Over a dozen years ago, I attended the SCI Convention at which Zambian officials were also present promoting hunting in their country, when, without sufficient notice to or consultation with the stakeholders in the industry, hunting was summarily banned in the country. The decision was so shocking in its unexpected suddenness and subsequently wreaked such havoc throughout the hunting industry and the rural areas where most of it was conducted, it was assumed, incorrectly as it has turned out, that such crass, almost inexplicable, stupidity could not be visited upon the same country twice. At that time, hundreds of people lost their jobs and the safari outfitters and professional hunters who together had paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend hunting conventions in North America and Europe to promote and market hunting in Zambia, wasted all that time, effort and money and were made to look embarrassingly uninformed about affairs in the country they were marketing.
Rumour had it that the real reason behind the ban was to deprive a presidential candidate of the money paid as bribes for the illegal award of hunting concessions. He and his supporters were using the funds to secure votes for his election and, I confess, this all made perfect sense to me at the time.
As my memory serves me, it took over two years before hunting was re-opened via public tenders in Zambia, which people at the time felt were mostly free and fair, with only one or two notable exceptions where the traditional, corrupt Zambian methods of doing business succeeded. In the meantime, poverty stricken people in the rural areas, who had lost their jobs as a result of the ban, reverted to poaching to feed their families. They were aided and abetted by commercial bush meat bandits who took advantage of the fact that safari outfitters, professional hunters, staff and clients were no longer patrolling the hunting concessions (and reporting and combatting poaching and removing snares), to devastate many former famous hunting blocks many of which, to this day, are still described by the government as depleted hunting areas.
When I attended the Dallas Safari Club Convention in January this year, I learnt to my dismay that, unbelievable as it seemed, two days before the start of the convention, the Zambian government had done almost exactly the same thing, in almost exactly the same way as they had previously done all those years ago. They say insanity is when a person repeats the same mistakes of the past but hopes for a different outcome in the present. If this definition is accurate, then the Zambian government, in general, and Ms. Sylvia Masebo, Minister for Tourism and Arts, in particular, are all certifiable.
I have just received a copy of the February issue of SCI’s Safari Times (ST). In it, Masebo, the woman who recently halted hunting over large areas in her country and all hunting for lions and leopards, without notice to or consultation with the stakeholders in the hunting industry, was interviewed. She is quoted as saying in a speech at the SCI Convention: “As a representative of the Zambian government, I’m here first of all to learn and understand more on the safari hunting industry on a global perspective. Secondly, we wish to use this opportunity to clarify the measures taken by our government to ban hunting of big cats and suspend the granting of safari hunting concessions in some of the hunting areas… Last but not least, we are here to request for collaboration and support in addressing the problems of poaching and adequate information on the population of wild animals in Zambia.”
When this statement is unpacked, there are a number of issues that need to be examined but the first question that immediately springs to mind is this – if Ms. Masebo knows so little about these matters that she needs to fly all the way to the United States to learn about what is happening in her own country, why did she not do this before summarily stopping hunting and thereby terminating the employment of hundreds of her own citizens? Is this yet another pathetic, African government case of “Fire, ready, aim!?”
She goes on to say, “The fact of the matter is, for the last 15 years, Zambia has not conducted a scientific survey on these species, including the cats. And so even the quotas we had been giving out in the past were not based on science, and so we thought it was only responsible that we stop in order to give ourselves time to do what needed to be done.” No, this is not “responsible”. It is totally irresponsible. Her actions beg the question, why, if nothing was done for 15 years, was it necessary to destroy so many businesses and so many jobs without notice or consultation where this could all have been avoided if the hunting industry stakeholders who, unlike Ms. Masebo, know what is going on, were consulted beforehand and given a chance to enlighten the minister and her colleagues. In addition, why could the research necessary to more fully answer the questions raised by her, not have been conducted while the businesses were allowed to continue? Having done nothing for 15 years; surely it could have waited a little longer and an orderly suspension of some operations have been arranged if this proved necessary based on subsequent empirical evidence? Even Botswana, which has followed a similar path (having learned nothing from the desperate failures of Kenya or, conversely, the resounding successes of neighbouring Namibia and South Africa, which have chosen diametrically opposite courses), gave the hunting industry a year’s notice.
She goes on to say, “this suspension, is meant to give government time to re-look at the policy structure, to re-look at the institution that has been mandated to manage the wildlife in Zambia which institution clearly has several challenges which needs to be addressed by government. To re-look at the core issue of the community’s benefiting and participating effectively in the management of the wildlife so that they can be the ones to conserve and protect wildlife for future generations. And also to ensure that the government and the communities derive benefits for the good of the country from this industry.” Well, she has a very strange and conflicted way of conserving and protecting the wildlife of her country when she must know, full well, that the last time such a ban was instituted, the very wildlife which she supposedly wants to protect, was what suffered most. In addition, it is difficult to understand how she can stand up amongst intelligent people and, with a straight face, state that what she’s doing is to ensure that communities derive benefits from the hunting industry while at the same time causing irreparable damage to it.
For example, fenced game ranches are unaffected by the ban but not unfenced ones and I know of one major community game ranching project which the parties have been working on for three years. This will now collapse because of their inability to generate any revenue for the foreseeable future.
After her devastating decisions, she obviously failed to see the irony in her next almost incoherent remarks when she stated that, “As a country, we can not manage the 20 national parks, plus the 56 game management areas, the two animals sanctuaries, the one main sanctuary alone as government without the cooperation of the private sector and therefore, we want to appeal to you to come on board and support us as a country in our endeavour if indeed we have to have sustainable hunting in the future. Without taking necessary steps, especially of protecting the animals where those animals are, in a country that is large, whose wildlife estimate covers over 250,000 square kilometres, where manpower is very low, where tools to protect the animals are not available, where the resources are not enough, there will be no hunting to talk about in the next few years. There will be no difference between this ban, and the actual ban that is self inflicted from the fact that all of the animals have become extinct.”
And this kind of knee-jerk, ill-considered decision-making and the disastrous consequences that follow is nothing new in Zambia. As the trade unionist, Frederick Chiluba, said at his inauguration as Zambia’s president in November 1991, after taking over from one of the kings of African governmental incompetence, Kenneth Kaunda: “The Zambia we inherit is destitute – ravaged by the excesses, ineptitude and straight corruption of a party and a people who have been in power for too long. When our first president stood and addressed you 27 years ago, he was addressing a country full of hope and glory. A country fresh with the power of youth, and a full and rich dowry. Now the coffers are empty. The people are poor. The misery endless.”
And Chiluba was not exaggerating. As Martin Meredith pointed out in his book, The State of Africa – A History of the Continent since Independence, “Zambia, rich from copper revenues, squandered its fortunes on a host of high-cost, loss-making, inefficient state corporations … Zambia, blessed with fertile land, reliable rainfall and huge agricultural potential, self-sufficient in food supplies at independence, was also forced to rely on food imports.”
Who in their right mind in the private sector, where the consequences – unlike those faced by governments – of short sighted, damaging, dishonest and stupid decisions, are ultimately bankruptcy and disappearance off the face of the commercial world, would want to try and work alongside such a fickle, inept and controversial partner who, amongst many other things, terminates arrangements without notice or consultation?
And what about the “self inflicted” damage caused by the outrageous and nonsensical decisions of this woman. As an ex lawyer, I have always tended to believe that, when logic excludes all other reasons, what is left is, in all likelihood, the truth. And that truth is corruption which has, sad to say, become part of Zambian culture. The African triple bottom line of corruption, nepotism and incompetence has led to Zambia being unable to remotely balance its books without foreign aid. As such, successive Zambian government have become experts at not only holding out the begging bowl, but demanding that it be filled and threatening the donors with dire consequences should this not happen.
My opinion, for what it is worth, is that corruption has reared its ugly head yet again in Zambia with regard to the recent hunting concession awards – now halted – and the banning of all lion and leopard hunting. Possibly the wrong people were bribed or not enough people were bribed or insufficient money was paid. Animal rightists, many of whom believe the ends justify the means, saw the gap and, as was done in Kenya before, paid people to give effect to the decisions that have been taken in the country.
To compound the problems, Minister Masebo is now using the opportunity to play one party off against the other and the good people at the SCI Convention seem to have realised this, rallied to the cause and there and then raised $1,2 million for research into the lion and leopard issues. Should any of this money be handed over to the Zambian government, however, and many reasons will be advanced why this should be done, then, if $1.00 of this money ends up being spent on worthwhile, effective and science based research into lions and leopards, by competent and well respected scientists unrelated, directly or indirectly, to members of the Zambian government, I will be most pleasantly surprised.
The end result is yet another case of an African country’s precious natural resources which, if managed honestly, competently and sustainably, could provide significant opportunities for all in perpetuity, being sacrificed on the altar of short term, personal greed. What has happened in Zambia, if it was done to human beings instead of wildlife, would have resulted in the perpetrators facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
(A year has passed since I wrote the above piece and no-one in Zambia can tell me if or when the ban is going to be lifted.)