Saving Africa From Africans

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The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill in the UK has caused debates in Botswana in the last two weeks. These debates have been aired on social media, newspapers, radio, and other forums. There are those arguing that Botswana has no right to send a delegation to the UK to lobby that another sovereign state should not enact laws deemed necessary for its people. In addition, these people further note that the tone used by Botswana in this lobbying against the Bill is not polite and unacceptable.

They note the use threats and playing victim. Conversely, there are those who argue that Botswana is on the right lane to lobby against the Bill and do everything in her power to ensure that this Bill does not go through, if it does, it should have amendments that exempts Botswana from the ban of its trophies into the UK. I want to bring another angle to this debate and focus on the literature and debate on Trophy hunting globally. I therefore want to make readers aware that the debate on trophy hunting around the world is big and somewhat influences the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill in the UK.

We should appreciate that trophy hunting has attracted controversy and an intense debate globally with some calling for banning the industry worldwide (McNamara et al., 2020). Opponents of hunting argue that the killing of animals is immoral, abhorrent, unsustainable, and unethical, resulting in the extinction of animal species, wreaking havoc amongst big cat populations, elephants, and endangered species such as the black rhino (Baker, 1997; Gunn, 2001; Knezevic, 2009; Vitali, 1990).

The debate for the Bill in the UK has focused on this narrative. Much of it is questioning the morality of killing animals for sport and the assumed decline in wildlife numbers which hunting might be causing. Conversely, proponents of hunting argue that hunting is controlled, and it is not done indiscriminately; has more financial benefits than photo-tourism, is selective and promotes biodiversity conservation (Baker, 1997; Lindsey et al 2017; Muposhi et al., 2016; Sorensen, 2015) and rural livelihoods (Mbaiwa, 2018; McNamara et al., 2020).

They argue that if well-regulated, hunting plays an important role in wildlife conservation and guarantees immediate and long-term economic benefits for communities and nation-states (Lindsey et al., 2017). This is the position that the Botswana Government has adopted in support of trophy hunting and the need to lobby against the Bill in the UK. The Botswana Government is also aware that the European Union trophy hunting market which includes the UK constitutes a 30% while the USA market constitutes 70%. In this regard, the Government of Botswana feels morally bound to defend this market.

The Botswana Government also argues that the country has worked hard to conserve her wildlife resources such that species such as elephants and buffaloes have a healthy population to be harvested in a controlled approach to promote rural livelihoods and conservation. In addition, Botswana notes that she has reserved a total of 40% of the country’s surface area for wildlife conservation hence the Bill is almost a punishment for this hard work by a superpower and former colonial master.

There is no doubt that trophy hunting in Africa, whose biggest clients are citizens of the developed world has come under the spotlight. Some countries (e.g. Britain and America) are exploring policies that aim to put a halt to trophy hunting as many people in the developed world view it as unpalatable and unethical. In this process, the voices of local communities who live side by side with wildlife are largely unheard in this debate over trophy hunting policy. Nielsen (2011) rhetorically asks, “Do developing countries have a future?”- at least a future that anyone would want to live in. This suggests that the Global North and anti-hunting groups are noted to be ignoring voices from the Global South whose citizens live in poverty and bear the negative costs of living with wildlife especially wildlife crop damage, property damage, livestock predation and loss of human life. It is from this background that there is yet another argument to this debate, for example, Nelson (2003) notes that there are those who are promoting a narrative he calls “Saving Africa for Africans”.

In this context, African communities are somewhat simplified and generalised as the exclusive custodians of nature. This approach is idealising the role of African communities as nature’s guardians while the Global North should do everything in its power to save the Global South’s wildlife resources. Nelson (2003) argues that beneath the banner of “Saving” the African environment is the fact that Africans in the past half-century have been subjected to a new form of environmental colonialism. The most substantial endeavours to “save Africa” are thus linked with contemporary environmentalism (Nelson, 2003).

Notwithstanding the opposing views and debates, both trophy hunters and opponents of hunting desire the following: (a) protection of wildlife and its habitat, (b) conscious management of natural resources, and (c) a more complete reconnection with our natural surroundings. It is from this perspective that a common ground should be reached. However, it is my point of view that the UK Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is ill-advised and is dangerous to wildlife conservation and livelihoods in Botswana and Southern Africa.

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