Friday, July 19, 2024

“Survival International is paternalistic”

On 20 January the British Guardian newspaper published a Wikileaks release of a US embassy cable regarding the condemnation of the Government of Botswana (GOB) on its policy regarding the Basarwa (‘Bushmen’) by former US ambassador Joseph Huggins.

Survival International (SI), the UK-based “movement for tribal peoples”, is obviously over the moon over this release.

The reaction to the leaked cable on their website: “Yet again, the Botswana government is shown to have been behind needless suffering, scorn, discrimination, and even death, for its most deprived citizens, the Bushmen. This is not just the opinion of some human rights activists and the Bushmen themselves, it is a matter of fact as reported by the US government….”

It is a matter of fact??? This was an internal cable from one US ambassador, who stayed in Botswana for only two and a half years. This was definitely not the official standpoint of the US government. In 2005 ambassador Huggins made a 2-day visit to the west of the country and during 11 March spent part of the day in the village of New Xade where a number of Basarwa (‘Bushmen’) had been relocated.

He spoke with district officials and with a representative of an unnamed NGO. The district officials obviously repeated the GOB standpoint and the NGO representative obviously (he/she earned a living out of this) was extremely critical and all was doom.

Apparently, no attempt was made by the ambassador to consult the people it was all about. This is what makes it a matter of fact? SI occupies itself with the wellbeing of what they call ‘tribal peoples in more than 60 countries around the world’.

When one reads further on their website, it becomes clear that the ‘tribal peoples’ they are interested in fall into three geographical categories: the Americas, Africa, and Asia & Australasia. Conveniently, the only tribal people they mention living in a western (i.e. European or North American) country are the Innu in Canada.

As far as SI is concerned, all other threatened tribal peoples stay in South America, Africa, Asia or Australasia.

Not a word about the numerous indigenous peoples in the present USA, who have been quite brutally marginalized and decimated. Not a word about the Sami in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. And indeed, not a word about the recent mass expulsions of Roma people from France ÔÇô an ancient nomadic ethnic group within what is the European Union today. Where does this interest for basically former European colonies only come from? In Europe, it appears, it is fashionable and politically correct to criticise states that were former colonies and to romanticise “tribal peoples” as a form of wildlife that insists on keeping running around with bows and arrows and making fire with a fire-drill rather than striking a match. Apart from that, it’s easier and more convenient to look at or create problems halfway across the globe, than to look at and solve those at home isn’t it? And its much easier to get funding from the public – ask Geldof and Bono, the professional poverty prostitutes. On its website, SI calls on people to ‘give to our appeal’ and to ‘donate to the Bushmen’ (which is a rather outdated and derogatory term). In addition SI calls for a boycott of our diamonds and appeals to tourists not to visit the country. On Saturday 22 January, SI protested against tourism to Botswana at a tourism fair in Madrid, Spain. A Survival spokesperson who attended the protest said, ‘Anyone who cares about human rights should not travel to Botswana. If they do, they should be aware that they are supporting a government which profits from destroying the last hunting Bushmen in southern Africa. The moment the Bushmen are treated with fairness and humanity ÔÇô but not before ÔÇô we will drop the campaign, once and for all’ (from SI website). SI also criticises countries in South America and South East Asia for harvesting hardwoods from their rainforests. Obviously, this leads to a loss of habitat, biodiversity and contributes to climate change. But where are the markets for those hardwoods? Western Europe used to be one huge forest up to about 300 years ago. What happened? Development happened. In conclusion, I truly do not believe Botswana needs a western, two-faced and paternalist NGO half a world away to tell us how to take care of our business, our country and all our peoples. Those days have long gone. And that is a matter of fact.


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