By: Sophie McAdam,
It may sound like an April fool´s joke, but sadly Botswana´s treatment of its indigenous Bushmen is no laughing matter. The African state recently passed a law banning hunting- unless you are a wealthy foreigner looking for a trophy kill. President Khama´s blanket prohibition on subsistence hunting has devastated the tribal people from Botswana´s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, who have used spears, bows and arrows to feed their families for millennia. But while members of this threatened people are being arrested, beaten, jailed and even murdered for flouting the law, tourists paying up to $8,000 are exempt from the ban and can continue hunting zebras and giraffes on one of the country´s many private ranches.
The depth of meaning that hunting has for tribal peoples like the Bushmen cannot be underestimated. Bushman leader Roy Sesana explains its significance: “I grew up as a hunter. All our boys and men were hunters. Hunting is going and talking to the animals. You don’t steal. You go and ask. You set a trap or go with bow and spear. It can take days. You track the antelope. He knows you are there, he knows he has to give you strength. But he runs and you have to run. As you run, you become like him. It can last hours and exhaust you both. You talk to him and look into his eyes. And then he knows he must give you his strength so your children can live”.
It is common for indigenous Bushmen to put on staged ‘hunts’ for tourists, many of whom are not aware of their real-life plight. The reserve’s Bushmen have been left to starve, without any assistance from the government. Perversely, the Botswana Tourism Organization uses images of hunting Bushmen to attract tourists, especially big game hunters.
In February Botswana´s President Khama was an honored guest at a global anti-poaching conference in London, alongside Prince Charles and Prince William. The initiative resulted in the launch of Prince William’s United for Wildlife, drawing together seven big conservation organizations, including US-based Conservation International (CI). President Khama is a CI board member. Although environmentalists welcome any steps taken to fight illegal poaching, Khama´s hunting ban openly flouts Botswana’s landmark high court ruling in 2006, which upheld the Bushmen’s right to hunt on their ancestral land in the reserve.
Survival International, a charity which defends the rights of tribal people around the world, has condemned Botswana´s treatment of the Bushmen and called for a boycott of tourism to the country. Director Stephen Corry has exposed how the conservation movement was founded by proponents of eugenics and other extreme-right theories; and that the first national parks were established on the lands of indigenous peoples after their eviction.
He commented: “Banning hunting in order to feed your family but allowing the wealthy to hunt for trophies plays to a lobby still rooted in racist beliefs about tribal peoples’ inferiority. The national park movement entailed the enforced eviction, often the complete destruction, of the tribes who lived off the land. Satellite imagery now proves that many tribal peoples are the world’s best conservationists, yet they’re still being destroyed. It’s not ‘conservation’; it’s just an old colonial crime, and it’s time the responsible organizations opposed it. Instead, they hide behind hollow policies, while continuing to support governments guilty of such inhuman behavior.”
To protect the rights of tribal people to live as they always have, support Survival´s campaign here.
Sophie is a staff writer for True Activist. You can find out more or contact her here.