Saturday, July 11, 2020

Only an ‘insignificant’ number of tourists will boycott Botswana ÔÇô UB scholar

Apparently there is no equivalent of “moeng ga a dibedi” (a visitor shouldn’t have any other agenda) in western culture. When Botswana expects westerners to just come visit as tourists to enjoy the sights, some (whom nobody ever voted into political office) also want political power to dictate terms of wildlife management. With the government having frustrated such hopes last Wednesday by lifting the hunting ban, this group of westerners is threatening that it will “boycott Botswana.” A hashtag campaign with that name is actually taking shape online and is being spearheaded by westerners. From the pen of someone of someone who should know, that campaign will come to nought.

“Only 1 percent of the photographic tourists will boycott visits to Botswana,” says Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute in a written response to Sunday Standard’s questions. “This is an insignificant percentage that should not be much of a concern to Botswana.”

In backing up that assertion, he adds that Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe allow hunting but still get tourists.

“Only a few emotional, uninformed individuals are talking of the boycott. Science-informed individuals understand the need for sustainable wildlife management and utilization, hence will not boycott visits to Botswana. In addition, those who understand that hunting is a management tool and can be done side by side with photographic tourism, are not worried about Botswana’s decision to re-open hunting,” Mbaiwa says.

The UB scholar is keen to stress though that down the road lies a pitfall that Botswana would do well to locate and avoid. Before the imposition of the hunting ban by former President Ian Khama, there was a select group of mostly western tourists who would come to Botswana to hunt big game like lions and elephants, then hack off the heads and take them back home as trophies. There is fierce opposition to “trophy hunting” in the west and Mbaiwa notes that in the particular case of the United States and Britain, lobby groups are pressurizing their governments to ban trophies from coming into their respective countries. If such lobbying effort bears fruit, hunters from those countries wouldn’t see the need to come to Botswana because the sole purpose of their doing so is to kill animals and take trophies home. To that end, Mbaiwa says that “it is upon our government to make our position known to the British government and to the US Fisheries & Wildlife Services to make our position known and accepted.”

Mbaiwa would have made similar advocacy in Washington D.C. last September when he made a presentation to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory body to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

As bothersome an issue is whether Botswana should continue to over-rely on a group of tourists who, however deep-pocketed they may be, fail to observe the moeng-ga-a-dibedi doctrine. Going back to the turn of the century when Botswana clashed with Survival International (SI) over the forced removal of Bushmen communities from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve, western patronage of our tourism now comes with strings attached ÔÇô “ethical consumerism” is a term that has been used. That being the case, the question is: should Botswana should expand its tourism market outside the west? Mbaiwa’s answer is in the affirmative and in elaborating on his point, uses binary classification for a global socio-economic and political divide: “Global North” being the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan as well as Australia and New Zealand and “Global South” being Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East. His elaboration further shows that the issue goes way beyond elephants.

“The challenge has always been the fact that the Global North always wants to dictate on what the Global South should do and I feel it’s not okay. We are sovereign states in the Global South and we should be allowed to make decisions about our wildlife and our future,” he says.

As regards expansion of the tourism market outside the west, Mbaiwa recommends Asia (notably China) which he says has a “big market” for Botswana’s wildlife products.

“I think time has come for Botswana to work on that market. I am aware of the bad reputation the Asian market currently has on the world stage. However, I think things can be legalized and have the markets open again.”

Another course of action that Mbaiwa recommends is “educating the west that ours is conservation and not a massacre of elephants or wildlife.” He points out that Botswana carried out a similar campaign when it clashed with SI. At a period of time when the Kimberly Process (an ethical consumerism campaign against “blood diamonds”) had just been established, SI claimed that Botswana’s diamonds were bloodied, forcing the government to wage its own global counter-campaign to show that unlike countries like Sierra Leone, it was using its diamonds for development.

Says Mbaiwa: “We can still go out there and campaign in the west that our hunting is not a massacre of wildlife but is conservation hunting. Hunting can be a management tool. Our hunting is selective, we target old males, we have wildlife quotas and we do not hunt breeding animals. In addition, we have hunting seasons. We want to manage human wildlife conflicts and ensure that communities in wildlife areas co-exist with wildlife and conserve the same resources. These are people who can provide intelligence information to law enforcement in the event of international illegal poachers. They have to be brought into wildlife conservation by ensuring that they benefit from wildlife. This message can be made clear to the west. Our approach should be based on best scientific practices where socio-economic and ecological aspects of wildlife management are integrated together to achieve conservation. The west needs to know that ours is an integrated land use approach that accommodates hunting, photographic tourism and agro-pastoralism without favouring one land use over the other.”

Mbaiwa has written an academic paper in which he details how the model he describes worked for both communities that live in wildlife management areas as well as for the government’s own conservation initiatives. Titled “Effects of the Safari Hunting Tourism Ban on Rural Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation in Northern Botswana,” the paper shows that the hunting ban was impoverishing low-income communities, had led to a spike in poaching and deprived families of protein in their diet. The paper shows how, as a result of the hunting ban, communities in the Northern Botswana lost income they had earned from controlled wildlife hunting through the Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme that President Sir Ketumile Masire introduced.Mababe’s tourism income dropped from P3.5 million to P500 000 and 35 employees were laid off; Sankoyo’s dropped from P3.5 million to P1.8 million and 35 jobs were lost while Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust’s income fell from P4.8 million to P2.5 million and laid off 40 people. The Chobe Enclave Community Trust (CECT) annual income dropped from P6.5 million to P3.5 million in 2014 and 15 employees (including game trekkers, escort guides and skinners) lost their jobs. Communities in the Boteti area lost in excess of P40 million over six months and in excess of 600 jobs were lost.

Additionally, conservation costs borne by the government of Botswana increased. Some of the money that communities raised was reinvested in lodges, campsites, sub-leasing and land rentals of concession areas. In 2011/12, a total of about P35, 517, 534 was generated by CBNRM projects in Botswana. On the whole, safari hunting by communities generated almost two-thirds of the tourism revenue compared with photographic tourism which generated only a third of community revenue.

CBNRM was not just literally putting money in the pockets of villagers, it was also enhancing their food and nutrition security. According to Mbaiwa’s paper, communities always entered into agreements with safari operators hunting in their concession areas to receive the meat from all animals shot as trophies. Meat from animal species like buffalo, impala, and kudu was the most preferred by rural communities. Poor members within the community were always given free meat while some of it was auctioned off. Meat of less preferred animal species (elephant, baboon, hyena and lion) was usually given to people free of charge. In 2009, a year after President Ian Khama took over from Festus Mogae, each community was allocated a total of 22 elephants or 154 tonnes of meat and protein from these elephants. On average, the African elephant weighs 2.5ÔÇô7 tonnes. Last year, Pandamatenga’s traditional leader,Kgosi Rebecca Banika, told Sunday Standard that in a good hunting season, her village could make upwards of P10 million from elephants alone.

Scholarship such as Mbaiwa’s didn’t make it to the president’s office between 2008 and 2018 and some have attributed that to the fact that then president was himself conflicted because he is one of the major (if not the major) photographic tourism entrepreneurs in the Okavango Delta. More welcome was the scholarship of Dr. Mike Chase, who is the Director of a wildlife conservation NGO called Elephants Without Borders. His own research raised the argument that wildlife populations in Botswana had been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veldt fires. While some other scholars like Mbaiwa questioned this scholarship, Chase had the ear of the big man. On the basis of what he said after the change of guard (that he couldn’t get a meeting with President Mokgweetsi Masisi), it would seem he wanted to retain such privilege.  

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.