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Trumpeting the truth over elephants

Last September, a report by the BBC claiming a poaching explosion in the Okavango Delta, sparked such a global uproar that government was forced to incur unbudgeted expenses flying local and international journalists to the area, in an effort to rebuff the allegations.

This time again, the country’s well-curated reputation as a beacon for democracy, sound governance, peace and unsurpassed beauty, is being ferociously ripped apart from a seemingly well-coordinated attack led by the global media, fuelled by local activists and borne on the shoulders of ‘outraged’ tourists and animal lovers. It would appear that government has not fully learnt the lessons from the September debacle. It is evident that the pro-elephant hunting ban/anti-culling league is well-organised, determined, focused and responsive. Within hours of the announcement of the ministerial recommendation to lift the hunting ban and introduce culls, global and social media was alight in outrage. Activists such as Dereck Joubert moved quickly to term the recommendations ‘blood laws’, using a neat psychological trick where early (mis)framing of an issue obfuscates the actual facts, added by the inevitable emotional explosion. By the time government began clarifying that these were merely recommendations and that this democracy was built on consultation and that people should come before animals and that the hunting ban conceivably boosted poaching from 2014 and that there were clear greed and racist agendas, etc, the horses had bolted. It is said a lie gets halfway around the world, before the truth puts on its pants.

This is the reason why the voices of the pro-elephant hunting ban/anti-culling league

are far louder. They strike first, strike hard and play dirty, stoking emotions by using images of elephants gruesomely killed elsewhere and reducing the entire complex issue into an unmistakably racist narrative of black Africans wanting to kill their elephants for pet food.

The tools to push back against these tactics are well known to government and already exist. Since at least 2005, few government interventions or projects have taken place without a thorough environmental impact assessment. As cumbersome as these assessments are, they are critical to dealing with the law of unintended consequences and irreversible damage.Such an assessment would have allowed government to brainstorm around messaging of the elephant review process, which could have included the engagement of international PR firms, better coordinated framing, focused fact-telling, a sovereign brand protection strategy as well as tools to measure success or failure in this regard.At present, government’s social media is randomly and rather feebly pushing back online, while the tourism ministry also attempts explainers on local radio/TV, efforts, which while complementary, are unlikely to contain or reverse the damage already done.

Not all is lost however. As the process towards a final direction on the elephant overpopulation reaches its end, government would do well to learn its lessons better.


Today’s thought

“A stitch in time, saves nine.” 

 – Adage




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