A leading local expert stands by Government’s position to oppose any trade on ivory, saying that is the best way of dealing away with elephants poaching. Dr Oduetse Koboto – UNDP specialist – talks to KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO
It is no secret that the decision by CITES member states to block a proposal for a total ban of all trade of ivory has frustrated Botswana’s efforts to push for its approval. While some critics – including for the obvious those who voted against the proposal – argue the ban is unfavourable to their states and that of elephants inhabiting their lands, Botswana stands unshaken. This move puts Botswana at odds with its southern African counterparts which continue to support limited legal ivory sales. Botswana has 130,000 wild elephants, according to the latest elephant statistics, giving the country enormous clout on the issue. It, however, would seem that though unpopular, the move is supported by other environmental stakeholders in Botswana. Dr Oduetse Koboto, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Specialist and Head of Environment and Climate Change Unit, stands by this. According to Dr Koboto, the world will be fighting a losing war if a total ban on all trade of ivory is not imposed. This, he said, will ensure that the market dies. “Look it is simple, when the market for ivory dies because of the ban on all trade of ivory, the supply will also die hence the senseless killing of elephants for their tusks will stop,” said Koboto. He, however, commends Botswana for being on the right course as far as anti-poaching efforts are concerned. The country’s strategies, according to Dr Koboto, cater for different approaches that could deliver poachers right in the hands of the authorities. So good is the strategy that the SADC strategy on anti-poaching is almost a carbon copy of it, an occurrence which Dr Koboto says is commendable and stands to prove that the country has at least got this one right.
Hence it does not come as surprise that this expert in environmental issues is for the government’s decision to impose a hunting ban in Botswana. To him critics, who are advocating for hunting as a more viable way of giving communities direct benefits, fail to appreciate the gains that will be brought forth by photographic tourism; which is the alternative to hunting that has been proposed. “Hunting as a consumptive tourism is not the way to go however a lot has to be done to expose people to the benefits of alternatives proposed by government,” he said. Dr Koboto argued that a hunting ban will ensure that wildlife especially animals multiply with minimal disturbance, which means they will increase in numbers, and more numbers he says will mean more appeal for the country’s tourism. He says it will also create an opportunity for these resources to be spread across the country. Dr Koboto’s insights will obviously make anyone wants to know more about him. Below is a brief profile of who he is.
Who is Dr Koboto?
At just 35, Dr Oduetse Koboto has perhaps experienced what will take most young people his age a quarter of their life time to experience. He is UNDP Specialist and Head of Environment and Climate Change Unit. Before that he served as a legal advisor at the Attorney General’s Chambers where he was later seconded to the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism at which he later ascended to the position of Director. Under his current position, Dr Koboto holds the key to a better future for the country and the world – overseeing the day-to-day management of the environment and climate change unit of the country Programme. It, however, has not been a smooth sail to where he is. His is a ‘rags to riches’ story that not only shows how education, determination and passion can move mountains but also borders on self-confidence, strong will and outstanding character. According to Dr Koboto, he finished high school just after the government of Botswana ended Tirelo Sechaba programme hence there were a lot of uncertainties. Preparing for the worst, Koboto says he enrolled for training with the Botswana Police Service where he later served as a police officer (constable) for two years. Although this may sound like a position of convenience, Koboto claims that he liked his job so much that he excelled in his duties.
This was however short-lived after an incident at work pushed him to limits and motivated him to show his worth. Narrating the story Dr Koboto states that it happened that he was selected among other officers to go meet the then Botswana Police Commissioner Norman Moleboge. As a junior officer this was an honour to him more so that he was nominated to present and had spent time preparing to show his prowess but to everybody’s surprise, the commissioner never turned up and instead they were played a recorded speech. This incident, he said, got to him so much that he decided it was time for self-development with the aim of coming back to the service at a higher rank to run things properly. “It saddened me to realise that the institution we have served so diligently could take us for granted,” he said. As fate would have it, he was admitted to pursue a Bachelor of law qualification at the University of Western Cape in South Africa in 2004 which he completed in 2007. The choice to study law, he said, was obviously influenced by his career choice as a police officer. Upon his return, got a job as a Prosecution State Counsel at the Directorate of Public Prosecution from March 2008 until November 2009 after which he packed and went back to the University of Western Cape to pursue a Masters in Environmental Law.
A career in Environment & Climate Change
After completing his Masters in Environmental Law, Koboto was seconded to the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism as a legal advisor. Under this position he was among others responsible for advising the ministry on environment legally related issues and conduct of government business. He also advised on multilateral environmental agreements and their negotiations and drafting of environmental legislation and regulations. It was before long that the young legal eagle was appointed Director of Department of Wildlife and National parks at the tender age of 31. In this position, he was responsible for providing policy direction and strategic leadership in all matters pertaining to wildlife management and other functions supporting the smooth operation of the department. He was also responsible for promoting national, regional and international cooperation and networking in matters of wildlife management and providing direction on responses to parliament and council motions on issues of wildlife management and natural resources among others. His major achievements include development of a new organisational structure and its implementation, the development of intergovernmental cooperation strategy in anti-poaching. He organised and assisted in conducting a Summit on African Elephants and developed the Wildlife policy of 2013. He later left to read for a Doctorate in Public International Law (Climate Change) at the China University of Political Science and Law in 2011 and completed in June 2013.
Dr Koboto joined UNDP in February last year, two years after attaining his PhD. Besides the day to day management of the unit, he provides technical services to the UN-Government of Botswana programme operation plan provides communication and advocacy on the programme to government and other development partners and potential users. In May this year, he went to Liberia on a UNDP special assignment where he provided technical support to existing and new environment projects under UNDP Liberia in particular the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) as well as programming for NAPs development for Liberia. Dealing with environmental impacts in coastal areas of Liberia and marine issues was to Dr Koboto the icing on the cake. Coming from Botswana, semi-arid country in Southern Africa, Dr Koboto said the change of scenery was what actually his career needed; to put theory in to practice. The experience he got after working in war torn Liberia made him appreciate what his native land had to offer. Given the his portfolio, Dr Koboto is perhaps in a position to give an expert opinion on a number of environmental issues.
Contrary to belief by some that Botswana’s iron fist stance as far as elephant conservation and anti-poaching strategies are concerned is a bit radical and alienating itself from other countries especially in the Southern African region Koboto begs to differ. In fact his position is almost a carbon copy of the government of Botswana’s and he supports them. According to Koboto, despite beliefs that a total hunting ban especially on elephants may lead to over population, which may in turn increase the human-wildlife conflict, Dr Koboto holds a different view. According to Koboto, there can never be enough when it comes to the nuisance brought about by wildlife, but the best way to find a solution is to find a favorable strategy to make people know and learn that they can live hassle free with wildlife in their midst. Dr Koboto commends Botswana for taking the right steps in so far as anti-poaching strategies are concerned.
He argues that human-wildlife conflict will always exist because as in number of people increase so do animals. According to Dr Koboto, human-wildlife co-existence is another school of thought that is working for some countries and what the government and other stakeholders have to do is to invest more on educating people about the concept. This, he says, can for example be done by encouraging and promoting conservation agriculture among affected communities. Dr Koboto, however, bemoaned the fact that most communities especially those living in tourism rich environment are oblivious of the riches and treasures surrounding them; hence often fail to make a viable living out of them.