Sunday, January 24, 2021

Powerful tourism interests mobilising against Masisi

By Khonani Ontebetse

Powerful tourism interests are mobilizing to subvert President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s ongoing consultations to review the hunting ban imposed by his predecessor Lt gen Ian Khama.

Cabinet resolved earlier this year to go on a two months nationwide consultation to review the ban on hunting, notably of elephants.

The ban which was introduced by former President Ian Khama in 2014 came under increasing criticism from Parliament and communities living in areas with wildlife populations.

In what is suspected to be part of the campaign to undermine the nationwide consultations, the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) which forms the portfolio under Minister Tshekedi Khama who is believed to be supporting the hunting ban has organised a two week national tour  for “friendly” media houses.

The tour is expected to complement attempts by powerful international vested interest to drown voices of ordinary Batswana.  British MPs, leading conservationist and actors have already massed in opposition to the Presidential sub-committee of Cabinet chaired by Local Government and Rural Development Minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi which is currently consulting affected communities across the country.  

The committee was set up following a motion by Parliament calling on government to consider lifting “the ban on hunting and shooting of elephants in areas that are not designated as game reserves and national parks.”

Sunday Standard has established that during kgotla meetings that have been addressed by Venson-Moitoi’s committee, Batswana are unanimous that the trophy ban on trophy hunting be lifted.

In a brief interview, Venson-Moitoi was unfazed by reports that there was opposition to the consultation to review the hunting ban by the international campaigners. She insisted that her committee would not be derailed by the petition which has since been handed to Masisi through the Botswana’s High Commission in London. “The consultations are going on smoothly and I will compile and deliver the report detailing Batswana’s views on the hunting ban,” she said.

Reports from British media indicate that Britain’s legislators from across the political spectrum have condemned Botswana’s plans and backed the ban on trophy hunting.

British Labour Member of Parliament Chris Williamson and legislator Sir Ed Davey of Liberal Democrat were quoted as saying that they oppose plans by Botswana Government to lift the ban on hunting.

Davey was quoted as saying that “The case for legal hunting of elephant ranges from weak to immoral. Legal hunting can often act as a cover for illegal hunting, endangering the species – and the idea that tourist money trickles down to support local people who then prevent poaching simply isn’t proven. We need the ban – and we need to resource its enforcement, urgently.”

Williamson was also quoted as saying that: “The appalling, indiscriminate killing of elephants for their tusks is barbaric. There has been a spate of killings in Botswana, a previous safe haven for these beautiful creatures. That’s why I am calling on the Botswana Government to take action to address the slaughter of these animals without delay.”

It emerges from British media that a demonstration against proposals by Botswana government to permit the resumption of elephant hunting took place in London and marked “the launch of a new campaign to make the bloodsport illegal.”

Reports indicate that some of the British celebrities which joined the chorus against Botswana’s plans to lift the ban include among others prolific writer and poet Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Oddie who is also a writer and composer and actor Peter Egan. The letter was which was addressed to President Masisi has also been signed by radio and television presenter Nicky Campbell, actor and comedian Stephen Fry, standup comedian and producer Ricky Gervais, actresses Joanna Lumley, Carol Royle and Virginia McKenna, television presenter and author Chris Packham and  comedian Sara Pascoe.

It has also emerged that some leading American conservationists backed up by tourism big guns have also joined the fray and are mobilising influential individuals against Botswana Government to protect their interests in the country’s tourism industry.

The founder of the campaign against the lifting of the ban, Eduardo Gon├ºalves, stated that “we strongly urge His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana, to keep the current ban on the trophy hunting of elephants in place.”  

The petition also reads thus “trophy hunting brings a cruel death for the target animal, and does little to benefit local communities or support wildlife conservation.

Elephant populations have fallen dramatically in recent years, including in neighboring countries where trophy hunting is permitted.”

It further stated that “Botswana is now the best hope for the survival of this magnificent creature. Losing the African Elephant would be a conservation disaster for Botswana, Africa and the world.”

It concluded that “We very much hope you will demonstrate your, and Botswana’s, continued global leadership in helping preserve the African elephant for future generations by ensuring the trophy hunting ban remains in place.”

Gon├ºalves said that the decision to launch the campaign against Botswana was necessitated by “…the country’s Parliament to make trophy hunting LEGAL” and the fact that “Botswana’s President has launched a public consultation.”

Unhappy tour operators are adamant 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 is 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.

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