Clearly, we are indebted to those 87 elephants but we also owe a word of thanks to both Dr Chase and Thea Khama. There was so little that we, the general public knew about these issues before those elephants exploded on the scene.
And how much we have subsequently learnt and indeed needed to learn. But there are still so many unknowns.
What persuaded Dr Chase to go public with his elephant story? Did he believe that he could never be discredited by other professionals? Why did he put his career on the line? Could he really have been so reckless or was he confident that he was untouchable and so cocooned that his protective power system would always keep him safe?
Instead, it was that same power system which was brought out into the open with the Gazette describing it as the ‘P35 Million Family Affair’.
But look at some of those other recent headlines – Unity Dow Questions TK’s Integrity, Masisi faces death by a thousand cuts, If Ian Khama has to be Tried, So be It, Khama - Masisi Clash May Lead to Civil War, Tshekedi Khama Rubbishes his Permanent Secretary, How Thea Khama Co-Runs Ministry with Husband Tshekedi, Fights for Elephants Sparks ‘civil war’ among Botswana’s Elite, Khama Hits Back, Tshekedi Khama under Siege. What a field day it has been for cartoonists, an overlooked art form if ever there was one.
And what great articles, exploring the many elements of this saga, have been written. Yesterday we were led to believe that the rift between the ex and current President was merely a personality difference so that the BDP old hands felt that all that was needed was some form of compromise as was reflected in Mmegi’s 31.8.18 headline, ‘Khama Refuses to Bury the Hatchet with Masisi’.
It then became clear that this was more correctly described as a clash between the former President and the government. Now, within so short a time, it looks very much like the Khama family against the government or perhaps, if you prefer, the other way around.
Understandably Chase’s false claims and the attention given them by the western media have provoked a reaction here of outrage, anger, shock, and resentment which was encapsulated by the Guardian’s cartoon (14.9) in which a white game reserve lodge owner tells Tshekedi that ‘one of my black workers is refusing to lick my white client’s feet.’
But we do need to go easy about these issues and hopefully keep the racism thing out of the equation. It only serves to muddle. We should avoid shooting ourselves in the foot – others have already done that. For years past, certainly back to President Masire, the government’s has been a sensible high cost low volume anti-poaching tourist policy.
It helps no one, at this stage to characterise this saga as white against black or rich against poor. The west’s media has been consistently kind to this country, excessively so, but then suddenly the wind changed direction as it will change again.
The country has been bruised, even injured and the perhaps inevitable entanglement of conservation and tourism – not only for this country - has brought benefits as well as problems. Not all the tourists who come here are white, from the western world, elderly or threatening to go elsewhere if the government fails to reissue major weaponry to the Wildlife Department.
The country needs those tourists who will continue to come here because everything will settle down and because many of those visitors will be unaware that there has been this fracas.
That said, there is an urgent need to carry out a tourism audit, to pin down who owns what and to unravel the linkages, not least with those key parts of the government. The 50th anniversary would have been an obvious opportunity to re-examine, to re-think and to re-prioritise. What kind of a country? What kind of a people? Vision #2 was approved with only few knowing whose vision was being reflected. The re-appraisal didn’t happen. Perhaps it could not then have happened.
But it really does need to happen now because the dream that once made this country so attractive to so many has gone. Instead there is disillusionment.
Perhaps we have been taking things too easy, taken too much for granted, perhaps we were cowed into acquiescence and accepted being in a state of semi-permanent not knowing.
Or perhaps those of us with cash and power were content to sit back in our comfort zones and enjoy the goodies. But then came the 87 elephants and there is a nasty feeling that there are even more revelations to come.
In the meanwhile, we could reflect that if we were to view wildlife as a national asset much like minerals, it would become more difficult for people like Dr Chase to pull such a stunt.
Most of us have never been appraised of the issues involved.
Not with the game reserves which seem straightforward but in the areas where people co-exist with wildlife.
There, we now better understand, the balances have changed and a new situation has emerged as a result of the increased number of elephants. Sadly, this is now being portrayed as a clear choice, elephants and people. How best to restore the former balance? Not easy. But a way must be found.