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Let Basarwa be

The recent arrest of eleven Basarwa tribesmen on charges of illegal hunting in the Central Game Reserve poses some serious problems as far as the future of the Basarwa and that of Basarwa is concerned.

This is particularly so if we acknowledge the existence of the Basarwa as indigenous peoples and the CKGR as a government protected area. The position of our government somewhat assumes that the protected areas are in conflict with the rights and traditions of indigenous peoples on their terrestrial domains. Based on such premises, one can understand the Government’s decision to have Basarwa moved out of the CKGR, a move which is purely unsustainable as far as environmental management is concerned.

The reality, however, is that where indigenous and traditional peoples are encouraged to develop an interest in the conservation and traditional use of their lands and other resources, and their fundamental human rights are accorded respect, conflict need not arise between people’s rights and interests.

And protected area’s objectives, with the understanding of the concept of Sustainable Development and several international agreements of the IUCN and WWF, the recognition is that, “the rights of indigenous and other traditional people’s inhabiting the protected areas must be respected by promoting and allowing their full participation in co-management of resources in a way that would not affect or undermine the objectives of the CKGR.”

To that end our government should recognize Basarwa as rightful equal partners in the development and implementation of conservation strategies that affect their lands and other resources, and in particular, the establishment and rights of protected areas.

Until this realization dawns upon our government we are continuously going to witness the bitter struggle between officials on one hand and Basarwa on the other in their quest to sustain their livelihoods within the protected areas of CKGR as they have done for generations after generation.

There are lessons to be learnt from global perspectives as far as the rights of Basarwa are concerned. There are living examples of cases that demonstrate experience in natural resources management within the protected areas which overlap with indigenous people’s lands. These include the Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada; the Lapponian Area in Sweden; the Sime Mountain National Park in Ethiopia; the Kakadu National Park in Australia - the list is endless.

The most important lessons that can be drawn from these case studies that are applicable to the CKGR and Basarwa are that; where indigenous peoples’ participation in management has taken place early in the planning process, there have been benefits for both the indigenous people and the management authorities, and secondly, the wider the participation of the indigenous peoples in all aspects of management, the less likely is that conflicts will arise.

Sammy Sehuhula

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