Botswana President shamed by Bushman protest at election rally

"The Bushmen protested at an election rally of President Ian Khama, demanding the right to hunt to feed their families be upheld (archive image). "
"The Bushmen protested at an election rally of President Ian Khama, demanding the right to hunt to feed their families be upheld (archive image). "
© Survival International

Botswana’s President Ian Khama was met with protests during an election rally at a Bushman eviction camp last Saturday, over government attempts to starve the Bushmen off their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Kalahari Bushmen demanded that their right to hunt to feed their families be recognized. They brandished slogans reading “Hunters Not Poachers” and "Bushmen are the best conservationists.”

The Presidency of Ian Khama – who sits on the board of U.S. environmental organization Conservation International – has been marred by controversy over his attempts to force the Bushmen out of the reserve in the name of conservation, while allowing fracking exploration and a diamond mine to go ahead on their land.

During his visit to “New Xade” eviction camp, Khama failed to address any issues currently affecting the Bushmen, such as the government’s refusal to allow the Bushmen to hunt inside the reserve; the requirement for Bushmen to apply for restrictive permits to enter the reserve; and the recent opening of a diamond mine on Bushman land.

Despite an historic High Court ruling in 2006 which upheld the Bushmen’s right to live, and hunt, inside the reserve, the government issued a blanket ban on hunting earlier this year.

The Bushmen are better at looking after their environment than anyone else. But they are accused of “poaching” because they hunt their food and face harassment, torture and arrest, while fee-paying big-game hunters are encouraged.

Bushman eviction camps like New Xade have been called “places of death” by the Bushmen. Forced to live a sedentary lifestyle, the previously semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers face high levels of alcoholism and AIDS, as reported by the BBC in January 2014.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, said today, “The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was created as a ‘place of sanctuary’ for the Bushmen to live and hunt in. Yet not a single conservation organization stood up for the Bushmen’s human rights when they were illegally evicted in the name of ‘conservation’. They have similarly turned a blind eye to the diamond mining and fracking exploration President Khama encourages on Bushman land. Conservation International has even elevated Khama – the man responsible for the tribes’ continued persecution – to its board of directors, shamefully ignoring his atrocious human rights record.”