With the global moral outrage sparked by a demented dentist’s sadistic murder of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, one would think this kind of thing was an aberration. But no, these kinds of slaughter trips were actually part of a neocolonial strategy for the “economic salvation” of sub-Saharan Africa. More grotesquely, big “game” hunting in Africa was supported by various “free-market” environmental groups as a way to “monetize” wildlife and other “non-market” resources. Here’s part of a chapter from my book Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me which describes a bizarre scheme for a theme-park for gun-slinging executive tourist types in Mozambique. Read it and weep…
It’s hard rank these ghastly affairs, but of all the dirty wars of the past 25 years, the U.S.-funded Renamo guerrilla campaign in Mozambique was one of the worst. As a former Portuguese property, decolonized Mozambique was regarded in the late 1970s and 1980s as a Soviet beachhead in Southeast Africa. CIA dollars poured out to a group of thugs created as a mercenary force by the white-settler regime in Rhodesia.
With the white settlers no longer in control, and Rhodesia now known as Zimbabwe, the Renamo leaders turned increasingly to South Africa for local support beneath the overall patronage of Washington. The war was pitiless. At least 800,000 Mozambicans died. More than half the victims were children. Out of the population of 16 million, 6 million were displaced. Renamo gangs put to death as many as 100,000 civilians. In one infamous episode, Renamo attacked a hamlet inhabited mostly by women and children, all 425 of whom were slaughtered, their bodies hacked by machetes.
For the Reagan right, Renamo’s dirty war was one of the last great freedom fights of the era. Among the zealots was Louisiana mutual fund millionaire James U. Blanchard III. He gave money directly to Dhlakama, the military leader of Renamo. A gold bug, Blanchard
minted Renamo Freedom coins and sold them in bulk to the likes of Nelson Hunt, General John Singlaub, and Adolf Coors. He set up a radio station in Mozambique. He bankrolled a white mercenary, Bob MacKenzie–who was married to Sybil Cline, daughter of Ray Cline, the former Deputy Director of the CIA for intelligence operations.
Blanchard had big hopes for Mozambique. As he sowed his fundraising sprees round corporate America, he announced grandly that “All agree that Mozambique can easily become the ‘Hong Kong of Africa.’ Mozambique needs business friends NOW–to help reinforce and promote the peace process.” So he wrote in 1988, at the height of the slaughter, going on to add, “It’s the friends of today that will have those groundfloor opportunities of tomorrow.”
The war finally ground to a halt in 1992, leaving the country virtually in ruins. And then along came Blanchard with a scheme to turn 3 million acres of coastal Mozambique into an eco-tourist theme park. His plan was to have planeloads of rich Western tourists make their leisurely and well-guarded way along the coast in a steam train furnished with the plush accoutrements of the Orient Express. Over cocktails the patrons were scheduled to gaze out at white rhinos, zebra, giraffes, elephants, and lions.
All of these animals will have to be imported, since the mercenaries financed by the CIA and Blanchard spent much of their time machine-gunning the existing rhino and elephant stock and selling off their horns and tusks in exchange for cash and guns. It’s not clear from the generally friendly reports of Blanchard’s plans whether he plans to issue big game hunting permits, but it would be in character.
The Mozambique government was embarrassed at the Rio Eco Summit in 1992, when its Maputo Elephant Reserve was designated as one of the 200 most threatened ecosystems on the planet. After the drain of war Mozambique had pathetically few resources and its environmental budget, meager to start with, has now run out. Blanchard is promising to invest $800 million in his theme park.
“Free market” environmental groups have been kind. Donald Beswick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust saw it as the only hope for restoring elephants and rhinos in coastal Mozambique. But those familiar with the creation of eco-reserves such as Serengeti (or earlier, Yosemite) will be able to guess at one inevitable consequence of Blanchard’s plans: the eviction of the resident population. There are 10,000 farming and fishing families now living on that landscape. Now, there’s nothing a first-world enviro loathes more than subsistence farmers, and the plan is to drive them away with the assistance of the Mozambican government and substitute the more ecologically pure bushmen from the Kalahari.
Blanchard’s local manager, John Perrott, who formerly worked on the Alaska pipeline and has been a professional big game hunter, told the New York Times: “People make fun of me for that [i.e., bushmen imports], but I’m not talking about just a tourist attraction. I say let the little guys in and let them hunt.” Absurd as this sounds, it parallels a proposal made by Datus Proper, a writer and “free market” enviro in Montana who has proposed relocation of “landless” Indian tribes to Yellowstone National Park, where they could solve the elk overpopulation problem in their customary manner.
Blanchard’s plans for Mozambique are unusually disgusting, but in basic shape they resemble many such enterprises round the world, which send rich people with cameras and guns into “natural” reserves seeking thrills and trophies. The baroque horror of Blanchard’s scheme should not conceal the fact that it represents the probable future of global environmentalism in a neo-liberal world, where the prevailing ethos is premised on what money can buy. Blanchard purchased one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. All the creatures there will have to pay their way.
This essay is excerpted from Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature.