Swaziland – thinking the unthinkable to save rhinos by legalising trade in horn

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow


White rhino in Hlane Royal national Park, Swaziland

Swaziland has submitted a proposal on the legalisation of trade in rhino horn to the Conference of the Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which opens in Johannesburg from 24th September.  The small southern African kingdom – home to 73 white rhino and an estimated 18 black rhino – wants permission to sell its small stock of rhino horn from natural mortality and seizures from poachers and to have a small annual quota to sell horn collected from its two national parks that house and protect rhino.

Black rhino in Mkhaya Royal National Park, Swaziland

Black rhino in Mkhaya Royal National Park, Swaziland


The Swazi bid in detail

Ted Reilly, the veteran Swazi conservationist who runs the Hlane and Mkhaya Royal National Parks and is the kingdom’s CITES representative, told me that the income that would be derived from legal sales is desperately needed to provide the tight security needed to protect the rhinos from poachers, to pay game rangers a decent wage to remove the temptation of accepting bribes to help or turn a blind eye to poachers, and to ensure that the protected areas can also benefit poor rural communities. Swaziland, for all the pomp and wealth of King Mswati III, is a very poor country with a per capita income of $7 per day on average and far less in the rural, subsistence or cash crop farming areas around the national parks. He, with support from the government of the king, who fully supports the CITES bid, wants to bring in income to ensure both conservation and development.


Ted Reilly (left) on top of a 60 foot ranger watchtower In Mkhaya Royal National park, Swaziland

The official bid submitted to CITES by Swaziland says that “proceeds from the sale of stocks will raise approximately $9.9 million at a wholesale price of $30,000 per kg. That amount will be placed in an endowment fund to yield approximately $600,000 p.a. In addition, the proceeds of the annual sale of 20 kg will raise a further $600,000 pa, bringing total recurrent annual revenue from horn to $1.2 million”, which would make a huge difference to resources available for protection, development of wider conservation programmes in protected areas and benefit staff and local communities.

South Africa was expected to make a bid to CITES for trade legalisation but, following the deliberations of a committee of inquiry, decided not to.  Swaziland took up the trade baton at the last moment and brought down upon itself the self-righteous wrath of animal welfare and conservation NGOs in Europe and America.

At a debate on rhino horn in London on 3rd August, Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation totally rejected the Swazi proposal as “deeply flawed” and selectively misquoted the South African conservationist Ian Player (who almost single-handedly saved the world’s white rhino population) to try to undermine the bid.  In South Africa at the beginning of September, I spoke to John Forrest and David Cook, who worked with Player in KwaZulu-Natal during the programme to save the wild rhino and reintroduce it throughout southern Africa, and they said Travers’ quotes were a total misrepresentation and ignored Player’s support, albeit reluctant, for the use of a legal trade to fund rhino conservation.


Leakey leads the attack on Swazi bid

The strongest attack on Swaziland came from Dr Richard Leakey, the chair of the Kenya Wildlife Service which burned the biggest ever stockpile of seized horn at the end of April. He was quoted by the UK Guardian newspaper as saying, “Swaziland will be seen for what it is, a puppet.”   Jason Bell of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched an equally vituperative attack, saying “Resorting to legalization of rhino horn trade as a way to reduce poaching of rhinos is a theoretic assumption which fails to take market dynamics and consumer preferences into consideration… Swaziland’s proposal is not only biologically unsound, but politically naïve too. The international community has made it clear that there is no room for discussion when it comes to proposing trade in rhino horn in any form whatsoever…and IFAW urges Parties to OPPOSE this proposal.” (IFAW’s emphasis retained in the quote). But no evidence was presented in this swipe at the Swazis to demonstrate why a legal trade was “biologically unsound”. IFAW claimed to be backed by expert opinion but the expert it quoted was its own Asia programme director and not an independent conservation practitioner or peer-reviewed academic specialist.

The influential and more measured Save the Rhino Trust was more guarded, but its director, Cathy Dean, commented, “The wording of Swaziland’s proposal makes clear that it was submitted at the eleventh hour after it became clear that South Africa was not going to table one. One wonders how much influence certain pro-trade advocates had on Swaziland’s decision to gauge international reaction via this proposal to the possibility of a legal trade in rhino horn.” Save the Rhino does not oppose trade or sustainable use per se but is wary of committing itself until there is a more definite and structured plan for how a trade would take place and indications of how viable it would be as a means of ending poaching and conserving rhinos across the range states.

Swaziland proposes that “Big Game Parks, the CITES Management Authority in Swaziland, will be the sole seller and horn will be sold directly to a small number of licenced retailers, which is likely to include Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospitals, in the Far East provided that CITES agrees to the trade and approves Swaziland’s trade partners. All horn will be properly documented and recorded on a DNA database and recorded on a national register and with TRAFFIC [the Cambridge-based body that monitors international wildlife trade]”.  Ted Reilly is head of Big Game Parks, which runs the two national parks and the Mlilwane Sanctuary and is the Swazi CITES representative.

Opposition at CITES but consensus cracking

Cathy Dean rightly predicts that CITES will not agree the Swazi proposal. It needs to be approved by two-thirds of the 182 member countries at the CITES meeting and this will not happen.  The Swazi proposers of the legal trade are in no doubt, themselves, that this will be the case.  But following a meeting of the region-wide Southern African Development Community in Swaziland in late August, a Swazi MP and the most senior civil servant in the Tourism Ministry told me that there was considerable sympathy for the Swazi position in southern Africa, especially Namibia.  But so far the indications are that while Namibia might support Swaziland and possibly Zimbabwe, South Africa is less likely to do so and Botswana certainly won’t. A member of the official South African committee of inquiry which advised the Zuma government not to legalise the trade, told me in early September that support for the proposal was highly unlikely as South Africa felt the bid was premature and that no viable trade mechanism or safeguards had been worked out. Until a watertight trade system was worked out with security from penetration by illegal traders was put together, my informant felt that South Africa would not throw its weight behind a legalisation bid.

Although John Scanlon, secretary general at CITES, has been quoted as saying that the consensus for several years on banning international trade in horn and ivory was beginning to tear and “completely opposite viewpoints” would be aired in Johannesburg, he has tried not to be drawn on the pros and cons of a legal rhino horn trade, admitting that “The history of the convention has shown well-regulated legal trade can work for people and species, but it’s very species- and region-specific”.

But the CITES secretariat has already indicated that it opposes the Swazi proposal.  As soon as this became evident, according to veteran southern African conservationist and former WWF Africa director John Hanks, the Swazi CITES team led by Ted Reilly, with support from the King’s legal adviser David Millin, started to draft a letter to request a change in the Secretariat’s position on the proposal.   Hanks, Reilly and Pelham Jones (the head of South Africa’s private Rhino Owners Association, PROA) all told me that the Swazi bid was an important step forward and Reilly and Jones vehemently denied that Swaziland was acting as a puppet for the South African private rhino owners, who are very keen see the development of a regulated, legal trade to fund their rhino breeding ventures.

How would a legal trade work?

If the visceral opposition of animal welfare NGOs and  governments like Kenya was expected and will be a severe obstacle to those pressing the case for a legal trade as a means of conserving rhinos across southern and eastern Africa’s range states (where there are now between 5,042 and 5,455 black rhino and 19,682-21,077 white – though with over 5,500 poached across Africa over the last 10 years to feed the huge demand for horn, with prices at $60,000 per kg), an equally hard obstacle to overcome is the search for a viable, secure and sustainable trading system.  Ted Reilly told me that his proposal before CITES did not have a fully worked out system for trade because until there was an indication that trade would be agreed it wouldn’t be possible to be precise and the former must come first.  But CITES and other range states will want a much clearer picture of trade plans at or after CITES, as the debate won’t end with the expected rejection of the Swazi bid.

The objectives of legal trade are not just that it would generate income for the uses already outlined but it would also weaken market support for the illegal trade by providing a regular supply of risk-free horn and could serve to reduce the price so that it cuts profits from poaching (and so alter the profit v risk equation for the poachers and crime syndicates). The combination of heightened security, community benefits from conservation and lower profits from smuggled horn would diminish the illegal commerce and help reduce poaching substantially – though no one to whom I talked in the pro-trade camp felt poaching would disappear completely.


Rhino guard Fana Michael Masugu in Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland

But there is no one plan or evidence of sufficient joined-up thinking on exactly how trade would work.  The Swazi bid puts forward a target price of $30,000 per kg (half the black market rate), while Pelham Jones of PROA put it to me that his private owners in South Africa, could sell horn at $10,000, undercutting criminal profits and forcing them to sell more cheaply which combined with increased risk could help drive them from the market.

A pro-trade business and investment specialist, Michael Eustace, has put forward a totally different set of ideas, arguing that “in the rhino horn market, you do not want competition amongst the sellers if it leads to a drop in the horn price, because that will lead to higher demand, which cannot be satisfied in the long term. If you sell 3 000 horns a year at lower prices, you will run out of stock in five years. What then?“ He suggests, taking his model from the old De Beers diamond cartel, the formation of a Central Selling Organisation (CSO) that controls volumes and prices. It would sell, he forecasts, 400 horns a year from stocks, 300 from natural deaths, and 500 from farmed horn. He says that “China should agree to be our partners in trade, subject to CITES first agreeing to trade. Why would they not prefer a legal trade? Nobody wants to accommodate criminals.”  But China, and the other main market for illegal horn, show no sign of agreeing to this. They have been urged to clamp down on their domestic trade and the illegal importation of horn into their countries and are hardly likely now to suddenly jump at legalising and being willing to become open trading partners when most CITES states and lobby groups are violently opposed to it.

Some trade supporters, such as business specialist Jane Wiltshire, have even suggested to me that you should bring the current criminal “kingpins” of the illegal trade into a legal trading system to get them onside.  This ignores the major problem that the criminal syndicates involved are not just buying rhino horn illegally because there is not legal trade, but are also heavily involved in drugs, gun-running and the people trade. They are professional criminal networks and not legal traders criminalised by a CITES decision. Any serious promotion of this view could consign the chances of a legal trade to the dustbin of conservation history.  Leakey, Travers and conservation NGOs would have a field day if such suggestions were part of a future trade plan.


A long road to find a solution

It is clear that the Swazi proposal at CITES will fail. However, Swaziland and those private owners in South Africa (and perhaps the governments of Namibia and Zimbabwe) who want a free trade will not stop there. I was told in Swaziland and South Africa that there will be a concerted effort to get SADC member states to support trade legalisation and the campaign will continue.  Certainly, to me, the arguments for a legal trade to develop sustainable-use, community-friendly programmes of conservation, anti-poaching and rural development are very strong and could be one way forward to combat the illegal trade and ensure the survival of viable wild and privately-held rhino populations.  But, and it is a but as big as a rhino’s substantial butt, there has to be a much more concerted effort to work out a secure, regulated and internationally-accepted trade model to sell to likely buyers and, crucially, to CITES member states in the years to come.

There must also be an attempt to overcome the trench-warfare between pro- and anti- camps. Leakey, Travers, Bell and other NGO heads refer to Swaziland as puppets and also say PROA and other trade supporters act out of greed and care little for the rhinos.  Some of the South African private rhino owners and Ted Reilly deride their opponents as bunny-huggers or allege all sorts of malicious intent in those opposing the trade.  This will not help the rhinos.  Compromise and alliance-building on behalf of rhinos and those who live alongside them and those who seek to protect them is the only answer – but it sadly seems a long way off.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; teaches journalism at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book – Ivory Power and Poaching in Africa is published in November 2016.  He is grateful to the Comanis Foundation  for funding and organizing his research trip.

Taking the bull by the horns – dehorning rhinos to protect them

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

The large bull rhino, accompanied by a couple of rhino cows, was about a hundred metres away. The jeep carrying the darting team moved closer, there was a popping sound and the bull twitched and moved off with a dart clearly visible sticking in his upper leg. Within two minutes he was down on his knees looking groggy. The dehorning team was out of the jeep and over to him, attaching blinkers to cover his eyes and a group of ranch hands held him down and attached a rope to his back leg.

Things then happened quickly1 but with an assured and rapid routine that was impressive to watch. The vet monitored the rhino’s vital signs – it was sedated but not unconscious and not obviously alarmed or in any pain. The dehorners measured and meticulously recorded the circumference and height of the horn and calculated how much to remove. All the while the rhino was breathing loudly but steadily and made no attempt to get up or even shake off attention.

Once the measurements were taken and recorded, a line was carefully d2rawn around the horns (both the large front and smaller rear ones) leaving about four or five centimetres below the cut line to ensure growth would continue and there would be no damage to the horn bed where it joins the skull. A battery driven saw was then used to cut through the horn, which took little longer than a minute – all the time someone was spraying cold water on to the horn as it was cut to prevent over-heating and burn injuries.

3Then the horn was off. The team cleaned up the edges of the horn stump and brushed off any shaving or horn dust – which all went on to a big plastic sheet under the rhino and was gathered up in sealed and marked bags. The two horns were measured, weighed and marked with indelible ink and their specifications recorded. When a rhino (all of which are tagged and ID chipped) is first dehorned, DNA samples are taken so in future any horn from that rhino can be clearly identified.

From the first rhino I saw dehorned from feet away, the main horn weighed 565g, the smaller horn 67g and the shavings 45g – at the estimated market price in Vietnam and China (the main markets for poached ivory horn) this would be worth about $40,000. The horns and shavings from this rhino, though, would not be bound for the smuggling syndicates and illegal trade but for a safe in a bank or secure depository somewhere (we were not told where) in South Africa.

The two dehornings I saw took place at the huge rhino ranch at Klerksdorp, in South Africa’s North-West province, belonging to the world’s most successful breeder of rhinos, John Hume. His 8,000 hectare property carried 1,405 rhinos (mainly white rhino with just 17 black) and he has successfully bred 951 rhinos over the last 25 years. To give an idea of the importance of this for maintaining rhino numbers, South Africa has 18,796 white rhinos and 1,916 black rhinos (according to Save the Rhino), but 5,424 rhino have been poached in South Africa since 2006, and some feel this may be an underestimate as not all carcasses will have been found. The horn is poached by a variety of different groups – from poor Mozambican peasants to local South Africans to rogue professional hunters and even former vets and senior wildlife officials from the Kruger Park, I was told by Nicholus Funda, the head ranger at Kruger National Park.

4John Hume is a very determined and pugnacious man and since retiring from a successful holiday property has devoted his life and considerable funds to raising rhinos and fighting to find ways of saving them. His ranch is not a national park or sanctuary but a massive breeding operation with more rhino than you’ll see gathered together anywhere else. He told me, though, that it is not like a rhino factory farm with animals squeezed in and he estimates that in the vast rhino bull enclosures, there is just one bull to every 9 hectares and cows have about 8 hectares each. Only at feeding time do they gather in huge numbers – a variety of feedstuffs is brought in to supplement grazing; vital now that South Africa is in the grip of severe drought.

Hume pays out two to three million rand a month for feed and another three million rand a month on security. He is currently trying to build a radar tower and install sophisticated camera systems to supplement his existing surveillance and patrolling capabilities.


Hume and other private rhino breeders in South Africa are dehorning their animals to deter poachers. Dehorning doesn’t totally stop poaching as there is still a band of horn left which could be hacked off. But evidence from peer-reviewed studies has shown that dehorning, when widely advertised, does deter poachers, as they will seek to find the most lucrative targets (see Lindsay and Taylor.) and generally avoid farms/ranches with dehorning and good security. Even so, Hume has had attempted incursions by poachers.

The horn grows back on the rhinos and Hume dehorns his every 18 months to two years. The study of dehorning by Lindsay and Taylor suggests there is no long-term impact of dehorning, as long as all rhinos in an area are dehorned. In the wild, though, their study suggests that there could be reduced ability of cows to defend calves from predators like hyenas and lions. But on ranches, there is no obvious change in behaviour or health (Lindsay and Taylor). When I saw the two dehornings there seemed to be no great trauma involved and the rhino were on their feet and walking away in less than 15 minutes and there is no evidence that dehorning carried out every 18 months leads to any side-effects from the sedative.
The horn is made of the same substance as hair and fingernails, keratin. Rhino horn is chemically complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, but also tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate. It has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for millennia and now is believed, erroneously, in Vietnam to cure both cancer and hangovers.

Currently, the international trade in rhino horn is banned and the booming demand in China and Vietnam has created a huge and lucrative black market with horn fetching $60,000 a kg. This is a major threat to rhino numbers. John Hume believes that in the future only a combination of good security, dehorning at least on private ranches (few national parks and reserves want to dehorn, as Chief Ranger Nicholus Funda of Kruger and anti-poaching head Cedric Coetzee of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal told me) and the development of a regulated and closely monitored legal trade in rhino horn will save the rhino in the wild. This is a view strongly opposed by many conservation and animal rights NGOs and is unlikely in the near future to get sufficient support from governments around the world to end the 39 year old CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) ban on trade. It will be debated at the CITES Conference in Johannesburg at the end of September, when Swaziland applies to be allowed to trade in rhino from legal stocks and natural mortality – but no change is remotely possible at this stage. John Hume and a growing number of rhino breeders and conservationists believe it is the only answer. They have a mountain to climb to prove it can be done. But what is clear, is that dehorning is a very useful tool and one that can reduce the attraction of a rhino to poachers without any ill-effects for the rhino.

Professor Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; teaches journalism at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book – Ivory Power and Poaching in Africa is published in November 2016. He is grateful to the Comanis Foundation for funding and organizing his research trip.

Censorship and the SABC

by Martin Plaut, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: Christa Eybers/Eyewitness News

On Friday 27th of May this year South Africa’s state owned broadcaster – the SABC – announced that it would will no longer broadcast footage of people destroying public property during protests.

The SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, said that the destruction of public property was disrupting the lives of many, and that as a responsible public institution the SABC would not “assist these individuals to push their agenda that seeks media attention. As a public service broadcaster we have a mandate to educate the citizens, and we therefore have taken this bold decision to show that violent protests are not necessary,” he announced. The SABC argued that continuing to broadcast this material could “encourage other communities to do the same”.

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LGBTI vote at the UN shows battle for human rights is far from won

by Professor Henning Melber, ICWS Senior Research Fellow and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria

image: Reuters

image: Reuters

The world has edged closer to placing the same value on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people as it does on human rights. Sadly, not all states, including many African countries, are on the same page.

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Ivory – battle lines being drawn over the trade in tusks ahead of CITES summit in South Africa

by Professor Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

Ivory and elephants have for decades been very emotive topics among conservationists, wildlife departments and NGOs in states which have elephant populations and in Western countries which believe they have a right to tell others how to manage their wildlife resources. This has led to a constant state of verbal and media warfare over the international trade in ivory and the best approaches to conserving elephants. The arguments have centred on Africa’s elephants – the main source of illegally traded ivory.


Photo: copyright Keith Somerville. Madikwe, South Africa

On 24th September this year, South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The regular CITES conferences have since the late 1980s been the main battleground for the competing camps when it comes to the relationship between the trade in ivory and the conservation of elephants. This year’s meeting in Johannesburg from 24th September to 5th October will be no exception. The trenches are already being dug and the opening skirmishes have taken place more than two months before the delegates gather.

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Soweto uprising – 40 years on: the role of Wits students

  By Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, ICWS

Remember Soweto poster

It is hard to believe, but it is 40 years since the pupils of Soweto confronted the apartheid state. It was the beginning of the end of white rule in South Africa. But the children – many of them very young – paid a terrible price.

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Kenya’s Marsh Pride: What future for lions, people and development?

By Keith Somerville, ICWS Senior Research Fellow

In early December 2015, it was reported that eight lions from the Marsh Pride in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Game Reserve had been poisoned by Maasai herders illegally grazing their cattle there. The Mara reserve is a protected area from which herders and livestock are banned.  The deaths were widely reported by international broadcasters, newspapers and the Kenyan press.  Not only was the poisoning a blow to the country’s already vulnerable lion population, but the lions had appeared on the BBC’s popular Big Cat Diary TV series and in the book The Marsh Lions. The Story of and African Pride, written in 1982 by Brian Jackman and Jonathan Scott.  Scott, a leading wildlife artist, writer and photographer, has followed the generations of the pride since 1978, and was one of the main presenters of Big Cat DiaryThe poisonings were a huge blow to the pride itself, to the Mara’s lions and were indicative of the huge and unresolved problems of aligning wildlife conservation, habitat protection with the ways of life, livelihoods and urgent need to raise the incomes and living standards or rural communities across lion range states in Africa. Had it not coincided with major global stories such as the Paris climate conference, the controversy over bombing Syria and the continuing refugee crisis, the killings of the lions had all the ingredients for a re-run of the media-fest that followed the shooting of the lion known as Cecil in Zimbabwe in the summer. Here were lions that had been seen and followed by millions on TV or the internet, that had been named (and to an extent anthropomorphised) and had been killed illegally in a protected area.

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Jonathan Scott attempted to publicise the killings, not as a sensationalist story like Cecil’s, but to raise serious issues.  He got in touch with me and other journalists and wrote on his blog that this tragedy for the lion pride had to be turned into something that brought about real change – change that would be in the interests of people and lions. Scott wrote on his blog, “Now we have to honour the lives of those extraordinary big cats by putting things right. The only way to do that is by ensuring that we speak our truth. We must ask those difficult questions and confront the very complex issues that make up the political environment surrounding the Masai Mara. We must do that on behalf of all Kenyans. This is a national issue as well as a local one.” And it is.  And it is an issue that affects all communities that live around national parks and game reserves across Africa, the wildlife in and around those protected areas, the conservationists and researchers working to preserve species and habitats, and governments which have to make the decisions that affect the balance between human needs and those of conservation. Too often, it is one or the other, rather than a serious attempt to empower local people, benefit them and so provide real incentives for struggling, impoverished rural communities to see wildlife as a benefit rather than an obstacle.

To understand the complexity, one needs to look at the case of the Maasai Mara and the Maasai pastoralists and then broaden the picture out to consider the future of conservation and community development across the continent, where the same problems are often replicated to the detriment of people, wildlife and protected areas.  The Maasai living around the reserve are traditionally cattle herders, measuring wealth largely through the size of their herds. Under colonialism and under the governments of independent they have been moved off land set aside for parks or reserves and restricted in their access to land and water.  Changing land ownership and utilization practices and regulations have affected their freedom of movement.  Moves by successive governments to establish individual rather than community ownership and to sub-divide land previously owned communally has led to the fencing of rangeland, restriction of cattle and wildlife movement to follow seasonal grazing, increasing conflict within the community between rich and poor, the powerless and the politically powerful, and ever greater human-wildlife conflict. The process of change has involved considerable corruption and land-grabbing by senior politicians and public officials in league with local clients in the Maasai community. Maasai pastoralists deprived of traditional migration routes or hemmed in by fenced-off land owned or claimed by political grandees and the local recipients of their patronage, have forced communities to look for grazing elsewhere and made them even more angry overo the economic costs of loss of livestock to predators.

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

Copyright – Jonathan and Angela Scott

The herders accused of killing the Marsh Pride lions, Simindei Naurori and Kulangash Toposat, have been charged with the poisoning and could be handed life sentences or fined Sh20 million each – a sum poor herders would be incapable of raising.  If they are found guilty, justice of a sort will have been seen to have been done. But they are victims as much as the lions and other wildlife (probably vultures and hyenas) which will have died from eating poisoned remains of three cows killed by the lions.  If they entered the reserve to graze their animals and then poisoned carcasses of cattle killed by lions then they will have broken the law, but broken it not to poach for substantial gain but to survive in an increasingly harsh habitat and economic environment in which their options as pastoralists are forever narrowing.  Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Kenya’s Wild Direct NGO, is a fervent supporter of wildlife conservation but she sums up the situation well when she says that local communities must be provided with a role and incentive to coexist with wildlife and become part of conservation but that “Currently there are only costs for living with lions. No rewards”.  Local communities have to have income, they have to feed, clothe and educate their children.  For many, cattle are the only realistic source of income. But sub-division of land, land grabs, loss of land for building houses, for arable farming, reduce the opportunities for local people to survive, let alone improve incomes and living standards.  In such as situation, they will break the law if they feel they have no other option and will break it regularly if they can do so with impunity because of a lack of serious attention to the wider issue by government (local and national) and corruption, mismanagement and under-funding of the Kenya Wild life Service, which means that regulations aren’t enforced.

The Mara reserve is not a national park run by central government. It is owned and run by Narok County and its governor and council.  Park fees and other earnings from the massive tourist industry are routed through the Narok authorities and very little goes to local people, who bear the burden of living next to a reserve rich in predators and other wildlife that can damage their livelihoods. Of the reserve fees charged to tourists 55% goes to Narok County Council and 36% to the Mara Conservancy (a private conservation area bordering the reserve). Of the Council’s share, 19% goes to the group ranches bordering the Mara reserve; nine per cent of earnings go to the KAPS company that administers tourist fees.  Little trickles down to rural communities.  The situation is made worse by corruption, with repeated accusations by conservationists and communities over the years that Narok Council is illegally taking money from tourist fees and other income and using it corruptly.

Wikipedia Commons

Wikipedia Commons

In January this year, local communities – supported by some local and national politicians – protested that the Narok Governor and Council were misappropriating the reserve income. Thousands of Maasai marched on the governor’s office in Narok to protest and were met with the use of live ammunition and tear gas by the police. One person was killed and several injured when Kenyan police clashed with Maasai protesting against a local governor they accuse of misappropriating tourism funds from the Maasai Mara game reserve. The Governor,Samuel Tunai,  and his administration were said to be misusing the $80 a day collected from each tourist entering the Mara and income from lodges. A Senator, Stephen ole Ntutu, said Tunai “cannot account for billions of shillings from all financial sources including the Mara. He should be held to account”.  The Kenyan Auditor-General and the Anti-Corruption Commission are investigating use of the funds, but no details of their findings have yet been released.

What the events show, is that local people are angry that they get no benefit, only costs from wildlife conservation and related tourism.  They feel they are in a no-win situation and so break the law, to the detriment of the Mara conservation efforts, the wildlife and ultimately local and national income from wildlife tourism – and the Mara produces in come of around £13m a year. But to them that is a price they will pay to try to survive because the distant and egregiously corrupt system of government is neither responsive to their needs nor prepared to look at ways of empowering them that will enable a workable system of coexistence with conservation and income from wildlife.

This situation is replicated in many conservation or protected area across East and Southern Africa, where local communities suffer loss of land and depredations of lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo or hippos and have little recourse other than to break the law or turn the resources to their advantage by poaching or helping poaching syndicates. Some, like the Maasai in this case, just kill in order, as they see it, to protect their wildlife.  I witnessed the problem in Botswana in July 2015 around the Chobe National Park.  The banning of commercial or subsistence hunting by local people has resulted not in preservation of species but in greater assistance by locals to outside poaching syndicates and to the poisoning of lions to protect stock, provide bones to sell for use in Chinese medicine and to prevent the discovery of the carcasses of poached elephants. A poorly-thought out conservation measure has had the opposite effect to that intended.

Kenya must address the real issues of protecting the Mara and its lions and not opt for quick, cosmetic solutions that do not dig down and get to the roots of the problem. Jonathan Scott, not surprisingly, wants measures to stop all grazing in the Mara’s protected areas. But he says, “There are no easy solutions to please everyone.” And the government and wildlife authorities must recognise that this “is a failure on the part of the administration at both local and national level. Kenya needs tourism – it pays the bill for protecting our wilderness and provides employment…and generates millions of dollars each year for Narok County”. He goes on, in his blog response to the deaths of the lions, to call for it to be a catalyst for change in “addressing the complex issues that need to be resolved if wildlife and local communities are to prosper side by side”.

He is right, but the problem is finding formulas (and they will differ from country to country, from locality to locality) that will empower people, provide income and incentivise them to actively aid conservation.  Kenya already has some examples that are making progress – the Northern Rangelands Trust in the Samburu-Laikipia area, the Tsavo Trust , the Mara Conservancy and Calvin Cottar’s concept of Payment for Environmental Services (PES), the latter involving the leasing of land from communities for wildlife conservation.  But they are small-scale, rely on donations or benefactors to pay for the projects that provide income and fund conservation and anti-poaching. They are also constantly subject to the vagaries of a political system riddled with corruption, patronage and a failure to join up development and conservation in rural areas. A glimmer of light, perhaps, and one that needs to be nurtured in a hostile environment.

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; he teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent; his book Africa’s Long Road Sine Independence. The Many Histories of a Continent is published on 14 January 2016 by Hurst and Co, and he has just completed the manuscript of a work on the history and political economy of the ivory trade in Africa.

Mandela: Myth and Reality – a chance for considered reflection

Originally posted on the School of Advanced Study blog. 

Keith Somerville, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), who was able to observe at first-hand, developments in South Africa, helped to organise the recent Mandela: Myth and Reality conference. Coming a year after the death of the country’s first black president, it brought together a remarkable group of experts to analyse his contribution to the creation of the new, free South Africa.

By Keith Somerville

South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za

South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za

On 5 December, the anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies held a conference which examined in detail the complexities of his legacy as a nationalist leader, his relationship with the South African Communist Party, his management of the transition from apartheid, his record as president and the construction of his powerful media image. The well-attended, day-long event was marked by contending views, informed argument but also mature debate with papers presented by leading African and British academics, people who knew and worked with him, and prominent journalists.

The day started with an artistically powerful and stunning new documentary on Mandela by the South Africa film-maker Khalo Matabane. Utilising archive film and interviews with South African activists, leaders and commentators who knew Mandela, world statesman and, most importantly, young South Africans who grew up in the Mandela era, it shone a bright light on Nelson Mandela the man and the leader, and on the South Africa he left behind.

No punches were pulled in describing the problems and massive inequalities that still mark the country, 20 years after the ANC took power. Young black South Africans talked about the problems of unemployment and the poor living conditions of the majority of black people. Khalo, in his film and answers to the audience’s questions, said that while everyone praised Mandela for his policy of reconciliation, he felt forgiveness had perhaps gone too far and people hadn’t been held to account. Mandela took time to pursue reconciliation when he should have given more attention to raising the living standards of the poor and marginalised.

The day proceeded with a panel on Mandela as a nationalist leader focusing particularly on his relationship with the South African Communist Party and the effects that had on Mandela’s outlook and the development of the ANC. Contending views were put forward by Professors Stephen Ellis, author of External Mission: The ANC in Exile,  Tom Lodge, a biographer of Mandela, and Hugh Macmillan, who has written widely on the ANC and its relations with Zambia and other Africa states, and Moses Anafu, who worked with Mandela during the transition period as Commonwealth head Emeka Anyaoku’s special representative.

Stephen Ellis was clear that Mandela was a member of the SACP Central Committee and felt that the communists had been the dynamic force behind the move towards armed struggle in South Africa. Tom Lodge took a different view and gave a fascinating account of the construction of Mandela’s image. He was less concerned about party membership, while Hugh Macmillan said this concentration on communism was a hangover from the Cold War and that the ANC pushed for armed struggle to compete with the break-away and radical Pan-Africanist Congress. Moses Anafu was clear that in terms of policy and the role of Mandela in the transitional period, his relationship with the party was effectively irrelevant.

While no final agreement was reached on the nature and importance of the communist link, the session was ably summed up by Professor Saul Dubow, who made the point that whether or not Mandela was formally a member of the communist party, what mattered was the effect on policy and ANC actions. His conclusions and the answers to question from the audience, established a good base from which to proceed to the next panel dealing with post-apartheid leadership.

In a wide-ranging session, Dr Desne Maisie, Dr Funmi Olonisakin, Knox Chitiyo and Paul Holden looked at key aspects of Mandela’s presidency and legacy as a government leader, with detailed examinations of the economy and continuing inequality, the problems of corruption in South Africa, Mandela as a leader in southern Africa and his overall style of leadership. Dr Merle Lipton summarised the wealth of material and presented an acute critique of governance and economic management under the Mandela government.

The final session dealt with Mandela’s media image and his relationship with the press. Chaired by Professor Winston Mano, this examination was carried out by former BBC correspondent Peter Biles and Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society.  Both knew Mandela and covered his period in power, and his retirement.

They stressed how Mandela used charm and his immense personal presence to woo and dazzle the media in a way that often protected him and his government from criticism.

Each session was marked by lively debate and participation from the audience, itself reflecting a wealth of political activism, academic knowledge and journalistic experience. The day offered an excellent opportunity, which was seized eagerly by speakers and audience alike, to open a thorough and, I’m sure, continuing debate on Mandela the man, leader and legend.

The discussions established the parameters for this debate and was valuable in reaffirming the influence, personal prestige and immense political influence that Mandela brought to bear on South Africa, Africa and the last two decades of the 20th century. The reality of what he achieved and the areas where reconciliation took precedence over reconstruction and redistribution of wealth was examined and debated, while the construction of the media image and mythical status was also brought to the fore.

The conference was organised by Keith Somerville and Martin Plaut (both senior research rellows at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies), Dr Sue Onslow and Olga Jimenez. The organisers are grateful to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation for paying the expenses of Khalo Matabane.  A podcast of the day is available here.

Was the world’s best- known secular saint a Communist after all?

 Trevor Grundy is a British based journalist who lived and worked as a reporter and broadcaster in Central, Eastern and Sothern Africa from 1966-1996. Today he is an author and researcher based in Kent, Southern England. trevor.grundy@zen.co.uk

It’s 20 years since the ANC came to power in South Africa, 24 since the world’s best known secular saint was released from prison and a full year since he died from natural causes at the age of 95 on December 5, 2013. At an historic seminar at the University of London (Senate House) organized by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) to mark the first anniversary of the great man’s death, a question that won’t go away was aired once again – Was Nelson Mandela a senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the early 1960s, or was he not?  TREVOR GRUNDY was there.

We’re now well into the post-Mandela age but still can’t get enough of a man so often described as the world’s best known secular saint. Those who love him, love him so fiercely that debate is often out of the question. But as George Orwell said in an essay he wrote about Gandhi (Reflections on Gandhi): “Saints should always be judged guilty until proved innocent.”

So, even if you’ve read Stephen Ellis’s External Mission –The ANC in Exile 1960-1990, eagerly page-turned The Hidden Thread – Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era by Irina Filatova and Appolon Davidson, devoured Mandela –The Authorised Biography by Anthony Sampson, absorbed The Lusaka Years – The ANC in Exile by Hugh Macmillan and flicked your way through a dozen or so other books about South Africa’s first black president, two important but unanswered questions stay with us: what was his legacy, and was he, or was he not, a member of the South African Communist Party’s central committee in the early 1960s?

The conference at the University of London (Senate House) on December 5 (2014) was called Nelson Mandela: Myth and Reality and was described by the former Trotskyite activist and author Paul Trewhela, as “historic.”

One of its main organisers, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Keith Somerville, said that a year on from  Nelson Mandela’s death, the one-day conference gave academics, politicians, journalists, historians and members of the public a chance to step back from the emotion and the building up of the image of a saint, a saint who – in a way – couldn’t be emulated elsewhere because he is almost too lofty. “We have, at last, managed to open up a lot of issues that nobody wanted to talk about at the time of his death,“ he said. “Nobody wanted to be seen as spitting on his grave. Now people aren’t seen as doing that. They’re seen as people who are looking at someone who is a much revered, much admired, but far from perfect character. And I think he would never have described himself as a perfect character. And so, we have been able to look at him –if not totally in the round –  from a whole new different series of perspective, with different views being presented and discussed that now will help to open the way for a really in-depth look over the next few years at the real Mandela and his lasting legacy.”

Over 100 people were there – almost all of them Europeans with African credentials; but also men and women who left the so-called “Dark Continent” for new and much safer lives in Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and different parts of Europe.

For many of them, Mandela’s alleged membership of the SACP in the late 1950s/early 1960s remains a burning issue.

At a time when South Africa is riddled with corruption, plagued by rampant crime and mounting public concern that the African Nationalist Congress (ANC)-led government of Jacob Zuma plans to curtail the freedom of the press in 2015, one wonders why this is such an obsession.

Of what possible importance, of what possible relevance was this to South Africa in the second decade of the 21st century, asked Dr Moses Anafu, former head of the Africa section at the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat. “I don’t understand why it is so important whether he was a Communist or not. Maybe – and only maybe – Mandela was a Communist, well and good. If he wasn’t, that’s his own business.”

Anafu was reacting to earlier speeches by two European academics, Professor Stephen Ellis of the University of Leiden (Netherlands) and Dr Hugh Macmillan of the University of Cape Town and Africa Studies Centre, Oxford University (England).

Ellis is the former editor of Africa Confidential which is seen in some British and African Left-wing/socialist circles as a publication with a remarkable ability to anticipate what the British Government is thinking about Africa.

In his  widely read book External Mission –The ANC in Exile 1960-1990 (Hurst& Company, London, 2012) Ellis insists that Mandela was not only a member of the Communist Party in 1961 but that he had also been co-opted onto the membership of the SACP’s Central Committee. Ellis said it is important to know this and to understand the way the SACP gave birth to and then structured the armed wing of the ANC, Spear of the Nation (Umkhonto we Sizwe).

But not once did Mandela admit to being a member of the SACP. He made no mention of it in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, neither does Sampson in the official biography.

So far, only Ellis and the Russian writers Filatova and Davidson have highlighted this possibility.

I asked Ellis if what he says and writes is true, had the Mandela Myth been based on a lie?

He replied: “Mandela, for various reasons, denied at his trial that he was a member of the SACP. He was on trial for so many serious offences and he was going to minimize the seriousness of what he had done.  And he carried on denying it all through his life. I think it’s a pity in many ways that after he’d become president and a world figure and the Cold War was over that he didn’t actually tell us more about his exact relationship with the Communist Party in his early days. But he chose not to.”

Ellis told the seminar that it is most important to know the truth about Mandela’s membership of the SACP – partly because it validates the language it uses today – language familiar to readers of George Orwell’s 1984.

He said: “It’s one indication of the degree to which, after Mandela was sent to prison in 1962, the SACP came to exert a very strong influence indeed. I would say control over the ANC. South Africa is still one of the few countries in the world where people talk this Marxist jargon. I mean, political actors from the mid-20th century talk about the patriotic bourgeoisie, the national democratic revolution, the proletariat, the two-stage revolution. This vocabulary is simply not adequate to discuss the problems of South Africa in the 21st century. So, I think, that if you’re interested to know how it (South Africa) got stuck with this vocabulary, you need to look at the nature of the relationship quite clearly. Until you appreciate history and how the ANC came to adopt some key Marxist concepts, above all a Marxist/Leninist vocabulary, you can’t understand why the South African public is so ill-equipped to discuss the real problems in their country today.”

He said that had Mandela’s membership of the SACP (which served Moscow so well, so obediently and for such a long time) been widely known overseas, the ANC would never have received the support that it did – both financially and morally – from Europe and America.

He said: “Since the end of the Cold War, non-one has wanted to come to terms with South Africa’s history. Part of the reason is that Mandela denied his membership of the Communist Party, right up to the time of his death.” And Ellis said that “a cold response” from the ANC meets anyone attempting to unravel the ‘truth’ about Mandela’s membership of the SACP.

He said his book had been greeted with “a very eloquent silence” by the ANC, adding: “Anyone who starts to inquire seriously into their history . . . well, they sooner or later direct a volley of abuse at you and the aim, of course, is to discredit you and prevent any discussion. If you looked objectively at what the SACP in the 1960s and 1970s was up [to], you could find that it manipulated the ANC. That’s what they are afraid of people finding out about them.”

He said that several members of the SACP claimed Nelson  Mandela became a member of the SACP in 1960. “It is,” he said, “entirely credible that Nelson Mandela was co-opted onto the Central Committee of the SACP to work closely with Joe Slovo and Walter Sisulu [two of the SACPs best known leaders, one white, the other black] and others in establishing Umkhonto we Sizwe after the SACPs 1960 National Conference.

In response, Hugh Macmillan (author of The Lusaka years –The ANC in exile in Zambia published by Jacana, South Africa in 2013) said that all this reminded him of what the South African government said about Mandela at the time of his trial in 1962 which led to his incarceration for 27 years.

Said Macmillan: “This claim is linked with what I see as a revival of the apartheid government’s legend that the SACP, acting on the instructions of Moscow and/or Peking decided to launch the armed struggle and – to again quote Stephen Ellis – bounced the ANC into this. And the implication is that the ANC was pushed into armed struggle against its will, or better judgment, by the SACP. And I don’t think there’s any reason to believe this. There was a lot of pressure towards sabotage and armed struggle coming from below and, more importantly, the ANC was in intense competition with the Pan Africanist Congress and the PAC made a move towards armed struggle before the ANC and leaders of the ANC were well aware that they were in a competition for radicalism.”

It was the PAC that alerted the world to life under apartheid by organizing the burning of passes (needed by all Africans to move anywhere in their own country) in March 1960. It led to the Sharpeville Massacre (where 69 black people were shot dead). Macmillan said:”I am alarmed that a new kind of orthodoxy is gaining ground and it is based largely on an article by Stephen Ellis and on the book he recently published. In the article he claimed that he had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mandela was a member of the SACP. It is being accepted – if there is such a thing – as a historic fact. And I simply don’t think that it is.”

The conference started at 9 am and finished shortly before 7 pm with a break for lunch.

Whether or not Mandela had ever been a Communist was the day’s number one topic, thought two journalists Peter Biles (ex-BBC in South Africa) and Richard Dowden (ex- ‘Independent’ newspaper journalist in South Africa) provided light relief with amusing stories and some anecdotes about Mandela and his meetings with the Press.

But after I’d left the room where a million words had bounced around like tennis balls in a Grand Slam and went out to enjoy several glasses of white wine with men who only a few hours earlier looked as if they were ready to slaughter one another, I realised how it was not the words of either Ellis or Macmillan that rattled around in my brain but those of a young South African called Khalo Matabane who makes documentaries and lives in Cape Town. His film Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me had kicked off the day’s proceedings.

“Perhaps we’ll never understand you,” we heard him almost whisper as the young Mandela – who strongly resembled Joe Louis in his prime– waved to his followers outside a courtroom. ”You are our imagination and the truth about you lies in your contradictions.”

And on the train back home I listened to what I’d recorded.

What Ellis and Macmillan said seemed rather remote. What Matabane said was explosive.

While admiring Mandela for his courage, for the long years he spent in prison and his refusal to compromise his principles, Matabane had this to say about the great man’s legacy –

“For me, I think there were tactical errors where he focused too much on trying to understand the enemy and sort of humanise the enemy and show the enemy the light and all those kind of things, which were amazing gestures. But actually his mandate should have been on the majority of Africans who are poor and marginalised. That’s where he should have spent his time. That’s my criticism. I feel that he spent so much time trying to say ‘You can find your humanity inside yourself’ and I’ m not sure that has worked for South Africa.”

He repeated it several times.

Mandela should have spent much more time listening to ordinary people, hearing their stories and how they had suffered under apartheid. Mandela, who should have listened to the poor and the wretched and said to them – “Your story matters.” Mandela had surrounded himself with so many “dubious characters” and today South Africa is sitting on a ‘time bomb’ because of high unemployment, corruption and the emergence of men and women ready to take advantage of mass dis-satisfaction and lack of belief in the ANC – the political system in general.

And on racial reconciliation in the once massively acclaimed ‘rainbow nation’?

“There’s a number of  white South Africans who do not feel that something wrong happened to South Africa who today tell you  to move on. Some of them saw my documentary and said – ‘Oh, you’re stuck in the past.’ They have no sense of responsibility like –‘Oh, we did wrong and our grand-children have benefitted and are who they are today because we benefitted because of apartheid. They fail to see that their house in Cape Town costing £1 million pounds or £10 million is because of apartheid, There is no sense of acknowledgment. The danger in South Africa today is that the guys on the Left with the right kind of rhetoric are playing on sentiments that the ANC didn’t transform enough. The present frustration is opening up a door and all sorts of people will come in and say –’We’ll make sure there is economic justice for you’.”

I listened again – “. .. the guys on the Left with the right kind of rhetoric.” I remembered what Professor Ellis had said.

The debate, like the African revolution, continues.

Are South Africa’s ‘Born Free’ Generation Scaring Zuma?

By Keith Somerville

President Jacob Zuma has reacted angrily to the use of the term ‘born frees’ for the generation of young South Africans who will get their first chance to vote in next year’s elections. Speaking at a voter registration drive in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, on 8th November, he said that the term was propaganda and makes young people out to be idiots. Quite how he came to the conclusion that ‘born free’ was being equated with idiocy is not clear, but his nervousness about this generation is. His irritated retort is not just redolent of the president’s and the ANC’s sensitivity to real or implied criticism; it is also a measure of the concern within the ANC about the voting intentions of the million plus new voters who may appear on the electoral roll. Continue reading