Zimbabwe - Death by Boycott Syndrome (DBB)

II regard myself as privileged to have travelled and seen a big part of this colourful world. It is the best education I have ever had. I am inspired by different cultures, different thinking and different ways of life. Travel is a personal journey, one that I begin with my eyes open, imagining what impact I might have on the financial and social economy of a region.

Having lived in Zimbabwe all my life, I am all too familiar with the concept of sanctions and boycotts. Boycotts on a nation, or a product or an individual are a widely used strategy to bring awareness to a critical issue that needs to be resolved or changed. Historically, the most successful boycotts have been those placed on individuals or specific organizations. However boycotts placed on a whole nation or community often result in tragedy and do not target the very people the sanction intended to harm.

Recently, Zimbabwe’s government through its National Parks and Wildlife Service carried out a controversial wildlife capture exercise of various key species such as elephants and lions. The capture was done without stakeholder consultation or input, without notice, and I suspect without much thought to PR damage to the country’s tourism reputation, a reputation that has taken over a decade to resuscitate. In a world where every visitor and tourist is potentially a self-publishing journalist, it is naive to have thought this could be done without the rest of the world knowing about it. The Park’s Service has released very little information on this recent policy.

Wildlife activists have suggested a tourism boycott on Zimbabwe. I understand the awareness and urgency for change to such an unpalatable situation but I don’t hold out hope of any results being achieved by this means. In fact it may well calcify attitudes.

There are many operators, NGOs and private individuals who tirelessly continue to fight the battles on the ground through research, education of local communities and sustainable community initiatives. Most of this work has been possible through the inflows of tourism revenue both directly and indirectly. Without tourism, little can be achieved in educating our rural populations that crop raiders are not pests to be annihilated, wire snares are not a quick fix to a free meal, trees are not the axman’s privilege and that soil erosion is a cancer. At a time when the world is seeing habitats and wildlife numbers shrinking at an alarming rate, Zimbabwe is making steady progress. We cannot afford to be knocked off the environmental front foot by an ill thought out boycott.

Tourism is one of the industries that have the ability to bounce back quickly and to contribute substantially to any economy with immediate results. A boycott equally quickly deprives the economy of much-needed revenue, employment and resultant benefits. With a depressed economy, the pressure on natural resources increases as people seek to survive the turmoil of a debilitated key industry.

The courage and confidence of individuals in any nation is dependent on their financial and social standing. When a nation becomes depressed, their will to fight and stand on their own feet greatly diminishes often falling prey to a stand over government.

I don’t believe Zimbabwe’s wildlife and tourism can withstand a boycott. People will turn to poaching trees for fuel and wildlife for a food source, to unsustainable farming practices in river beds, to exploitation by outsiders for illegal ivory and rhino horn trading, to mining in national parks, the list of regression is endless.

Boycotting a destination or choosing where to spend one’s hard earned travel money is a matter of choice, because after all, travel is a personal journey. My opinion does not seek to suggest that a tourism boycott is always wrong, but in the case of Zimbabwe it could trigger a catastrophe for the environment, its wildlife and people, one I am convinced we cannot recover from.

Where to from here? The famous words that “all that is needed for evil to prevail, is for good men to do nothing” should always echo in all our minds. We should continue to lobby and educate our government through dialogue. Influential local businesses all need to express their concern and pursue those in government who are equally interested in saving our nation. It is an uphill battle and often seems like a thankless task. Government is made up of some who are radical in their thinking, but there are also the moderates who have a will to do what is right. If tourism is of no value to the economy or to social upliftment of its people, we would have no argument to protect our wildlife and habitat. Tourism gives value to the natural world. It demonstrates the very reason for protection. It sustains the very habitat it seeks to exploit.

The people of Zimbabwe do not need handouts, or punishment, they need the world to come and marvel at the wild beauty of our environment. We are famous for our breath-taking scenery and diverse animal populations, for our wildlife adventure and cultural riches. Give us your tourism dollar and from that, our people will continue to thrive in harmony with nature, from that we will continue to fight for sustainable practices, from that we will continue to place pressure on our decision makers.

Some may suggest that my opinion is largely influenced by my desire to protect my own tourism business interest - not entirely untrue. However, the plight of 300 families that are direct beneficiaries of my business is also of concern to me as it is to other tourism employers who do the same, if not more for the country they so love, and let us not forget, those who have already given and sacrificed much in rebuilding a nation that has suffered a great deal over the last two decades.

DBB as I have suggested, is the only diagnosis for what would become of Zimbabwe if a tourism boycott is encouraged. I exhort you to be a well- informed traveller, an educated conservationist and to use seasoned African experts who can help you make informed choices when you plan your journey.

By Beks Ndlovu