By Emmanuel Koro in Johannesburg, SA

HISTORICALLY African women have been said to be reluctant to take up leadership roles in almost all walks of life, but the 21st Century has seen the emergence of women leaders and voices in almost all sectors.

In the SADC region’s wildlife-rich producer-communities, the need for women’s voices and leaders in wildlife management politics initially focused on breaking the traditional barriers that made African women get spoken over by men. They appeared in meetings, almost voiceless. Women’s voices were outnumbered by those of their male counterparts when Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM), largely supported by international hunting revenue, started in Southern Africa in the early 1980s.

Yet, CBNRM is a democratic process that demands an all-inclusive community decision-making process. 

Under CBNRM, international hunting brings the most income compared to all other resources. This makes international hunting the most dominant and talked about economic activity in Southern African communities that are co-existing with and managing wildlife. For the management of international hunting to be successful, women’s voices and leadership are, therefore, critical. 

This ensures democratic, inclusive, representative leadership and decision-making on how to manage wildlife and use revenue generated from international hunting.

The introduction of CBNRM in Southern Africa, in the early 1980s, coincided with the big movement of gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming in any socio-economic activity meant only one thing — the need to involve women’s voices and leadership, almost to balance those of men in any economic sector. Perhaps it was around wildlife management politics that that change was most needed at the grassroots level in wildlife-rich Southern Africa.

A quick review of the SADC Natural Resources Management Newsletter, for which this writer used to do story research and writing between 1997 and 2002, shows that almost 90% of articles written featured men’s voices. It was difficult to get a comment from women. They appeared in meetings but didn’t speak much. They were largely spoken about by their male leaders. But great efforts were being made by NGOs and governments to involve women’s voices and leaders in CBNRM and political debate on the use of resources. This included issues related to international hunting, ivory and rhino horn trade.

However, this changed rapidly at the start of the 21st Century. Now it is in the politics of international hunting and how it should benefit local communities, wildlife and habitat conservations that Southern African women have found their voices and leadership. The wildlife-rich communities of Southern Africa’s livelihoods are largely supported by international hunting revenue. It’s an economic and conservation activity that they now understand well and are actively involved in. It’s something that they have experienced for about 40 years since the introduction of CBNRM in Southern Africa, with international hunting being the most robust and highest income-bringer to the region’s wildlife producer communities.

The 21st Century wildlife politics debate has brought a breath of fresh-air, with women leaders in wildlife conservation now being found in almost all the countries in wildlife-rich Southern African countries.

Botswana has Chieftainess Rebecca Banika whose understanding of how international hunting revenue should be used to promote conservation and socio-economic benefits is impressive. She leads and speaks for her Pandamantenga Community. She views those who want to ban international hunting as ‘demon-possessed’ and she has attracted media interviews from the local, regional and international media.

“I’m the face and voice of my community and my job is to ensure the well-being and welfare of my community first and foremost,” she said this month.

“I don’t know how best I can describe the animal rights groups.

“In short, I can say they are demon-possessed because they are inhumane and don’t have any feelings for mankind. There is no natural justice in them. No compassion, no sympathy for the plight of people co-existing with the wildlife.”

Esther Netsivhongweni in South Africa is the director of African Community Conservationist and the only known black woman in Southern Africa running a safari hunting business. She has fought many big battles for the Makuya hunting community and represents the Makuya community, not only on international hunting issues but also as their headwoman reporting directly to Chief Makuya. Her voice, leadership and ability to mobilise Makuya community against the animal rights groups’ fundraising efforts has made Makuya community a ‘no-go area’ for them. Netsvhongeni commands a lot of respect and influence in South African conservation circles. She was a member of the high-level panel that recently advised the South Africa government’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment on issues related to sustainable use of wildlife.

Namibia’s powerful woman’s voice and leader can be located in Max Louis who heads Namibia Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO) and is secretary of the Southern Africa Community Leader’s Network. Louis has worked with international hunting organisations, educating the public on the conservation and socio-economic benefits of international hunting. So far, she has made significant pro-international hunting interventions in the ongoing divisive debates between the pro and anti-hunting movements.

So, where are the young women’s voices in international hunting politics?

One is the youthful Professor Patience Gandiwa, Zimbabwe’s strong and authoritative voice in international wildlife politics. Gandiwa is the director of International Conservation Affairs and executive technical advisor in the Director General’s Office at ZimParks Head Office. Gandiwa is currently the only female director within ZimParks.

Professor Patience Gandiwa

She is actively involved in the country’s wildlife management issues related to the UN Convention of International Trade In Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna Species (CITES) and delivered important presentations at the organisation’s summit in Panama, arguing that rural communities need to be included in CITES’ decision-making framework.

Another is a young Zambian woman and Oxford University student, Bupe Banda-Mhango, who impressively used her voice and leadership skills to address CITES’ member-countries in Panama, also demanding the inclusion of rural communities in the organisation’s decision-making framework. She rhetorically asked why communities co-existing with wildlife are excluded from the CITES decision-making framework, yet such decisions impact them and their wildlife.

Bupe Banda-Mhango

“In Zambia, we are aware of the contribution of legal international wildlife trade to rural communities and the consequences of restricting such trade.

“When our communities benefit from international wildlife trade in a sustainable manner, they create jobs, drive local development, pay scholarships for young people like me and improve access to essential services.

“Rural communities are often marginalised and poor, meaning that these benefits make a substantial contribution to their livelihoods daily.

“We hope that decisions made at this summit don’t negatively affect poor rural communities,” Banda-Mhango said in Panama in November last year.

She spoke on behalf of the Zambian Community Resources Management Forum and the Community Resources Board Association which represent more than 80 community-based associations in Zambia and over 200 000 people who live in the country’s rural areas.

In an interview after her CITES powerful speech, Banda-Mhango said that wildlife producer communities in Zambia are benefitting from international hunting in many ways.

“Revenue made from sustainable international hunting is being ploughed back to support their livelihoods,” she said.

“These communities just want to live their lives like anybody else.

“So, the revenue from international hunting has helped to build community infrastructure, such as roads, schools, clinics and anything else that they need to be supported by international hunting revenue.”

Banda-Mhango said the people who are calling for bans on international hunting are inconsiderate.

“For people who are advocating the ban on international hunting, I think it is unfair for the wildlife producer-communities, because it is like taking bread from their mouths, like somebody from the community told me recently,” she said.

“Communities are really benefitting a lot and they also use the resources sustainably.

“I don’t think hunting will ever end in Africa because it’s part of our tradition and our culture and we are seeing the benefits from it.”

Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes on environmental and developmental issues in Africa.


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