The relocation of Basarwa from Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) was an emotive and poorly thought out exercise, without any study conducted to assess the economic and social implications on their lives within a game reserve. The Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) concept used in some parts of the country was never designed to accommodate and benefit Basarwa tribes. Consequently, it was never utilized to make sure they benefit from such wealth of resources and in turn they remain poor while trying out pastoral and arable farming in desert conditions.
Many questions come to mind. Is it economical or ecologically viable to have Basarwa living within or outside the game reserve? Was there any scientific study by a credible institution to warrant freezing of the special game license that they enjoyed? Did we take the culture of Basarwa into consideration or we just focused on making them more ‘civilised’? Did they consent to the relocation? Can you transform rural gatherers to conservationists by chasing them from the basic resource they depend upon? Did we consider their indigenous knowledge systems to understand how they managed to control, manipulate, preserve and utilize game within their territory? Was a social dialogue not more important than bullying them into areas devoid of resources? Has poaching incidence gone down after such relocation?
For more than three decades in Africa community involvement in conservation has been promoted as an alternative to ‘fortress conservation” – the defence of protected areas and wildlife from the predations of people. As part of fortress conservation protected areas were created and often fenced off from surrounding areas, people were excluded from the protected areas, consumptive use of wildlife was prevented and other forms of human impact minimized. But one hallmark of such inequality was when the Botswana government forcibly removed Basarwa from the CKGR. This Fortress approach resulted in Para-military game rangers being employed to prevent local people from using resources in national parks and from killing wildlife for trade or for the pot. Although Fortress conservation was established under colonial rule in Africa but was often perpetuated by post-independence government including Botswana adopted it.
In December 2006, the Botswana High Court ruled that the refusal to allow Basarwa into the CKGR without permit and the refusal to issue game licenses to allow them to hunt on their ancestral lands was unlawful and unconstitutional. The court further ruled Basarwa were “unlawfully despoiled of their possession of the land which they lawfully occupied in their settlements in the CKGR” by the government (Botswana High Court, 2006). Although the High Court ruled that government acted unlawfully in forcing Basarwa to relocate and asserted their constitutional right to live in their ancestral land, Botswana government still denies Basarwa the right to live freely in the reserve. I wish not to dwell on the technicalities or hybrids of the law, but look into conservation.
Basarwa have traditionally been mobile hunter gatherers and have been labeled as having neither a permanent space nor their own land. This notion is heavily contested, however. Various scholars argue that the issue of land ownership is actually the result of an absence of documentation. And I am tempted to believe that there were no permanent structures erected by Basarwa within a game reserve. Oral history asserts that Basarwa have inhabited the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) long before it was declared a game reserve by government. The CKGR is a vast expanse of land encompassing 52,800 square kilometers (1/16 of Botswana’s total land area) and is the second largest game reserve in the world. It was established in 1961 by the British Colonial government nominally to protect wildlife resources and to provide Basarwa, a community of approximately 49,000 people, with land to continue their hunter- gatherer way of life
Reasons advanced for the relocation and development has been the government’s belief that Basarwa should move out of the reserve because they cannot live with wild animals in the reserve. One position is that the resettlement was done for purposes of allowing mineral exploration and exploitation, particularly diamonds Another position adopted is that the relocation efforts were a result of pressures brought to bear on the government by ecologists and conservation organizations, especially ‘International conservationists for the Botswana government to remove the Basarwa from the CKGR’
Basarwa consistently assert that they have coexisted with wildlife for many years without any deleterious impact on the wildlife population. Basarwa are different from the dominant tribes or ethnic groups who signed the Mineral Rights in Territories Act of 1967 which gave their right to land ownership to the state. Basarwa did not. They were not consulted nor did they give consent to the government. That’s if available literature is anything to go by. I fully subscribe that the government may have had a good intention, but was it carried in a more humanly manner
I don’t subscribe to the notion that Basarwa should willy-nilly utilize wildlife without governance. That is unsustainable. I am merely advocating for proper consultations and engagement such the two would result in a win-win situation. I pray that the concept of CBNRM to be extended to the Basarwa so that they accrue certain benefits from wildlife within their areas, thus creating a social link with the economic and ecological objectives of the conservation of natural resources in Botswana. And if Basarwa were roped into CBNRM to achieve management of resources by placing the custody and responsibility with the resident communities and to allow communities to benefit directly from the exploitation of natural resources within the Communal Area.
Basarwa were willing to engage the government but the hostility portrayed by the central government on the incumbency of law was terrific. If well channeled to Basarwa are going to use “their” wildlife and tourism incomes for different purposes – sometimes cash payments to members or households, sometimes for social projects. And reduce localized poverty within the area. It is my considered opinion that the current poaching crisis does provide a challenge to proponents of community-based approaches to conservation, particularly as the drivers of demand for consumptive utilisation are complex. As conservationists we are in agreement some that community involvement is crucial for addressing the current crisis and Basarwa could be used meaningfully to conserve the species within CKGR and elsewhere. I therefore wish BTO could strengthen the ability of communities to be involved in decision-making surrounding action to combat illegal off-take, including use and management of wildlife, and to derive benefits from conserving wildlife rather than to be building lodges elsewhere when the communities are suffering? There is an established scientific truism that communities are good conservation partners across Africa that if the right conditions are created, communities can indeed be a strong force for conservation. These conditions include secure land and resource rights, the right to take management decisions and the right to benefit. They also include appropriate capacity building and support for the development of local institutions for natural resource governance
I conclude overall, that CBNRM has not been successful in promoting either biodiversity protection or local economic development though there are certain exceptions throughout the country, but such idea was eroded during the hunting ban. Basarwa shouldn’t suffer with such abundance of wildlife.