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WikiLeaks: US Ambassador Condemned Evictions of Botswanan Bushmen

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Joe DeCapua

A human rights group says WikiLeaks has released information showing the U.S. ambassador to Botswana condemned the eviction of Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Survival International says in 2005, Ambassador Joseph Huggins sent cables to Washington sharply criticizing the Botswanan government, calling the evictions a “special tragedy…that could have been avoided.”

Botswana Central Kalahari Bushman
Botswana Central Kalahari Bushman

The Bushmen won a 2006 court case allowing them to return to the reserve.  But since then they’ve been in a battle with the government, which has denied them use of a drinking well there.

Survival International Field and Research Director Fiona Watson says, “I think Survival thought it was highly likely there would be something in WikiLeaks about Botswana because the issue of the forced eviction of the Central Kalahari Bushmen…has been the…number one international issue facing the Botswana government.”

She says the cables reveal that other foreign diplomats were also concerned about the plight of the Bushmen, as well.

“What has come out from the U.S. ambassador’s cable back to Washington is incredibly revealing and extremely condemning of the Botswana government treatment of the Bushmen,” she says.

Huggins highly critical

Watson says Ambassador Huggins’ cables show he was very interested in the Bushmen and met with them and visited relocation camps.

“For example,” she says, “the U.S. ambassador at the time, Joseph Huggins, says that they were ‘dumped in economically absolutely unviable situations without forethought and without follow-up support.  The lack of imagination on behalf of the Botswana government is breathtaking.’”

Huggins goes on to say, “The special tragedy of New Xade’s [relocation camp] dependent population is that it could have been avoided.”

What now?

Watson says the cables support Survival International’s position in the Bushmen’s case.

“Survival has been vilified by the Botswana government,” she says, “I think what this does is [offer] yet another proof or evidence that so many people reached the same conclusion independent of Survival, as in the case of the U.S. ambassador, that the Botswana government’s policies towards the Bushmen is shameful.”

Watson says the cables also indicate that NGOs suspected the real reason behind the eviction was not to benefit the Bushmen, as the government says, but to allow mining in the reserve.

“It’s very interesting that the appeals court has just been hearing the Kalahari Bushmen’s appeal to be able to access water on their own land.  And the day after the appeal was heard in court the Botswana government has given a $3 billion concession to Gem Diamonds to mine inside the Central Kalahari in the Bushmen community,” she says.

Face to face

Watson says the WikiLeaks cables indicate Ambassador Huggins met with Ernest Mpofu, who was then Botswana’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She adds that Huggins cable said that any attempt to talk about negotiating with the Bushmen was “met with thinly veiled scorn.”

A decision by Botswana’s appeals court on whether the Bushmen can have access to the well on their ancestral lands is expected later this month.

The Botswanan government says the Bushmen were relocated so they could have better access to education, health and other services.

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