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Communities turn spectators as 'White Saviours' battle

Ogada says in the colonial era, white hunters would caption themselves and their prey not bothering to mention the Africans in the picture PIC:
In the ongoing elephant hunting ban debate, both conservationists and professional hunters claim the ultimate beneficiary of their lobbying is the ordinary Motswana living next to the giants. Sidelined and left at the mercy of rampaging profiteering, the ‘ordinary Motswana’ is understandably cynical. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI writes

It could have been the 19th century novels written by H. Rider Haggard giving his British readers a never-seen-before, if not patently prejudiced, view into Africa, that ignited the West’s fascination with the Dark Continent.

Haggard’s novels of exotic African locations, mystery and adventure, reinforced the enduring stereotype of the African in the minds of the West: a thick-lipped bare-foot heathen, surrounded by pristine natural wonders, who needed to be helped down from the trees, clothed, taught a language and given a purpose.

It can be argued that Haggard, whom Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o referred to as “one of the geniuses of racism,” is among the architects of the White Saviour complex among some Westerners today.

Everyone knows better than the African in the village, who needs to be protected from his own incompetence, who needs the organisation and foresight of a Westerner to thrive.

It is the same narrative seen in Western reports about Africa, where frequently the continent is almost consistently portrayed as backward, chockfull of murderous despots, diseased and yearning for the benevolent touch of the West.

These attitudes appear particularly entrenched in tourism and conservation, perhaps because for someone whose view of Africa is a place where elephants and lions roam unfettered, the impulse to be a White Saviour is strongest when the African is actually found in such a place.

These are not groundbreaking issues. Dr. Mordecai Ogada, a carnivore ecologist with 16 years experience in conservation in Kenya, notes the evolution of the Westerners in African wildlife from initially being the hunters who decimated populations, before transforming into conservations armed with alarm bells.

“Exploitation of African wildlife by Western consumers began in the early 1900s with hunting safaris, which were basically tests of resilience and skill with the target of harvesting the biggest and largest number from this bounty under pretty harsh and rustic conditions,” he writes.

“It was closely followed in the 1960s by the photographic safari and cinematography that cemented the romanticism of these adventures in the African wild.

“This led to a spurt in tourist interest, which no doubt pleased the foreign exchange-hungry newly independent states.”

Ogada continues: “Two major pitfalls arose from the romantic age between 1950 and1970 – pitfalls that continue to determine how wildlife conservation is practised today. The first major pitfall was the illogical link and valuation of wildlife based on tourists’ appreciation and (where hunting was allowed) consumption.

“The second pitfall was the firm placement of black Africans as “props” who were destined never to be equal intellectual participants in the management of and discourse around African wildlife.”

This last issue, for Batswana in 2019, lies at the heart of the ongoing uproar over the plans Botswana has for her elephant over-population. Government’s experts and Batswana in general keep reminding the world that this country has faithfully cared for and grown elephant and wildlife numbers through the centuries. Batswana keep arguing that elephant numbers cannot simply keep rising without intervention, especially when these lead to greater conflict with humans. Batswana keep stressing that the communities who live near and interact with these giants should

receive greater benefits, as they are the best defenders against poaching.

However, some self-righteous Westerners, perhaps looking through Haggard’s lens, only see yet another African state bungling its resources.

On social media, some animal-lovers/conservationists have betrayed how they view Africa.

“Why don’t you cull the humans instead?” “We don’t come there to see the humans, we come there to see the wildlife.”

When it comes to how value should be extracted from tourism, whether through photography/safari (non-consumptive) or through hunting (consumptive), few on the global stage want to hear the voice of the Motswana.

The battle is now between the conservationists and tour operators on one hand, and the professional hunters on the other. The bounty is tourism dollars that flow in the millions towards Botswana. And the community are the bystanders, whose participation in the value chain is only at the bottom rung, apparently easily sated with whatever employment is available on the concessions.

“Blatant racism becomes much more evident in the conservation field, which in Kenya is dominated by whites,” writes Ogada.

“From a strictly academic standpoint, the open discrimination and obvious colour bar evident in the conservation sector in Kenya is fascinating for its longevity.

“Business, agriculture, banking, education and all other fields have changed beyond recognition in the last few decades, but conservation remains firmly in the “Victorian gamekeeper” mode, where conservation is basically about protecting wildlife from the proletariat so that the nobles can consume the same for luxury/ recreational purposes.”

Kitso Mokaila, who took over as Tourism Minister last December, says he has a plan to turn things around. This is Mokaila’s second term in the Ministry.

“When I left in 2012, we had progressed a Community-Based Natural Resources Management Bill, which was due to be implemented.

“I’m going back to Cabinet to get that going again. We have developed a Cabinet memo on this.

“If you are near these animals, you must have a share of the value chain, whether that involves ownership of lodges or anything else at the top end.

“Batswana must also feel this thing we say that Botswana is a destination of choice, right from the top, even if this involves a reservation policy for citizens.

“Through the Act, we will be looking at what can be done for the communities.” According to Mokaila, at the heart of the Act is the idea that natural resources have a value and communities can sustainably venture into enterprises.

“This Act will be a vehicle to empower communities. One thing we want is shareholding, capacity building and ownership.

“We are going to look at the various businesses that can work in the different areas, that tap into tourism.”

For Mokaila this approach also reduces “leakages” or the revenues suspected to be lost from the value chain in the current set up of local tourism, where authorities are unable to look beyond the structures operators put between themselves and their target source markets. The CBNRM Act could be a start for the country and if successful, a message to other states across the continent that there is life beyond the White Saviours.




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