By Zig Mackintosh
Our latest 60-minute documentary, Voices from the Frontline: Communities and Livelihoods in Botswana, follows Jack Ramsden, a young cattle rancher from Maun, across the northern parts of Botswana in his quest to document the effects of human/wildlife conflict. Along the way, he engages with ordinary Batswana in their day-to-day struggles with the elements. The film also features several experts in different conservation fields who discuss the issues around human/wildlife conflict. The president of Botswana, H.E. Mokgweetsi Masisi appeals for his country to be allowed to manage its wildlife in a way that rural communities can best benefit from the resource.
The documentary premiered in Gaborone on 1 August, 2019. Around 200 people attended the occasion, and these included the vice-president and several government ministers, ambassadors from the various embassies in Gaborone, and community leaders from across Botswana. After the showing, a panel discussion took place. Professors Brian Child and Joseph Mbaiwa took turns to speak, and then the floor was opened for questions and remarks. Community members had the chance to air their views.
The production of this documentary would not have been possible without the unwavering support of Debbie Peake, Leon Kachelhoffer, and Jack Ramsden. During the filming (with many late-night discussions) the idea of The Conservation Coalition-Botswana was conceived.
Events over the previous 18 months in Botswana had seen a deep polarisation of stakeholders involved in conservation and wildlife management. The political fall-out over critical national decisions made in favor of utilization of natural resources, and a toxic, uninformed social media attack on sovereignty, controlled hunting, and rural community involvement, was raising temperatures.
The differing conservation ideologies and philosophies were causing widespread confusion and undermining the Botswana Government’s policies on natural resource management. It was also apparent that key stakeholders affected by these events were not engaging to discuss issues of common concern and establish collaboration towards common objectives and goals.
A broad group of stakeholders, including cattle farmers, game ranchers, communities, academics, and the tourism sector, therefore, agreed to establish The Conservation Coalition – Botswana (TCCB).
The mission statement reads: “TCCB creates a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) for affected stakeholder groups to engage and strengthen collaboration and highlight issues of concern to facilitate compromise (i.e., predator/livestock conflict in northern Botswana. Stakeholders also need to be informed of policy shifts or changes and ensuing implications (i.e., the suspension of the hunting moratorium) and provide coordinated strategic responses to national conservation and management issues. Building relationships with influential individuals to inform and influence policy by providing and disseminating relevant information is a key function of the Coalition: equally, fostering connections with stakeholders and building trust and bridging gaps between affected sectors strengthens advocacy actions necessary to achieve long term agreement and action towards conservation measures.”
TCCB objectives are as follows:
Promote participatory planning and decision making;
Identify leaders in the community to become Conservation Champions (guidance and mentorships) and recruit community opinion leaders (Africans for African conservation);
Revitalise minority members and grassroots groups;
Regular communication/updates on social media platforms.
Plan and launch community-wide initiatives on a variety of conservation, community, and wildlife management issues;
Build partnerships with stakeholders to help identify funding, resources, and material.
Key issues currently under discussion include:
the plight of rural communities living with wildlife, and options to reduce human/wildlife conflict;
Government’s ability to make decisions for the benefit of the people;
appropriate land use and landscape planning, and
the consumptive use of natural resources.
Current activities include:
Collaboration between cattle farmers and game ranchers in the Hainaveld area to seek consensus on reduction of predator conflict in land use;
Bringing community groups together to discuss and inform the Social Dialogue on Hunting November 2019, and issue position statements on behalf of the community group;
Provide financial resources and technical assistance for the Community workshop on Hunting in Botswana (November 2019);
Collaboration in the facilitation and promotion of the documentary “Voices from the Frontline: Communities and Livelihoods in Botswana”;
Improve awareness of existing research and programmes affecting stakeholders;
Seek and define common positions/alliances in respect to conservation decisions affecting individual stakeholders.
Three of the rural community leaders featured in the Voices from the Frontline documentary accompanied Debbie Peake from TCCB to Geneva. There they attended the Convention in the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) conference of the parties 18 (CoP 18). There were several issues on the conference agenda that directly affects rural livelihoods in Africa. The most important one for the team was the establishment of a communities committee. The idea is for rural aboriginal communities across the world to have a platform from which they can voice their opinions on the use of natural resources and livelihood matters. A working group was set up, and the resulting recommendations passed on to the CITES standing committee. Hopefully at the next CITES CoP in three years a community committee will finally be established.