Mmegi Online :: A trumpet call to action in the Sphere of Fear
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Last Updated
Monday 20 May 2019, 16:33 pm.
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A trumpet call to action in the Sphere of Fear

A 520,000-square kilometre paradise straddling five countries, including Botswana, has turned into a Sphere of Fear for residents besieged by ever-increasing numbers of elephants. For the first time, countries united on what needs to be done although “others” elsewhere are unhappy. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI was in Kasane, the heart of the Sphere
By Mbongeni Mguni Fri 10 May 2019, 18:00 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: A trumpet call to action in the Sphere of Fear








“I listened this morning to all the experts lecturing us and I wanted to ask where they come from. If they are from Europe or US, I wanted to ask them how they destroyed all their elephants, but come to lecture us.

“We have a problem because we have managed to protect ours. Our success is now our problem.

“We should actually be going to Europe and telling them how to manage elephants.”

Namibian President, Hage Geingob has a reputation for shooting from the hip, especially whenever he picks up the scent of suspected neo-colonialism. At the height of sensitive negotiations between the Southern African Customs Union and the European Union in 2011, Geingob had had enough. He fired off a blistering letter in which he said “all too often” African states are “forced” to sign agreements that “eventually hound us”.

This week in Kasane as regional leaders gathered to discuss elephant overpopulation, Geingob picked up a scent and broke from his prepared statement.

“The UK has the British Lions as their national rugby team, but they have no lions. They must come and learn how to manage wildlife here.

“Europeans come to Namibia and we roll out the red carpet to them with no visas, but for us when we go there, we are harassed.

“This issue of harassing fellow Africans and giving the red carpet to Europeans must stop.”

The debate around elephant overpopulation in the Sphere of Fear certainly has an offish odour for many Africans. The Sphere, known officially as the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) runs across Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola and contains the world’s largest continuous population of elephants by far.

KAZA is a paradise in every sense of the word, boasting both the Okavango Delta and the Victoria Falls, forests, wetlands, some of Africa’s greatest river systems and a natural beauty that is amongst the world’s wonders.

Besides the largest contiguous population of elephants, KAZA also “contains” three million humans who for centuries have lived besides the abundant wildlife in the area, drawing value and sustenance from the resources around them.

The policies underpinning this co-existence has meant that in countries like Botswana, the population of elephants has far exceeded the carrying capacity, increased the competition amongst species for resources and raised conflict. Human factors such as war and poaching in some KAZA states, as well as misguided wildlife interventions have stoked the conflict, with Botswana paying the price for becoming a safe haven for elephants.

In any battle of the species, the grey giants generally win through sheer numbers.

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Adult elephants can eat up to 200 kilogrammes of food per day and drink up to 200 litres of water.

Of the three million KAZA humans, less than 10,000 live in Kasane, a resort town on the borders of four of the five KAZA states. Kasane is amongst urban areas bearing the brunt of elephant overpopulation. Right in the town’s built up areas, by Choppies mall, near the primary hospital (ironically), behind the post office, herds of elephant roam enforcing an informal curfew in the evening.

Kasane is nestled next to Chobe National Park, which has one of the largest populations of elephants, in a country that has the world’s single largest population of elephants.

A town that boasts some of the country’s friendliest and most welcoming citizens has become a poster child for the Sphere of Fear.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s attempts to address the overpopulation have been met with strident derision by animal rights groups, conservationists and a legion of keyboard warriors trawling the internet for something to be outraged about.

International campaigns have been launched to boycott local tourism, petitions are still filling up and pressure has been brought to bear to the effect that any solutions must be endorsed by animal rights groups and those affiliated with them.

Masisi called the meeting of KAZA leaders to secure not only backing for his plans, but also to map out a united strategy for elephant overpopulation. Part of the strategy agreed to includes a strategy on how to engage the hostile West.

As discussions got underway in Kasane, and as the intense differences of opinion became clearer, the scent Geingob would later pick up, grew.

It was the unmistakeable scent of self-righteousness and entitlement, an attitude that rides roughshod over African indigenous knowledge and often seeks to portray Africans as incapable of contributing to solutions to their problems. It is a “talking down to” scent and not a “talking with” scent.

A local delegate appeared to pick up the same smell.

“Someone once said neo-colonialism in African conservation is worse than pre-Independence colonialism.”

Masisi himself picked up the scent a few months ago, in a meeting with local media.

“Why are you afraid to call it what it is?

“It’s a racist onslaught. It’s racism.

“They talk as if we are the grass the elephants eat.

“It startles me when people sit in the comfort of where they are and lecture us about the management of species they don’t have.”

This week in Kasane, Masisi was able to secure a KAZA-wide support for a new homegrown approach to elephants solutions.

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