Back in the early 1990s, the newly independent Namibia had a tiff with old Botswana. Up there in the north west of Botswana is patch of land called Sedudu. The Island is so insignificant that in the rainy season it is completely covered with water.
Suddenly Batswana heard that Lieutenant General Ian Khama had sent a small army of members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to guard the Island as the Namibians were making claims to it. A majority of the nation was hearing about the Island, for the first time. Still Batswana rose, calling on the BDF to stop the invasion to a piece of land we never knew we owned. Batswana, with zero experience in war were urging our troops to take on the new nation with strong military ammunition, and guerrilla war tactics earned from decades long battle for independence from apartheid South Africa.
Batswana rose and were united behind president Sir Ketumile Masire, and Khama. Partisan politics were set aside. Thankfully, we never went to war. The world, the International Court of Justice, heard us, and Sedudu was handed to us, and life moved on.
Then came the late 1990s and 2000s, under president Festus Mogae.
The government was doing what it had threatened to do for years, forcefully relocated Basarwa from their ancestral land, the Central Kalahari (Kgalagadi) Game Reserve (CKGR). Poor Roy Sesana and all other Basarwa activists under the umbrella of the First People of the Kalahari, sought the nation’s support.
The civil society, led by Alice Mogwe’s Ditshwanelo, together with the late John Hardbattle and the independent media activists amongst them the late icon, Beata Kasale took the plight of Basarwa to the world. The message reached many. While international bodies heard but did nothing, one organisation, Survival International (SI), arrived in the CKGR, ready and willing to take the war to the Botswana government.
When Stephen Corey hit our dunes, the civil society and all other human rights activists and legal eagles amongst them the opposition leader Duma Boko and the minister of International affairs, Unity Dow, stood firm on the side of Basarwa. In fact in the subsequent case to challenge the removal of Basarwa from the CKGR, Boko was on the Basarwa legal team, and Dow was on the bench that found in favour of Sesana and company.
But things soon took a different turn. The negative international campaign by SI ignited a patriotic stance. Corey was no longer talking about the fight to return Basarwa to the CKGR but de-campaigning Botswana’s number one commodity, the diamonds.
The British native was now talking of Botswana ‘blood diamonds’. Botswana’s livelihood was under threat, and Batswana changed tune. In uniting against SI, Batswana unfortunately forgot about the plight of Basarwa.
These two examples tell a story of what a nation under ‘attack’ can do. As a people, we differ on many issues, of political
The elephant story.
As a nature loving people, Batswana have lived and protected their wild spices of all forms and types. The country is amongst the leaders in wildlife conservation, partly the reason why our people have been moved out in places like the CKGR to make way for wildlife. Some of these displacements of the indigenous people, as is the case of the Basarwa and others in the Chobe and the Ngamiland areas, have, as indicated about, caused conflict between government and the people.
While conservation has, in most cases, been the main reason for creating special areas for wildlife, there have been underhand dealings that have resulted in Batswana not benefitting from these. Beneficiaries of the multi-billion dollar tourism industry are mainly the Westerners. The elephant tourism industry especially has enriched foreigners more than the nation of Botswana. Yes, peanuts we got, and just appreciated. But as conservation policy, which has been with us from the beginning, dictates, there is need to control the population of animals, elephants included. Culling has always been the most effective way, as is also sharing some with neighbouring countries.
But when a president with more conservation traits than democratic governance credentials, Ian Khama took over, a lot changed in the management of wildlife. He became more concerned with protecting the animals than keeping a manageable number.
Concerns of local expects, including communities who know better about these animals were overridden and foreign ‘experts’ many of whom were in the business of wildlife photo-tourism took charge.
When the Khama administration took unilateral decision to ban the culling of elephants six years ago, the already growing population of the species exploded.
Now the communities, the poor ones, started experiencing all kinds of problems. The big animals started raiding their fields, destroying their source of living. Worse, the animal/human conflict took a dangerous level, with the marauding elephants invading homesteads and killing people.
When President Mokgweetsi Masisi came to office last year, he seemed to heed the people’s cry, and despite months of threats and de-campaign, his administration last week took action and lifted the ban on hunting.
Now the nation is under seize, and the world far off, is throwing all kinds of insults and threats our way. Now I say, if there is one thing to bring us together again, is to stand up to these world bullies and say our people first. We love our elephants, but not at the expense of our people.
Let’s engage on firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook page, Pamela Dube or WhatsApp no 77132086