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A look in the mirror

Recently, government officials within the wildlife sector have picked up a familiar refrain about saboteurs being at work to harm the country’s image around the deaths of elephants in the Okavango panhandle.

Typically, such utterances are designed to stir up national fervour and also warn the said saboteurs that the state is on to them and the gig is up. And typically, local media would clamber on board in amplifying the warning and defending the Republic’s image.

However, in this case, a pinch of caution or at the very least, scrutiny is required. At the risk of sounding immodest, this publication has been at the vanguard of pointing out external saboteurs and robustly defending the country’s image despite our Lilliputian platform when compared with hostile foreign titans such as the BBC and others.

From September 2018, when the BBC falsely claimed an elephant poaching explosion in the Delta, Mmegi dedicated a series of articles, thousands of words and scores of pages to a high profile running series detailing the truth around elephant management, the planned resumption of hunting, community benefits and the soundness of government’s consultative decisions. We warned in numerous editorials from that period that despite government’s well-earned reputation for prudential environmental impact assessment around policies, the public relations management around the resumption of elephant hunting was a prime example of a disaster-class.

For a government that won’t allow a contractor to take a pinch of riversand without an Environmental Impact Assessment, the lack of preparedness for the inevitable global backlash against the resumption of hunting was surprising.

The country’s well-curated reputation as a beacon for democracy, sound governance, peace and unsurpassed beauty, was ferociously ripped apart by a well-coordinated attack led by global media, fuelled by

local activists and borne on the shoulders of “outraged” tourists and animal lovers.

This was not only foreseeable, but to a large extent, manageable by developing a communications strategy that would identify these well-known “saboteurs” and ensure the communication around the resumption of hunting dealt with their attacks.

As wildlife authorities deal with the latest attacks over the deaths of elephants in the panhandle, it is apparent that the lessons from September 2018 have not been learnt. Since at least May 11, authorities were aware of a building crisis near Seronga with at first 56, then 110 elephants being found dead.

It was plainly evident that the well-known enemies of Botswana’s elephant management policies would soon pick up the scent and restart their campaigns. Mmegi, in its extensive reportage on this issue, reached out to authorities in order to build a narrative, but was met with official silence, blue ticks and ignored calls.

Sympathetic NGOs and researchers who offered to assist in the actual investigation were similarly stonewalled. The saboteurs, this time around, are not only the hostile external forces and their local cohorts, but apparently, through their inaction, our own wildlife authorities. It is illogical to blame saboteurs for sabotaging. This is the raison d’etre for saboteurs. However it is especially illogical when, through your inaction, you give saboteurs the fodder to fire their cannons, while denying your local allies in the media the weapons with which to defend the Republic.

Today’s thought

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

– Benjamin Franklin




UDC, BDP Caucus

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