As calls for measured slaughter of elephants to control their rising numbers gains momentum under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, there are fears that this could pose a threat in the mould of international campaigns against Botswana.
Botswana finds herself between a rock and a hard surface to appease its population who face the wrath of elephants’ damage and the international elephant conservation protagonists. This year Botswana saw a peaceful change of presidency from Lt Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who was seen as being more into wildlife conservation as compared to the cattle agriculture fanatic, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Cattle farmers in Ngamiland and other wildlife areas are already lobbying Masisi to get rid of Khama’s pro wildlife policies that disadvantage agriculture and they emphasise the need to introduce the culling of elephants. During Khama’s leadership, Botswana adopted a hard conservation stance even differing with SADC neighbours on the ivory trade. Khama’s government imposed a moratorium on elephant hunting safaris in 2014 a move that resulted in elephants increasing their range outside national parks and game reserves and encroaching into farming areas. The conflict between human and elephants has escalated since the hunting moratorium.
In another instance of Khama’s hairline stance in 2016, SADC countries called for the removal of elephants from being listed on Appendix 1 (which afforded them highest form of protection and disallowed trade in elephant products) to Appendix 2 which will enable ivory sale. However, Khama broke ranks with SADC and supported remainder of elephants in appendix 1 something that outlawed their hunting and sale of their products.
However since ascending to power, Masisi has realised that he inherited a mammoth task hence the need to renew the fortunes of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which has been in power since the country gained independence in 1966. During 2014 elections, BDP’s share of popular vote fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1966. An opposition coalition of the Umbrella for Democratic Change has taken land issues in wildlife areas of Ngamiland and Chobe as campaign topics.
Already Masisi’s government has indicated plans to roll back the elephant hunting imposed as part of the 2014 hunting moratorium. Recently parliament approved a motion by Maun East Konstantinos Markus for the reintroduction of hunting outside protected areas in an effort to minimise elephants- human conflicts. Sensing new hope communities are calling for a reduction in elephants numbers through culling.
Dr Mike Chase of Elephant without Boarders has however argued that contrary to popular belief, Botswana’s elephant population is not increasing. He said: “Many people assume that an increase in the number of conflicts between elephants and humans is automatically due to an increasing elephant population. Increases in human-elephant conflict outside the ‘traditional elephant range’ are more closely associated with increases in human population densities than elephant population growth.”
Recently, representatives of Ngamiland communities called for the introduction of elephant culling to manage the ever-growing and seemingly uncontrollable elephant population in Botswana. They made a call at a stakeholder meeting held at Maun Lodge Maun convened to consult communities on the introduction of the National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP.)
Speaking during the meeting, Shakawe Kgosi, Kea Lempadi said more than 10 people in Shakawe have been killed by elephants in 2018. Bashei Masalela from Phuduhudu village said their village which is located within parks is facing a problem of elephants killing and maiming people as well as damage to farm infrastructure and ploughing fields. She reiterated that there is a need for elephants culling. Scores of farmers used the meeting to call for elephants culling with some suggesting that government should allow elephants to be killed for free meat while some called for the use of elephants in agricultural activities such as providing drought power.
Information reaching this publication is that government is seriously considering culling elephants something anticipated to garner massive international protests. Fears are that, Botswana may face the brunt of international animal rights champions who may target Botswana’s tourism and diamond mining sectors.
Trophy hunting lobbyist, Debbie Peake in an interview, sent a warning about elephants culling. “If we are to do culling it needs to be done by professionals and in collaboration with the professional hunting sector. We can not have the army being the one doing it otherwise we will face the wrath of the international conservation groups. They could go mad on us as a country.”
Peake opined that the biggest problem is that since elephants hunting stoppage, communities have stopped getting financial incentives from the elephants. She said however, the reintroduction of the hunting Safari can help in providing those incentives to the communities something that may help in mooting wildlife-human conflicts. Peake also opines that the contributing factors of elephants’ numbers are many and they all need to be explored to find a solution.
Environmental Lawyer, Dr Oduetse Koboto told Weekendpost that culling is an internationally accepted conservation tool. Dr Koboto however revealed that for culling to happen it should be guided by assessments on Botswana’s elephant carrying capacity and vegetation assessments to tell if the elephants’ numbers are indeed a threat to other biodiversity and livelihoods. He said there are other options which could be explored to manage elephants besides culling.
Dr Koboto said from a legal perspective, there is a need to transform the Community Based Natural Resources Programme Policy in to an Act. “We need a legal interpretation of what is CBNRM and what benefits are communities entitled to, to promote conservation and avoid community backlash.” Dr Koboto reiterated that the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area treaty affords Botswana a chance to work with its neighbours to find a cross boarder solution to the elephants’ numbers.
Botswana introduce National Elephant Management Plan
It emerged during the Maun Lodge consultative meeting that Botswana’s last elephants’ management plan of 1991 had a target to maintain the elephant numbers at 54,000 nationally. However, the latest figures by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks put the elephants population at 207,000, way beyond Botswana’s carrying capacity. Botswana’s elephant number is however conflicting as 2014 wildlife survey by local conservation group, Elephants Without Borders put elephants numbers at 150,000, nationally.
Speaking in that meeting, deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Felix Monggae said government has decided to come up with actions that are needed to protect, manage, and monitor elephants and also to provide a detailed national level plan for elephant management.
“This series of consultative workshops which will be held over the course of August will bring together different stakeholders including Dikgosi, members of parliament, councillors, village extension teams, women, youth, civil societies and the private sector.” He added that the outcome of the planning process will produce a comprehensive elephant action plan which addresses the aspirations of all stakeholders and assures the conservation of the African elephant.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.