hunt and kill rhinos as a conservation effort”. The Namibian government only granted authorisation to kill one post-breeding rhino not rhinos in this instance.
ÔÇó A rich white American has won the auction. The auction could have been won by anyone with the interest and means to finance his/her hunting. It is of no consequence that was a rich white American. Namibia’s liberation struggle was, among other things, waged against apartheid and racism through which many lives were lost whose crime was being Namibians. Our country therefore rejects racism in all its forms and regardless of who wants to promote it directly or indirectly.
ÔÇó “Rhinos earmarked to be hunted are killing the other rhinos”. This is a fact. To deal with it, the government has embarked upon this course of action.
ÔÇó “They (Namibian government) went out there and identified them as a problem and decided those rhinos need to be exterminated for the species to continue”. This is how Mr. Knowlton has put it. But there is no mention of the extermination of the species. Species cannot be exterminated at the same time unless there is a cataclysmic event and this trophy hunting is very far from such proportions. It would defeat the purposes of our conservation efforts. The Republic of Namibia has been independent for 23 years and the species in question have not been exterminated but have been conserved and protected. If there has ever been an extermination of rhinos, surely, it must have taken place before the independence of our country.
ÔÇó “They go out and invite bids to hunt an endangered species claiming that killing the animals is actually a way of saving them”. The decision of the government was to kill one problematic and old animal not all endangered species.
ÔÇó “To kill rhinos accusing them of killing other rhinos is an indication of the kind of morons who run our continent”. This is an insult to African leaders both late and alive and it is an abuse of his right of expression, something which, Mr. Whande, will surely discourage children from doing it. There is a great debate among psychologists in the world as to what intelligence is and the purpose of intelligence testing. Morons refer to individuals whose levels of intelligence have been tested or measured and have been found low compared to others who participated in the same test. Partly, the purpose of the test is to help design mechanisms aimed at developing or helping those with low scores. Used in its derogatory terms, a moron is a dull person or foolish person and its application therefore in the article shows only the character of the author rather than his professionalism and this is unfortunate.
The fact is Africa is not led by “morons”. Our continent has and continues to record some measure of success and this cannot be ignored. Having taken a cue from the writings of Confucius, I wish to remind Mr. Whande that “ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon or star”.
Whatever record Africa has so far produced, it has not been entirely off-track and the evidence is there for all to see particularly those who invest their time in research. Whatever our continent is going through it is the responsibility of Africans to act with reason and intelligence in order to bring about some kinds of improvements and this cannot be left to the leaders alone. I am therefore convinced that a partial success in any sphere of human life does not in any way imply complete failure. Thus, calling other people morons simply because they have a different view about a course of action is not plausible.
ÔÇó “This is not only perversity but perversity of the worst kind-This is treason beyond Namibia’s borders”. Perversity cannot define the government’s actions and cannot even be pushed further to be defined as treason. Politically, treason or a breach of faith is a serious charge. It will require a lot of facts to make this allegation stick even in the context of the author’s article. It is a decision not necessarily shared by the author but one that has a farsighted objective.
ÔÇó “For US$350,000, the Namibian government has itself become a poacher-it has come into the poaching business to compete with those it has been fighting”. Name calling is unhelpful. Namibia’s record in nature conservation, which speaks for itself, will be more truthful and comforting to the author should he decide to find out and as good as it is, we find no reason to grandstand about it in the media. Poaching in Namibia is regulated by law and the license to hunt the black rhino that has been identified was issued in terms of the law. Thus, no law has been contravened by our government. I wish to make it clear that illegal poaching in Namibia is punishable and carries a heavy sentence.
ÔÇó “Rich Americans love to kill animals and cut down trees just so they can have photographs taken”. The bias of the author against rich Americans is regrettable. It even finds a glaring stance of prejudice and racism in how the author concludes his article.
The facts are that:
ÔÇó Article 95 (l) of the Namibian Constitution reads as follows: “The State shall promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting policies aimed at the maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future”.
ÔÇó Article 100 of the Namibian Constitution entrusts the state with the responsibility to manage and conserve Namibia’s natural resources to ensure that they are used sustainably. Section 4 (a) of the Nature Conservation Amendment Act No:5 of 1996 states that “No person shall without written permission of the Minister hunt any huntable game, huntable game bird or exotic game or any other wild animal on any land, including community land, owned by the state”.
ÔÇó The tract record of the Namibian government is quite visible and remarkable regarding its commitment to the protection of Namibian fauna and flora. The Parks and Wildlife Management Bill is underway and this Bill will further intensify Namibia’s efforts in protecting its natural resources. The Policy on Wildlife Management, Utilization and Tourism in Communal Areas has been implemented since it was formulated and adopted in 1995. This policy, among others, is aimed at enhancing the conservation of natural resources through sustainable management and protection of our biodiversity. It is through the adoption of this policy that the Community-Based Natural Resources Management programme was introduced whose results have been impressive over the years. For example, there have been increased recoveries of wildlife populations across the country and the commitment of the communities too has increased. In essence, the Namibian government has been making great strides in managing and protecting natural resources.
ÔÇó On 01 October 2013, Cabinet took a decision to auction a hunting license for a black rhino following a submission from the responsible Ministry which was based on a scientific study and due process of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The particular license obtained by Mr. Knowlton is for one black rhino not rhinos. The use of rhinos in plural creates an unnecessary alarmist view of the facts.
ÔÇó I wish to finally point out that Section 53 (1) of the Nature Conservation Ordinance No. 4 of 1975 as amended by the Nature Conservation Amendment Act No. 5 of 1996, empowers the Minister to declare any wild animal a problem animal in any part of the country while section 53 (2) requires the state to make known in the Government Gazette such an animal that has been declared a problem animal. Section 54 (1) (a) permits the owner or lessee of the land where such a problem animal can be found to hunt it at any time. Section 54 (1) (b) allows the owner or lessee of the land to engage any other person at any time to hunt or assist in the hunting of such a declared animal. The decision to auction one black rhino was therefore taken with due regard to the ecosystem, to the relationship people have with nature and the population of the black rhinos in Namibia, in SADC region, Africa and the entire world.
As indicated initially, Mr. Whande’s concern for the black rhino and other endangered species is appreciated. He is, however, not doing justice to the debate on whether Namibia took a right decision or not by calling government and the people involved all kinds of derogatory names and by exhibiting racial bias and prejudice towards rich white Americans. The French proverb which says that to speak kindly does not hurt the tongue, I suggest, is worth keeping in mind. We can guarantee him that the black rhinos and other endangered species will continue to thrive in Namibia under the watchful eye of the Government. We will equally continue to cooperate with CITES as a member state to fulfil our constitutional responsibilities for the benefit of current and future generations of our country, the region and the world at large.
In view of the above, Namibia is not on offer to the “highest bidder” nor shall such a bid ever exist.
*Hadino Hishongwa is High Commissioner of Namibia