2010 is a significant year for Africa. The pride that the first time hosting of the FIFA world cup brings is tangible. “Ke Nako” is the refrain. It is Time – to be acknowledged, to be recognised, to take our place on the world stage.
What is less on our minds is the fact that 2010 has been declared as the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. The rapid loss in biodiversity on the planet gave rise to this attention-getting intiative. Species extinctions are almost a daily occurrence, and they are only the ones we know about – there are many more, unknown to science or beneath the surface of our awareness that we remain ignorant of. The real scary part is that these extinctions are, in almost all cases, caused by human beings.
The Bushmen have collided with this realisation – that biodiversity is important to safeguard our future – in their desire to remain on traditional land. When they lived as hunter/gatherers their impact on the land was minimal. However, things have changed and the former hunter/gatherers have now acquired livestock, drive vehicles and shoot game with rifles. This is their lifestyle choice. Their ecological footprint has increased signficantly from times of yore.
The situation in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana highlights this issue. The land the Bushmen wish to remain on is declared a game reserve. It receives an average of around 300 mm of rain each year. Desertification, caused by overgrazing livestock, is a real and imminent threat.
Parallel to this the Government of Botswana has long recognised, and implemented, a sound Tourism Policy that utilises the country’s natural resources in a sustainable manner. Tourism is a vehicle that provides benefits for its citizens into the future. The choice presented to the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari goes something like this: if you want to keep livestock you need to move out of the reserve; if you want to stay here then continue to live the true hunter/gatherer lifestyle or get involved in the tourism industry.
As the responsibility of preserving biodiversity falls to governments and citizens alike, the assumption that the Bushmen don’t understand the issues of sustainability is patronising, to say the least.
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t mourn the loss of the old way of hunter/gatherer lifestyles, along with the knowledge and skills that went with it. In light of the vanishing culture the preservation of that wisdom should be encouraged (e.g. museums, books, storytelling etc.). But it certainly is not up to outsiders to decide how the Bushmen should live.
So in this year of 2010, of African Pride, could there be an emerging trust that sometimes Africans do know what they’re on about?
The sustainable use of the Earth’s natural resources is a lesson the whole world needs to learn.