Survival Alert is a fortnightly update on the state of indigenous peoples around the world from Survival International. Founded in 1969, Survival International is the globe’s foremost organization working for tribal peoples rights.
The word conservation typically conjures up images of pristine landscapes, freely roaming wildlife, lush forests and seemingly noble efforts to protect the environment and its endangered species. But conservation also has a dark side, witnessed by hundreds of thousands of tribal peoples around the world who have been driven off their land in the name of conservation.
A community of Bushmen in Botswana recently came close to being the latest victims of such misguided conservation policies.
Last month, local government officials told Bushmen at the Ranyane settlement in southern Botswana that they were blocking the free movement of animals and that if they refused to leave, trucks would arrive within days to remove them from their land.
The Bushmen were told that their houses would be destroyed to make way for a “wildlife corridor” between the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The corridor project had been promoted by the U.S. organization Conservation International (board members include Botswana’s President Ian Khama).
Ever since the corridor was first proposed, local and national authorities have put pressure on the Ranyane Bushmen to leave the land on which they have lived alongside the wildlife for generations without posing a threat to its existence. Many believe the eviction was in fact to benefit local cattle ranchers.
To intimidate the Ranyane Bushmen, the government sent trucks and police to the settlement.
The Bushmen went to court to challenge their imminent eviction. They obtained a temporary injunction, and three weeks later won a significant victory in their struggle to stay on their land.
Botswana’s High Court ruled that no government officials could enter the Bushmen’s compounds without their consent and that the Bushmen’s lawyers must be notified before any further attempt is made to resettle them.
The court also ordered the government to pay all the Bushmen’s costs incurred during the court case.
This was not the first time the tribe had been targeted in the name of conservation.
In three brutal evictions between 1997 and 2005, thousands of Bushmen were removed from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, supposedly for wildlife conservation. Bushmen forced off their land in 2002 went to court and in a landmark 2006 judgment, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the evictions were “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
But the government continues its efforts to make the lives of the Bushmen impossible by refusing to issue hunting licenses—hunting is central to the Bushmen’s way of life—and making access to their land difficult.
The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve are currently preparing for another court case in which they are seeking unrestricted access to their land.
Stephen Corry, director of the tribal rights organization Survival International, said, “How many court cases does it take for human rights to prevail in Botswana? Isn’t it time for President Khama to stop the evictions of the Bushmen, Botswana’s first citizens, once and for all?”
Rather than posing a threat to the environment and wildlife, tribal peoples are often the best guardians of their lands. They have developed strong links to it, and have deep respect for the natural systems and wildlife on which they depend.
Severing this link by forcing tribal peoples off their land can have devastating impacts on tribal people’s health and destroy their livelihoods and self-sufficiency.
In Botswana’s so-called resettlement camps, Bushmen who have been removed from their land depend entirely on government handouts and frequently suffer from alcoholism, depression and many other illnesses.
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