Can The Subaltern Speak?


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in 1988 wrote an influential essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In her essay, Spivak sarcastically asks whether the colonized Hindu of India have a voice to speak of their rights against the British Imperial Government ruling India for abolishing their sacred sati rite.

Spivak argues that the world’s poorest people have no voice in society. Similarly, I recently published an article in Journal of Sustainable Tourism, “Can the subaltern speak? Contradictions in trophy hunting and wildlife conservation trajectory in Botswana”. In this article, I rhetorically ask the question: “whose voice matters” in trophy hunting and wildlife conservation in Botswana.

The article explores the contradictions of trophy hunting and wildlife conservation in Botswana. Specific questions the article asks arising from the contested views about wildlife conservation in Botswana are: who should decide on the use of wildlife conservation in Botswana? What is the role of communities living in wildlife areas and that of the Botswana Government in wildlife conservation?  The question “Can the Subaltern Speak?” can thus be used to understand the relationship between CITES and Wildlife Trade in Botswana.

The 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP19) is this week ongoing in Panama. The CoP convenes every  2-3 years to review the implementation of the Convention, including: i) review progress in the conservation of species included in the Appendices; ii) consider proposals to amend the lists of species in Appendices I and II; iii) consider discussion documents and reports from the Parties, the permanent committees, the Secretariat and working groups; iv) recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention; and , v) make provisions necessary to allow the Secretariat to function effectively. In other words, the CITES meeting in Panama is currently deciding on the use or trade on wildlife species including Botswana.

Botswana wants to use wildlife for both trophy hunting and photographic tourism. Conversely, decision on wildlife trade around the world is decided by CITES. Some of the countries and governments are calling for a ban on trophy hunting. In addition, some are also calling that elephants should be moved from Appendix II to Appendix I. Appendix I does not allow trophy hunting or trade on wildlife trophies.

As a result, Botswana which currently has trophy hunting together with the Community-Based Trusts which are involved in trophy hunting will no longer be allowed or trade in wildlife products through trophy hunting. In this case, whose voice matters on the wildlife use in Botswana, is it the people of Botswana or CITES?

Therefore, wildlife use in Botswana brings to the fore the history of the North South dynamic which has a dominant repetitive pattern in thinking about biodiversity, which is simply that the North proposes, and the South reacts and adapts.

The North being the rich countries while the South being Third World countries including Botswana. The North-South debate is characterised by the adoption of international conservation organisations, protocols, and agreements. Such agreements, in addition to national legislation, restricted hunting and trading of wildlife in various ways. CITES restricts wildlife trade using appendices in which list species are afforded greater protection when traded between countries. Botswana is a signatory of CITES. CITES is blamed by most Southern African states including Botswana for failing to comprehend the elephant situation in the region. “Can the Subaltern Speak? The subaltern being the people of Botswana who want to trade in wildlife products or conduct trophy hunting. Whose voice matters?


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