ONCE upon a time in Zambia, motorists lived in constant fear of car thieves or jackers that mostly targeted anything from cheap Japanese Toyota Corollas to the highest performing Land Cruiser 4X4 or indeed the Nissan Hard body.
What happened then is on a quiet night in a dark street or sometimes in broad day light outside your own house and before your own family, thieves often armed with heavy automatic weapons asked you to get out of your automobile and took it away.
You were advised not to resist because if you did you could get a bullet between your eyes.
Many wondered where this strange unZambian phenomenon was emerging from until investigations carried out by the CID and diligent C5 or flying squad – whose unsung heroes we don’t even get to know personally – revealed that the cars were being stolen and being stripped for parts.
There was a huge billion Kwacha industry running on the back of stolen cars for their parts and people sometimes died to keep the industry running.
After the car theft frenzy simmered down because the C5 battled the thieves with the same fire they used on their victims, there came businessmen normally called ba Kagem on the Copperbelt Province.
These were basically nice “gentlemen” that dug out Zambia’s emeralds and sold them abroad for huge profits and they mostly came from West Africa, Senegal to be specific, sometimes illegally but hard to tell.
They were immensely respected as most people with money- regardless of how they accumulated it – are respected in this neck of the wood called Zambia.
They melted the hearts of many a young Zambian damsels and broke them at the same time as their wealth knew no boundaries as they exploited the Zambian mineral resources.
One may wonder why the tale of the two businessmen in this story namely the emerald dealers and the car thieves but it is simple: the two are so much alike because they had one intention.
To exploit, as much as they could, a resource that did not belong to them while the owners looked on, respected them, paid them and even thanked them. They stole cars and sold them for parts.
Today most of the car thieves and illegal mine owners have laundered their money; they are now honourable men and women who cannot be touched.
But while cars have been stolen for parts and mineral resources have been dug out and sold in India to the dismay of leaders such as President Sata, who has asked this constant question: “If God wanted emeralds and diamonds to be in India, he would have put them in India but he wanted them in Zambia that’s why they are here…they must improve Zambian lives,” a bigger scam is happening right under our very eyes and is threatening to consume us if not nipped in the bud.
It is the easiest scam right now and it’s earning people – mostly non-indigenous Zambians, billions of Kwacha – while villagers are left chewing on leather.
It is perhaps the most heavily guarded secret that has earned the promoters international holidays, tickets to highly priced summits abroad such as the prestigious Safari Club International (SCI) here in Reno and Las Vegas next year.
One thing, however, is not open to the villager in Mumbwa – the home of the African lion – or in South Luangwa or Kafue National Park.
It is an exclusive club of a few ‘distinguished gentlemen’ that plunder our wildlife for little or nothing. One family in one case has been known to own up to five hunting concessions while indeginous hunters scrambled for one out of say 19 offered concessions. Where is the fairness?
Lions here fetch anything between US$40,000 to US$45,000 after paying a mere US$2,500 for a licence in Zambia while a sable bull fetched 3 million rands at an auction in South Africa last year. Who needs cows or sheep when you can farm Sable and have a fatter wallet at the expense of Zambians?
This is a world were foreigners cash in big time not because they are doing so deliberately but because the law allows them to exploit Zambia in the way they cannot do abroad where laws are strict and enforced.
It is the world that will see the Zambian Lion, Sable antelope; Leopard etc. fade from our wild parks because of the high price they fetch on the high-stakes international market that does not benefit locals.
It is a world that has seen the Zambian Rhino get wiped out in the past as conservationists pretended to “protect it” but somehow had a change of heart when they discovered that an “ounce of Rhino horn was worth much more than that of gold”.
It is probably the same world President Sata tried to do away with when he first scrapped the ZAWA board when he won a popular poll in September 2011.
It is not only a world of the stinking rich and disappointed hunters that have already paid to hunt a lion or promoters that have already received thousands of dollars for a Lion head in Zambia.
It is a world that is taking more than it is giving back, and here in Reno it has been themed as the “most dangerous game in town”.
Zambian lions and elephants are on sale expensively here ahead of the UNWTO, the premier tourism event Zambia is co-hosting with Zimbabwe in August after a ‘thumbs-up’ in Madrid, Spain.
The gathering here is ironic. It is a gathering of more than 1,800 hunters—including Dick Cheney—from across the world armed with guns whose value ranges from US$12,000 to US$200,000 made to shoot what Zambia is shielding—the elephants, Lions, Leopards, birds, you name it, while ironically seeking to conserve them at the same time.
More like the pimp protecting his sex workers or the cat protecting the mice; it is a murky world of greed and power. This is a world that illegally nets up to two billion pounds annually world-wide, according to studies, and this money does not benefit Zambians.
The location for this high-brow hunting and conservation indaba could not be placed in a better place.
It is right here in Reno, Nevada, four planes away from Zambia and over 20 hours of flying covering thousands of kilometres and at least 3 different time zones, which means when people are waking up in Zambia, the day is just beginning in Reno, whose economy is founded on gambling and practically does not sleep.
As someone once wrote about this far-flung venue of the hunting indaba, compared to Las Vegas, which many Zambians may recall from movies; while Vegas may wear the casino crown, Reno brags of having invented the big casino shows and they believe here that they do it better than anyone else, even as big game hunters clamour to book an elephant and a lion in Zambia for its parts. Just like stealing cars for parts except this time it is legal.
Dating back to the days, Reno was a haven of divorce seekers (because of the ease it took to break those sacred vows) the city’s historic showrooms have hosted nearly all the major American entertainers over a period of 50 years.
The list of the stars that have performed here looks like a page in Time Magazine starting from people many Zambians from the 60’s may recall such as the legendary Frank Sinatra, crooner Eddie Fisher, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Junior and oh, by the way, Elvis Presley, renowned for his crazy pelvis movements that melted women’s hearts and earned him the name, Elvis the Pelvis.
It is a strange place for Zambia to be right now, especially after passing a radical regulation to ban for a year hunting of Lions and allow for re-stocking and rebreeding because we just do not know how many lions we have in the high stakes game.
“That is why we decided to come here and learn the best practices of earning money from the wildlife so that our people can get the benefit of the resources they have that are making people out here happy and rich because they have figured out a way of making their resources for their people while we continue grappling with what should be done and should not be done,” Ms. Sylvia Masebo says on the side-lines of the most dangerous game in town.
When someone talks about the money from wildlife eluding ordinary Zambians as it flies out abroad in huge quantities, it appears at first sight as if they are pulling straws out of air and speaking in riddles,but they are not.
But when you are out here you quickly discover that this wildlife industry—Zambia’s best kept secret—is a wild wild money spinning machine, a tread-mill of billions of dollars that could build class- rooms, sink bore holes but is not doing so for us and why?
“Because the sector has been deliberately closed to Zambians and governments in the past have continued with a ‘business as usual’ attitude but the buck stops here,” says prominent conservationist James Kasanga Chungu of Lusenga Trust.
So here in the Biscotti restaurant at the prestigious five stars Peppermill Hotel, instead of Sammy Davis Junior crooning or George Burns cracking up some revellers, Zambia witnesses millionaire hunters raise money to save the African Lion. Hunters raising money to save the Zambian Lion.
“We will help you and Zambia right now,”a millionaire businessman whose teen daughter has shot a lion and a leopard in Zambia before the age of eighteen says. “We will save the Lion.”
Just to show you how rich the industry is and how much money Zambian animals fetch, something ordinary Zambians do not know about here is a list below from a guy selling Zambian game here.
One needs to spend up to US$11,000 or Kr60, 000 to kill a buffalo, including some birds, over a period of 7 days minus paying an observer a US$250 per day.
A Zambian baboon being advertised here fetches US$100, Black Lechwe, US$2,700, Buffalo US$3,300, Kudu, US$2,200 and the list goes on with a sable fetching as much as US$6,500 and a Sitatunga some US$4,500 to mention but a few. Horns of a mere deer here can nevertheless cost as much as US$10,000 (see picture) when a Zambian Lion license will cost a paltry US$2,500 compared to an auctioned one in next door Zimbabwe that fetches up to US$45,000. The difference is criminal.
Crunch the numbers and you will find that billions of dollars have been made out of Zambian game with little or nothing trickling down to the locals, who sometimes are paid a paltry US$5,000 or Kr25, 000 to spread across the entire clan. A piece of meat is thrown for them to eat, too, as the hunters take back the trophy they sell for real money not chump change
This is a gold mine Zambia is sitting on but like copper, gold and other mineral resources, it is not reversing the fortunes as a Bemba saying goes: “Umulembwe wa chipuba wapwile muli tumfwe,” which literally translated simply means a fool’s dish finished during the tasting time and never really reached a stage where it could earn money.
Zambia’s decision may have hurt a few men with guns and money but the long-term gains may outweigh the benefits of a few if President Sata’s government puts its house in order.
“We feel for hunting to continue there has to be animals to be hunted and therefore conservation becomes key,” says a conservationist in response to Zambia’s radical position to ban hunting.
But the question is, will Zambia get the support to turn the Zambian wildlife fortunes around in order to benefit ordinary people previously and presently robbed blind?
Hunters who have slashed hunting blocks from 42 years ago to 19 are waiting with abated breath to see Zambia fail in this battle.
Zambia has in the past shown that it can succeed where many countries have failed and perhaps this could be one success story waiting to happen. Like the knocking off the zeros in the currency or ‘smooth’ government changes without a drop of blood our country is known of.
Only let us wait and see because the game mafia or corsa nostra are lurking in the dark with their fat wallets to un-do everything we are campaigning against so that it can be business as usual.
Anthony Mukwita is the Deputy Managing Director of the Zambia Daily Mail reporting from Reno, Nevada, USA where the SCI meeting took place in January 2013.