KASANE: African states are beginning to make their voices heard on the global stage, in terms of the management of their natural resources.
Amidst a heavy backlash from the West, who for some time in Africa have had the loudest voice in environmental policies, the countries with the world’s largest elephant populations are joining forces and speaking with one unequivocally clear and booming voice.This week, officials, ministers and Heads of State representing Botswana met in Kasane to plot elephant aoverpopulation strategies. Kasane is a town in the centre of the elephant heartland, where the pachyderms roam freely and where injuries and deaths are regularly recorded.
Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism minister, Kitso Mokaila told the ministers’ meeting that the biggest threat to successful wildlife conservation and Africa’s economic wellbeing in Africa is outsiders continuing to dictate to Africa how it should manage and use its wildlife. “As sovereign African states we have now decided that we are no longer going to be dictated to by Western countries and animal rights groups on how to manage and use our wildlife,” said Mokaila. “We have abundant natural resources in Africa, including wildlife and it is us sovereign African states who should decide how to manage and use them.”
In fact, Southern African governments took the same decision about two months ago in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe at the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area Meeting of environment ministers.
Mokaila served as environment minister until 2012, before being transferred to the transport ministry. He rejoined environment last December, under Masisi.
Mokaila believes the reason Masisi re-appointed him to the environment ministry was to ensure that natural resources (including wildlife such as elephants) benefit the people who share the same land with them.
“The reason President Masisi re-appointed me as Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism is because he believes that government resources alone cannot deal with challenges before us.
“President Masisi believes that communities must reap rewards for good conservation.”
According to Mokaila, the 2014 hunting ban dried up local communities’ rewards. Communities that live with the giants are happy that Masisi has reopened dialogue on the resumption of hunting activities, as they believe these will help increase the flow of revenues to the people who ultimately live everyday with elephants.“I support President Masisi 100% that elephant hunting must come back as we have heard him say that on local television station and in different media,” said a resident of Parakarungu village, Chobe District, David Mbanga.
Mbanga said that the former president Ian Khama’s moratorium on elephant hunting came as a disappointment because he had never consulted “us the people”.
“Incredible. Even his late father Seretse Khama would have been very disappointed to see that his son was taking away wildlife benefits from the people.
“President Seretse Khama used to give us buffaloes for meat annually. Now his son has sadly failed to follow in his father’s footsteps.”Local residents in Chobe say the elephant-hunting ban is like telling a supermarket to sell only sweets without major commodities that bring money. When that happens a businessman has to close shop immediately because the business would not be viable.
The residents say the hunting ban devalued elephants in the eyes of those who live with and around them.
Without elephant hunting benefits, Chobe District villagers did not see the need to conserve elephants as the giants brought a high cost of living with them, without benefits.
“The costs include killing our loved ones,” said Mbanga. “We have just buried one of them today here in
“In fact we can no longer grow crops because elephants are always destroying them. “Therefore, I support President Masisi’ intention to lift the ban on elephant hunting because hunting can help us thin-out the large elephants herds and also minimise human/wildlife conflict as people begin to receive benefits from elephants.”
Richard Tshekonyane, a communal farmer from Kachikau, says the imminent reintroduction of hunting should come with improved benefits for villagers.
“We are planning to ensure that when hunting begins we should come up with a negotiated increase of Chobe communities’ share from the revenue because everything has gone up since the ban on elephant hunting,” he said.
“Our development wish-list should include the need to build a butchery and bakery in each village as well as engage in any other projects that benefit our people.”
One of Chobe District’s most tangible investment made using elephant hunting revenue was the construction of the upmarket Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust community lodge that is run jointly with private sector partners. The lodge benefits local communities through employment and training their children in different professional disciplines on how to run a lodge.
This investment stands out as Chobe District’s shining example on how elephant revenue can benefit both elephant conservation and socioeconomic development. The benefits from elephant hunting help people see the need to conserve elephants. They begin to appreciate what is now being increasingly referred to as the elephant economy where elephants are valued and use to benefit conservation and development. Late Kavimba chief, Luckson Masule, for example, is remembered for having impressively admitted that he was once a poacher but he stopped as soon as his community started benefiting from elephant hunting revenue benefits.
Right across Chobe River in neighbouring Namibia, Caprivi, another community leader in Salambala Conservancy, George Mutwa has a strikingly similar story. Mutwa was once a poacher but stopped as soon as his community started benefiting from hunting revenue benefits. The same stories are told by community leaders in Zimbabwe, including residents in Zambia, South Luangwa and Mozambique’s Tete Province under the Chumachato Project.
The lesson learnt is that the tangible benefits that the rural communities get from hunting revenues positively change southern African rural communities’ attitudes towards supporting wildlife, particularly conservation. As long as they receive benefits from wildlife, they will look after it. Mokaila says he wants the world to know the truth that conservation without the people does not and will never work in Africa. He says President Masisi has already assigned him to start engaging Western countries on this issue in the next few weeks. Mokaila has been mandated to explain to Western countries, including the USA what works and what does not work for wildlife conservation, including elephants in Botswana. The people of Botswana want to benefit from their wildlife. “I find it absolutely hypocritical that on the one hand our Western counterparts say that they are committed towards achieving sustainable development goals that include poverty alleviation, but on the other hand they are shutting down elephant hunting and ivory trade markets,” said Mokaila. “They are the biggest threat to wildlife conservation in Africa. What is the incentive for us to look after wildlife if it is not benefiting us?
is Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa