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Neoliberalising Nature? Elephant‐Back Tourism in Thailand and Botswana

Authors:

Abstract

This paper examines the case of elephant-back safaris in Thailand and Botswana; it argues that tourism has extended and deepened neoliberalism by targeting and opening up new frontiers in nature. In essence tourism redesigns and repackages nature for global consumption. Through a cross comparison of the same product (the use of captive/trained elephants) in two very different contexts (Thailand and Botswana) this paper analyses the variations in “actually existing neoliberalisms” (Brenner and Theodore 2002) and demonstrates that the effects are not unremittingly negative (Castree 2008b). It also draws out the ways that neoliberalism is challenged and reshaped by context specific processes and so it does not completely displace existing ways of approaching nature. Instead, existing approaches mix with neoliberalism to create new ways of valuing and conserving elephants.
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ANTI anti_771 Dispatch: 4-17-2010 CE: N/A
Journal MSP No. No. of pages: 25 PE: Kirsten
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Neoliberalising Nature?
Elephant-Back Tourism in Thailand
and Botswana
Rosaleen Duffy and Lorraine Moore
Politics, Manchester University, Oxford Road, Manchester, UK;
rosaleen.duffy@manchester.ac.uk, lorraine.moore@manchester.ac.uk
Abstract: This paper examines the case of elephant-back safaris in Thailand and Botswana; it
argues that tourism has extended and deepened neoliberalism by targeting and opening up new
frontiers in nature. In essence tourism redesigns and repackages nature for global consumption.
Through a cross comparison of the same product (the use of captive/trained elephants) in
two very different contexts (Thailand and Botswana) this paper analyses the variations in
“actually existing neoliberalisms” (Brenner and Theodore 2002, Antipode 34(3):356–386) and
demonstrates that the effects are not unremittingly negative (Castree 2008b, Environment and
Planning A 40(1):153–173). It also draws out the ways that neoliberalism is challenged and
reshaped by context specific processes and so it does not completely displace existing ways
of approaching nature. Instead existing approaches mix with neoliberalism to create new ways
of valuing and conserving elephants. This paper analyses the elephant back tourism industry
via four questions. How are elephants obtained and what are the patterns of ownership in the
tourism industry? How are the elephants used as a workforce? Are the captive elephants used
and valued in ways outside the tourism industry? And what are the welfare implications of using
elephants as a workforce? Q1
Keywords: ecotourism, neoliberalism, elephants, Thailand, Botswana
Introduction
In this paper we explore the neoliberalisation of nature debate by
examining the elephant-riding tourism industry in Botswana and
Thailand. The spectacular growth in the global tourism industry has
been one of the core drivers of neoliberalism in the last 20 years. It
constitutes one of a number of global processes that allows neoliberal
norms and values to travel over time and space (Castree 2009). Despite
claims that alternative tourisms such as ecotourism, responsible tourism
and nature-based tourism offer a challenge, our analysis of elephant-
back safaris demonstrates that they have been central to the expansion
and deepening of neoliberalism at a global scale.
Within the debate about the neoliberalisation of nature there have
been calls for more research on “actually existing neoliberalisms”
(Brenner and Theodore 2002; see also Castree 2008b) and the purpose
Antipode Vol. 42 No. 3 2010 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 738–762
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00771.x
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Neoliberalising Nature? 739
of this paper is to do just that. Brenner and Theodore (2002) note
that there is a tendency in the literature on neoliberal nature/neoliberal
environments to assume that neoliberalism is hegemonic, and therefore
it is ascribed with greater powers than it really has (also see Peck and
Tickell 2002). In this paper we interrogate the elephant-riding industry
across two different contexts to determine what is precisely neoliberal
about the industry, and are the dynamics of neoliberalism hegemonic or
challenged, reshaped or resisted by existing context-specific processes?
We do this by asking four questions applied to two different contexts
(Botswana and Thailand). Where does the industry obtain elephants
from and what are the patterns of ownership? How are the elephants
used as a workforce in the tourism industry? Are the captive elephants
valued and used in other ways apart from their role as a workforce for
global tourism? And finally, what are the welfare implications of using
elephants as a workforce?
In answering these questions, we make four arguments about the
role of the tourism industry in processes of neoliberalising nature.
Firstly, that the global tourism industry is not simply reflective of global
neoliberalisation, but is in fact an important constitutive element which
expands and deepens processes of neoliberalisation, especially in the
South. Secondly, that the tourism industry is one means by which
nature is neoliberalised, since it allows neoliberalism to target and
open up new frontiers in nature (Castree 2008a:141; Castree 2009).
Neoliberalism, through tourism, reconfigures and redesigns nature for
global consumption (West and Carrier 2004). Thirdly, examining the
ways trained elephants are used in the tourism industry in two very
different contexts allows us to analyse the variations in “actually
existing neoliberalisms” (Brenner and Theodore 2002) and thereby
demonstrate that the effects are not unremittingly negative (Castree
2008b:166). Fourthly, such a cross comparison highlights the ways that
neoliberalisation is challenged, resisted and changed by context-specific
processes, values, ideas and institutions. In essence, the elephant-back
tourism industry demonstrates that neoliberalisation of nature through
the global tourism industry produces a kind of “palimpsest” effect; it
inscribes new values and uses for nature so that it can be opened to
international markets, but does not completely obscure or obliterate
existing ways of valuing, using, owning and approaching nature.
Neoliberalisations, Nature and the Global
Tourism Industry
We analyse the growth of elephant-back tourism in two different
contexts (Thailand and Botswana) in order to critically examine the
neoliberalisation of nature debate. Defining neoliberalism itself and
identifying what is especially “neoliberal” about elephant-back tourism
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740 Antipode
is no easy task. Debates about the precise nature of neoliberalism are
already well covered in the literature. Castree (2008a, 2008b) points
out there is a large and growing body of critical scholarship on the
neoliberalisation of nature, which aims to understand why the natural
world has become such a vital target (see Castree 2009). For example,
McCarthy and Prudham argue the connections between neoliberalism,
environmental change and environmental politics are deeply, if not
inextricably interwoven. In this way neoliberalism can be regarded
as an inherently and necessarily environmental project because it
changes the relationships between human communities and biophysical
nature; neoliberalism and environmentalism have emerged as powerful
ideological foundations for social regulation; and finally because
environmental concerns are the most powerful source of opposition to
neoliberalism (McCarthy and Prudham 2004:275–277; see also Heynen
et al 2007).
First it is important to define what neoliberalism is in order to
understand what neoliberalisation of nature means. Neoliberalism can
be briefly defined as a specific form of capitalism which is privatisation,
marketisation deregulation and various forms of re-regulation. Critical
scholars defined it as a hegemonic project that produces a “nebuleuse” of
ideas, institutions and organisations which create conditions favourable
to neoliberalism so that it appears as natural, neutral and as if there
were no alternative (see Cox 1996). During the past 20 years we have
witnessed the global expansion of neoliberalism, including the roll back
of states coupled with a roll forward of new forms of regulation to
facilitate private interests, the expansion of market-based mechanisms
to new natural resources such as water and genetic material, as well
as the privatisation of public services (Castree 2008a; see also Harvey
2005; Heynen et al 2007; Heynen and Robbins 2005; Liverman 2004;
McCarthy and Prudham 2004:275–277; O’Neill 2007; Peck and Tickell
2002). Neoliberal approaches rose to international prominence during
the 1970s and by the mid 1990s they seemed globally dominant, pushed
forward by a range of global actors including states, corporations and
International Financial Institutions (IFIs) (Brenner and Theodore 2002;
Cox 1996).
However, it is critically important not to reify neoliberalism and
ascribe it a greater level of coherence and dominance than it really
deserves (Bakker 2005; Castree 2008a; Brenner and Theodore 2002;
Mansfield 2004; McCarthy and Prudham 2004). Instead it is important
to interrogate how neoliberalism plays out “on the ground”, to probe its
complexities, unevenness and messiness (see Peck and Tickell 2002). In
this paper we concentrate on comparing the practices of neoliberalism
in order to draw out these messy entanglements; this demonstrates how
neoliberalism can be challenged, resisted and changed by its encounter
with nature (Bakker 2009; Castree 2008b:161). Therefore, we do not
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Neoliberalising Nature? 741
rehearse the well worn debates on definitions of neoliberalism, but
rather take up the challenge of comparative research on “actually
existing neoliberalisms”, which involves engaging with contextual
embeddedness in order to complicate neat theoretical debates. As
Brenner and Theodore (2002:349–355) suggest, to understand actually Q2
existing neoliberalism we must explore the path-dependent, contextually
specific interactions between inherited regulatory landscapes and
emergent forms of neoliberalism. As such, the neat lines and models
generated via theoretical debates can be traced, refined, critiqued and
challenged through engagement with specific case studies (Bakker 2009;
Castree 2008b). We examine how nature-based tourism relies on the
neoliberalisation of nature through the transformation of experiences
with elephants.
Tourism, as a global industry, is not just reflective of neoliberalism, it
drives, expands and deepens it. Tourism has experienced a sustained
period of growth; this occurred from the 1970s onwards against a
backdrop of global shifts and especially benefited from the expansion
of neoliberalism across the world. Tourism development fitted very
well with the new faith in markets, decentralisation and roll back
of the state. Since the late 1970s global tourism flows have rapidly
increased in response to greater prosperity and social and economic
shifts in the industrialised world, which allowed larger numbers of
people to engage in overseas travel. This has further developed into
markets for ethical/responsible/green travel that reflect and draw on
the changing holidaying tastes of societies in the North (for further
discussion, see Butcher 2003). Statistics on international tourism clearly
demonstrate how much it has grown, and despite warnings of the impact
of a global recession, it is still a healthy industry. The UN World
Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) figures show that international tourist
arrivals grew at 3.7% between January and August 2008, compared
with the same period in 2007; international tourism receipts grew
to US$856 billion, an increase in real terms of 5.6% on 2006; and
international tourist arrivals were 903 million in 2007, up 6.6% on
2006. However, the first quarter of 2009 indicated a sharp drop in
international tourist arrivals, down by 22% on the same period in 2008.
The UNWTO states that the reduction in numbers is due to fears about
an international influenza pandemic coupled with the global financial
crisis. Nevertheless, the UNWTO still believes the industry is robust
and estimates there will be 1.6 billion visitor arrivals in 2020.1Tourism
has remained a highly attractive option for governments, the private
sector and international organisations as a potential means of delivering
economic growth, and even “development”.
The wider context of growing international tourism has led to the
promotion of nature-based tourism as a key policy agenda for IFIs,
national governments, private sector and international environmental
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742 Antipode
non-governmental organisations (NGOs). As a result, tourism has been
identified as a strategy by which many states in the South can diversify
their economies and produce environmentally sustainable development
(Bramwell and Lane 2005:53). Furthermore, the UN declared 2002
the International Year of Ecotourism, a clear reflection of the global
expansion of tourism and the expectations placed on it. The World
Tourism Organisation also claims that ecotourism can contribute to
conservation of natural and cultural heritage in natural and rural areas,
as well as improving living standards in those areas (UNWTO 2003:2).
Elsewhere Duffy has argued thatthere is little difference between various
forms of “alternative tourism” (such as ecotourism) and mass tourism:
they are both part of the same continuum and heavily interlinked with
global capitalism through their reliance on international markets (Duffy
2008). One of the core justifications for nature-based tourism is that
nature can be conserved or saved precisely because of its “market value”
to tourists willing to pay to see and experience it. While supporters
of tourism development argue that natural resources, landscapes and
wildlife have intrinsic, cultural and ecological values, they also point to
their economic value, which can be harnessed through the application
of market-based mechanisms (see McAfee 1999). In effect, wildlife
and landscapes are produced, reproduced and redesigned as tourist
attractions. In the process they are commodified and drawn in to the
global tourism marketplace as products to be consumed (see West and
Carrier 2004). The tourism industry is particularly adept at designing
and creating new commodities that clients will pay to see or experience.
It relies on the transformation of places into desirable “must see”
locations, and the development of new “must do” activities that people
will be willing to pay to experience. This includes the production of
new sensory experiences centred on close encounters with animals (for
further discussion, see Bulbeck 2004).
Comparing Neoliberal Nature in Thailand and Botswana
This paper is based on fieldwork conducted during 2008 with a total
of 3 months’ fieldwork in Botswana and 3 months in Thailand. The
research primarily used qualitative methods as the most appropriate
to uncover the complexities of the elephant-riding industry in both
countries. We conducted 75 interviews in Kasane, Maun and Gaborone
(Botswana) plus Bangkok and Chiang Mai (Thailand). Kasane, Maun
and Chiang Mai are the main areas for elephant-related activities,
whereas undertaking research in the capital cities of Gaborone and
Bangkok allowed us to access the relevant wildlife, conservation and
tourism authorities associated with each country. Interviewees were
selected from a diverse range of regulatory authorities, wildlife and
human rights NGOs, tour operators, lodge/camp owners, tourist guides
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Neoliberalising Nature? 743
and the tourists themselves. These interviews were supplemented by
participant observation at tourist sites, such as elephant shows and
elephant riding tours which allowed us to observe how tourists interacted
with elephants (eg riding, washing, feeding, playing and watching them).
The interviews and observations are also supported by analysis of
documentary evidence from NGOs, national tourism authorities and
tour operators.
Bakker (2009) argues it is important for research on neoliberal
nature to take up the challenge of comparative research; in line with
Bakker’s argument we examine particular liberal environmentalist
strategies (nature-based tourism) as applied to a specific resource
(captive/trained elephants). This kind of comparative research allows us
to examine the contours, boundaries, challenges and limitations placed
on neoliberalism by its encounter with “nature”. Thailand and Botswana
provide interesting but contrasting contexts in which to research the
character of neoliberal nature. Thailand has a long history of training and
using elephants as a workforce: elephants have an important cultural-
heritage value and the tourism industry has expanded to become a major
income earner for the country. In contrast, Botswana has no history of
using trained elephants as a workforce. As training elephants is an
emerging activity in Botswana there is no cultural heritage associated
with the practice. The tourism industry in Botswana is based around the
wildlife safari industry and has been expanded by the government so
that it is now a critical economic sector (Mbaiwa 2004). The different
trajectories of development of elephant riding in Thailand and Botswana
provide us with an interesting set of questions around the role of the
global tourism industry as a driver of the expansion of neoliberalised
nature.
Neoliberalising Nature: Elephant-riding Tourism
Elephant Trekking in Botswana
Botswana, formerly the British Protectorate Bechuanaland, gained
independence in 1966. It is often presented as one of Africa’s
success stories, demonstrating the benefits of following a neoliberal
development model centred on diamond mining and luxury safari
tourism. During the 1980s sub-Saharan Africa was the site of a
series of external interventions inspired by donors and IFIs which
developed and promoted economic liberalisation packages. This was
followed in the 1990s by a decade of political conditionalities centred
around ideas of good governance (Clapham 1996). Botswana was not
immune from these global shifts and Melber (2007:5) points out that
Botswana is “currently widely considered as a relative success story
in terms of democratisation and ‘good governance’ ...”. Botswana
is often identified as a model African democracy, and a beacon of
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744 Antipode
economic development in a region with high rates of poverty and
underdevelopment. However, Good (2008) argues that Botswana is
dominated by a ruling party which revolves around an elite clique.
He further states that the immense wealth produced by diamond mining
(and by the tourism sector) has not led to greater prosperity for all, but
instead the country is marked by serious disparities of wealth (also see
Taylor and Mokawa 2003; and Poteete 2009b).
Ideas of democratisation and decentralisation of natural resource
management were also taken up by the Ministry of Environment
and Tourism, and implemented via community-based approaches to
conservation (see Twyman 2001). The Community Based Natural
Resource Management (CBNRM) approach developed during the
1990s as a critically important, more effective and more community-
oriented means of managing natural resources (see Hutton, Adams and
Murombedzi 2005). The notion that communities can manage natural
resources and develop ecotourism fits well with neoliberal approaches
to regulating, organising and implementing conservation that include
extension of the market as the most efficient manager of natural
resources. In particular, it intersects with the argument that decentralised
networks of “stakeholders” can govern resources rather than leaving
them in state hands (Hulme and Murphree 1999; Ribot 2004). This
resonates with the agendas of IFIs and NGOs that claim to engage
in participatory methods of development and conservation with local
communities.
Botswana also promoted CBNRM as a potential solution to
conservation. The decentralisation of natural resource management to
local communities became a central pillar of environmental policies.
This intersected with the rise in faith in markets as a means of
“producing” development in Botswana and in sub-Saharan Africa
more generally. Under the Natural Resources Management Project,
rural communities were encouraged to enter into partnerships with
private safari operators, with promises that such links would result in
better wildlife management and would bring material benefits (Hoon
2004; Mbaiwa 2004). However, as Hoon (2004) points out, these new
market-oriented, decentralised and community-oriented policies did not
obliterate existing social dynamics; instead they opened up new kinds
of interactions. The results of CBNRM were mixed in Botswana. While
some communities derived benefits from their partnerships with safari
operators, critics pointed to the lack of genuine participation, the limited
economic benefits and the conflicts it produced within communities
(Hoon 2004; Mbaiwa 2004, 2008; Twyman 2001).
Tourism is one of the largest income earners for Botswana,2and it
has been identified by the government as a critical sector for sustained
economic development in the future (Keitumetse 2009; Mbaiwa 2004).
Wildlife-based tourism has been promoted by a range of actors,
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Neoliberalising Nature? 745
including the government, private sector, international conservation
NGOs and IFIs. It has been developed as a potential driver for economic
development, environmental sustainability, wildlife conservation and
community empowerment, among others. The National Ecotourism
Strategy for Botswana (drawn up in 1990) promotes wildlife/wilderness
as the central “brand” and attraction for the country. However, Mbaiwa
notes that the upscale luxury safari tourism industry in Botswana
produces similar problems to enclave tourism in the Caribbean and
elsewhere; namely that the main profits go to foreign companies, there
is little benefit for local communities and the lodges/safari concessions
are highly exclusive and potentially exclusionary (Mbaiwa 2004, 2008).
One interesting twist in the wildlife/wilderness safari industry is the
development of “elephant back safaris”. It is one small, but growing,
part of the southern African tourism industry product and relies on the
development of close interactions with elephants, including elephant
riding and walking with elephants. The development of elephant riding
is the combined result of entrepreneurs such as Randall Moore (owner
of Elephant Back Safaris) and Uttum Corea (the owner of the Mokolodi
Nature Park), seeking to create niche forms of tourism at a time when
Botswana wanted to diversify its tourism package. The way in which
elephant back riding has developed in Botswana (as well as the wider
southern African region) is strongly related to the wider preference for
market-based approaches to natural resource management.
Elephant trekking in Botswana accounts for less than 1% of the total
elephant population in Botswana, which is one of the largest in sub-
Saharan Africa. In stark contrast to the case of Thailand, discussed
later in this paper, the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National
Parks estimates that it has 152,000 wild elephants.3Trained elephants
are used for transport, essentially as safari vehicles for tourists. But
encounters with elephants are also marketed and promoted as a “back
to nature” experience, despite the obvious contradiction that tourists are
interacting with a trained animal, not one of its “wild” counterparts.
Historically, experiences with captive trained elephants are not part of
the standard safari package, but have been developed as an additional
high-end/luxury tourism product in the last decade, and can now be
found in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The ways that elephants are obtained for the elephant-riding industry
is an important factor in understanding how non-human nature is
neoliberalised. The absence of a history or culture of domesticating
elephants in Botswana means elephant camps rely on elephants that
formerly lived in circuses, zoos and safari parks, or as calves who
survived elephant culling operations. For example, one of the reasons for
developing an elephant trekking industry was because they had to find
a new role for wild-caught calves that had survived culling operations,
elephants that were no longer suitable to work in circuses, or were being
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746 Antipode
kept in poor circumstances in zoos. One researcher based in Maun
suggested that since they could not be returned to the wild, one way of
dealing with them was to train them for work in the tourism industry.4
The use of trained elephants in Botswana is limited to three privately
owned safari camps and one publicly run nature reserve, Mokolodi
(near Gaborone), and cannot be done without approval and monitoring
by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The elephants have
been purchased or donated to three camps in the Okavango Delta: Abu
Camp and Seba Camp (both owned by Elephant Back Safaris, EBS) and
Living With Elephants, which works with Stanleys Camp and Baines
Camp. The District Wildlife Co-ordinator in Maun stated that although
the Parks Department retains oversight of the captive elephants and had
to give their permission for the elephants to be used in the camps, the
captive elephants are privately owned.5
The elephants funnelled into the tourism industry were trained and
developed as a labour force to be deployed for international tourism. By
allowing these elephants to be removed from other captive situations and
come together in newly formed and privately owned elephant camps,
they have, in a sense, been re-packaged and re-regulated to occupy
a space within the tourism industry to improve their circumstances,
and to diversify the tourism product in Botswana. The status of these
captive elephants as privately owned sets them apart from their wild
counterparts because they are state owned. The unique nature of this
situation does not end here though. Twyman (1998, 2001) argues that
while Botswana has been committed to decentralisation of natural
resource management, the actual process has been a real challenge. Yet,
in the case of captive elephants, this has been achieved because wild
elephants are state owned, but captive elephants have been devolved to
the private sector. As such, the trained elephants in Botswana can be
characterised as fully neoliberalised because they exist only to serve
international safari tourism markets and have little opportunity for
employment outside tourism. Even their limited use as educational tools
for local communities is inextricably linked to their use as a labour force
in international tourism.
The experiences with elephants occupy a high-end niche market, and
elephant rides cost at least US$150 per person per hour. In Botswana
close interactions with elephants are sold as part of an accommodation
package in fly-in luxury camps costing between US$500 and 2000
per night (see Mbaiwa 2004). It is possible for visitors to Botswana,
however, to incorporate elephant trekking as a day trip during a mobile
safari, or as an independent traveller in Kasane where they can take
advantage of shorter elephant rides in Victoria Falls (on the Zambian
and Zimbabwean sides).6There are key differences between the camps
and elephant experiences. The camps are located in the Okavango Delta,
which is the centre-piece of Botswana’s “wilderness tourism” product.7
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Neoliberalising Nature? 747
Abu Camp is the most expensive luxury resort in the Okavango Delta—
costing approximately US$2000 per night.8It is owned by a former
animal trainer from America, Randall Moore, who brought the first
trained elephants to the camp in 1990. Moore has hired his elephants
out for film, television and advertising. For example, the camp is named
after Abu, the original male elephant which was brought from the USA
to South Africa to star in the film The Power of One. Since then the Abu
Camp elephants have appeared in diverse formats including adverts for
Cote d’Or chocolate, and when the Miss World Contest was held in
South Africa the elephants were used as part of the show.9Apart from
their media appearances, the elephants are used for wildlife safaris,
when tourists can ride the elephants or walk with them while viewing
wildlife. Abu Camp promotes the activity as a means by which tourists
can then feel they are part of the elephant herd and will get closer to the
wildlife. Abu Camp also has an active research programme into how
domesticated elephants can reintegrate into wild herds, but this too is
offered as a spectacle for tourists visiting the camp.10
In contrast, Baines Camp and Stanley’s Camp offer walking with
elephants, but are quite clear that they do not allow or promote elephant
riding. EBS and Living with Elephants state that they are committed to
returning captive and domesticated elephants to the wild. Baines and
Stanley’s Camps are exclusively for clients booked through Sanctuary
Lodges—a division of the global safari company Abercrombie and
Kent.11 The elephants used at the camps are privately owned by Sandi
and Doug Groves who run a company “Grey Matters” and an NGO
“Living with Elephants” (LWE).12 LWE was founded in 1999 with
three adopted elephants, Jabu, Thembi and Morula. The elephants are
used by the camp for tourist experiences but during the low season,
LWE use their elephants to provide free educational tours for school
children in the delta area. Sandi Groves of LWE suggested that the
trips are to educate children into having a more “positive” view of
elephants.13 LWE’s mission statement is that it is “dedicated to creating
harmonious relationships between people and elephants. Doug and
Sandi have striven to find ways in which their foster elephants can act as
ambassadors for their wild counterparts.” The key motivation for LWE
is to “reduce competition between elephants and human populations
in Botswana”.14 The use of captive elephants for educational purposes
and school trips to the luxury lodges are one way in which the lodge
and tour operators maintain their concession and operator licences. It
is a government stipulation that all safari concessions must provide a
package of benefits for local communities.15 Mokolodi Nature Park
offers similar educational activities as LWE, but also allows visitors to
ride the elephants.
The elephant-back safari industry in Botswana is a good example of
how nature-based tourism acts as a driver for global neoliberalism. The
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animals used in this “alternative” form of tourism are privately owned,
and in contrast to their wild counterparts their management has been
decentralised away from state authorities. In essence they have been
privatised, re-regulated and re-packaged to be consumed by the global
tourism industry. Wild elephants remain state owned, and are the core
concern of state authorities. They are a central part of the promotion
of Botswana as a leading safari tourism destination, a key strategy for
economic development which mirrors the state approach to ownership
and management of diamonds as a national resource (see Poteete 2009b).
The approach to management and use of captive, trained elephants is
rather different. While the state retains ultimate oversight of captive
trained elephants, they are effectively under private sector management
and have been re-configured and re-packaged for tourist use. Essentially,
this is an example where resources become de-regulated and re-regulated
by the state (see Bakker 2003, 2007; Brockington, Duffy and Igoe 2008; Q3
Castree 2008a; Heynen et al 2007). Captive elephants in Botswana
exist only as a labourforce to work in the tourism industry. Therefore,
the development of elephant-back safari tourism in Botswana acts as
an important driver of neoliberalisation. The elephant-riding industry
has targeted and opened up new frontiers in nature (elephants) for
colonisation by neoliberalism.
Neoliberalisation of nature has been rendered more complex by
locally specific contexts, histories and social processes. Understanding
the precise patterns of ownership (a particular blend of state and
private associated with de-regulation and re-regulation) and use of
captive elephants in Botswana complicates the neat lines of theoretical
frameworks used to understand the nature of neoliberalism. First, its
effects are not unremittingly negative (Castree 2008b:166). Second,
neoliberalisation of nature is not a neat process, easily implemented in
standard ways; instead it plays out in particular ways on the ground. The
challenges it faces from context-specific dynamics shape the character
of neoliberalism in different places around the world. In the case of
Botswana, the specificities of ownership of captive versus wild elephants
and the lack of history of training and using elephants as work animals
shapes the character of neoliberalised nature. This further develops
McCarthy and Prudham’s (2004:275–277) argument that environmental
concerns are the most powerful source of opposition to neoliberalism
(also see Heynen et al 2007). Our analysis of elephant-back tourism
reveals the ways that existing approaches to nature encounter and mix
with neolibralism to produce new forms on the ground in different
contexts. This is made clear in the ways captive elephants are used as
a labour force for the tourism industry in Thailand. In that context it is
the history of using elephants as domesticated, working animals which
shapes the precise character of neoliberalised nature.
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Neoliberalising Nature? 749
Elephant Trekking in Thailand
Thailand’s political history is rather complex and differs substantially
from Botswana. It was never a colony but was governed by an
absolute monarchy until Rama VII, King Prajadhipok was challenged
by a military coup in 1932. Prajadhipok was invited to remain a
constitutional monarch, he was succeeded by Ananda, and then by his
brother, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current King of Thailand (Wyatt
2003). Since 1932 Thailand has effectively switched between military
dictatorships and civilian governments. Despite this, since the end of
the Second World War Thailand has largely followed a development
trajectory which fits well with a global context of neoliberalism.
Along with the other ASEAN-5,16 Thailand aligned with the USA
during the Cold War and followed a growth model influenced by
modernist principles, including IMF reforms and the development of
a US style consumer society modelled on the USA. Thailand went
on to develop export-orientated industrialisation from the 1980s, and
by 1995 74% of Thailand’s exports were manufactured commodities.
However, Thailand’s economic success appeared much more fragile
with devaluation of the Thai baht in 1997, which is often credited
with triggering the wider Asian Financial Crisis. The crisis led to high
levels of unemployment and economic recession, leading to further
neoliberal reforms under the IMF (McGregor 2008). In the late 1990s
the increasing powers of the IMF and of foreign capital were used
as a focal point for anti-government campaigns by the Thai Rak Thai
Party, established by the Thai billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra; local big
businesses was keen to protect their own interests and supported the
election of Thaksin in 1997 (see McCargo and Pathmanand 2005 for
further discussion). Economic growth returned to pre-crisis levels by
2002 and Thailand remains a lower middle income country, but one
characterised by extreme variations of wealth and poverty (McGregor
2008). Neoliberal approaches to the environment have been applied in
Thailand since 1980. Government and independent think tanks, such as
the Thailand Environment Institute, have focused on the “technocratic
task” of developing economic instruments for “sound environmental
management” and the right market signals (Hirsch 1997:23). Thai NGOs
have embraced the neoliberal ideals of democracy and participation at
the grassroots level, particularly in the forestry sector, which translated
into community-based projects in rural areas.
The development of the tourism industry pre-dates the global
expansion of neoliberalism, and the economic reforms inspired by the
IMF in the 1980s and 1990s. The current form of international tourism
developed out of the creation of “rest and recreation areas” for the US
military during the Vietnam War, which themselves drew on a longer
tradition of a sex industry in the country (see Enloe 2001; Peleggi
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750 Antipode
1996). By the late 1970s, the Thai government had identified tourism
as a critically important sector for expansion, and made it a top priority
in the 1978–1991 National Economic and Social Development Plan.
Between 1998 and 1999 the government aimed to attract 17 million
tourists through the Amazing Thailand Campaign to counter the negative
impacts of the Asian economic crisis (Kontogeorgopoulos 1999:317).
The government was keen to diversify the tourism product and attract
clients from the Asian region, especially Japan (see Enloe 2001:36,
43–65) as well as Europe and the USA (see Kontogeorgopoulos 1999).
The longer term history of tourism development is important for
understanding how elephant trekking occupies a particular niche within
a wider industry that caters to a much wider range of interests than
the Botswana tourism industry. Unlike Botswana’s focus on high-cost–
low-impact international safari tourism, Thailand is a well worn tourist
destination. Its product is highly varied, and includes standard packages
of the three or four “s”s: sun, sea, sand and sex; it also markets
itself as a destination for cultural tourism (especially to see Northern
Hill communities), adventure tourism (eg scuba diving, sea kayaking),
nature-based tourism (visiting national parks, wildlife viewing) (for
further discussion of the profile of the Thai tourism industry, see Cohen
2008; Peleggi 1996).
There are 40–50 elephant camps in Thailand, and they form a critical
part of the tourism industry in northern Thailand, especially around
Chiang Mai (Kontogeorgopoulos 2009:431). Thailand’s use of elephants
in tourism differs from that in Botswana in a number of ways. For
example, unlike Botswana, the longstanding cultural practices of owning
and training elephants as work animals in Thailand means that it is much
easier to acquire them as private property than in Botswana (see Lair
2004). In contrast to Botswana, Thailand has 3000 elephants, 2000
of which are privately owned trained elephants; only 1000 are “wild”
animals living in national parks. The 2000 captive elephants were largely
bred within captivity, but there are concerns that a small number of
baby elephants have been wild caught and trafficked in from Burma
to serve the demand for “cuter” animals in circuses and shows. The
government authorities responsible for Thailand’s captive elephants are
the Department of Livestock, the Department of Transport, and the
Forest Industry Organisation, rather than the Department of National
Parks or Ministry of Environment. This serves to underline the ways that
captive elephants are regarded as working animals rather than as wildlife.
Each elephant is owned by someone or something. Lair (2004) identifies
two broad categories of ownership: government and private. Lair further
divides privately owned elephants into mahout owned and non-mahout
owned. Non-mahout owned elephants usually require a hired mahout to
look after the elephant (for further discussion of ownership categories,
see Lair 2004:15–30; also see Kontogeorgopoulos 2009:440).
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Neoliberalising Nature? 751
These privately owned elephants have been deployed as an important
labour force for the tourism industry, but unlike Botswana they have a
series of other roles as working animals. Elephant trekking in Thailand
is marketed in a variety of ways to attract the vast range of tourists
that visit Thailand seeking different kinds of tourist experiences, unlike
Botswana where elephant riding is a specific niche market within a
dominant safari industry. In a sense, Thailand has reconfigured and
mobilised the historical practice of using elephants as a labour force
in the logging industry to attract international tourists. Elephant shows
vary in form and include circus-style shows in the major package holiday
destinations where elephants perform tricks including standing on their
heads (such as Fantasea in Phuket) to demonstrate the historical skills
used in the logging industry (stacking and pulling logs) and displays of
elephants painting pictures, or the Elephant Orchestra where elephants
play tunes on a glockenspiel (such as the elephant show at the National
Elephant Research Institute in Lampang). Other common activities
found in elephant shows (for example Mae Sa and Maetaman elephant
camps) include elephants playing football/basketball and re-enactions
of the trust between mahout and elephant where the elephant steps over
a mahout lying on the ground.17
Some of the differences between neoliberalisation of nature in the
Thai and Botswana tourism industries can be explained via the differing
histories of using captive elephants as a labour force. Prior to 1989
elephants were primarily used in teak logging by the government of
Thailand and by private operators. However, following the 1989 ban
on logging the elephants in the logging camps faced an uncertain
future. While a limited amount of logging still continued in government
reserves, many elephants were put out of work by the decision in 1989.
Each trained elephant requires a mahout to work with it—and without
the mahout the elephant can be extremely dangerous. For the mahout
the elephant is a source of income, but it eats between 120 and 200 kg
of food per day. As the head of the Mahout Training School in Thailand
pointed out, without access to work in the logging camps the elephants
and their mahouts had to find alternative employment.18
Following the logging ban, some elephants were released, but the
amount of land under national parks is not large enough to provide
sufficient habitat for all the elephants in Thailand. Since elephants
are a key source of income for their mahouts, the majority had to
look for alternative forms of employment (for further discussion, see
Kontogeorgopoulos 2009). However, this proved to be difficult. In
the initial years after the ban some elephants were funnelled into the
illegal logging industry. One of the vets working with in the National
Elephant Hospital suggested that a major concern at the time was
that elephants were often working long hours and during the night
to avoid detection, and there were numerous accounts of elephants
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752 Antipode
being given amphetamines to make them work faster.19 The head of
the Training School for Thai Elephants and Mahouts pointed to a
second problem that arose after the ban: it created the phenomenon
of “street wandering elephants”—unemployed elephants and mahouts
who came to the big cities and tourist areas to beg on the streets.20
In Bangkok the problem was especially acute because of the dangers
posed to traffic and pedestrians. At the time, the Food and Agricultural
Organisation (FAO) and the Forest Industry Organisation expressed
concerns regarding elephant welfare: they were working long hours
(including at night) they were being frightened by the noise and lights
of city traffic, and walking on tarmac and concrete is painful and leads
to potentially crippling disorders in the elephants’ feet.21
Once the government banned elephants from urban areas, there was a
need to find alternative forms of employment for the elephants and
mahouts. This is where the tourism industry became the potential
solution for the unemployed elephants and their mahouts. In this way
the relationship between elephants and global markets switched from
their position as a source of labour for the timber industry to a new
role as a source of labour and as a commodity in themselves for
the global tourism industry. This also meant that, in line with wider
processes of neoliberalisation, they shifted from being employed in
government-run logging plantations to working in the private sector.
The unemployed elephants and their mahouts had the opportunity of
employment as tourist attractions, and the industry developed new
commodities out of marketing everyday working practices of elephants
(such as offering transport and pulling logs) and of mahouts (washing
and feeding elephants).
The transfer of working elephants from the public to the private
sector came from small beginnings in the government-run Thai Elephant
Conservation Centre (TECC). It started out as the “Young Elephant
Training Centre” as a place for training mahouts and providing short
courses for officials who might encounter elephants as part of their duties
(eg police officers who confiscated elephants in urban areas, zookeepers
etc). The TECC then began to offer tourist rides for elephants and a
short show where elephants displayed the skills they had once used in
the logging industry, such as skidding and piling up logs. As the TECC
tourist “product” developed the mahouts trained the elephants to play
musical instruments. The idea was then taken up by the private sector,
and a number of elephant camps have opened in the Chiang Mai area
and the product was extended again to include elephant painting (an
idea which originally came from the USA),22 aimed at the international
tourist market. Since the TECC is a national government institution it
has to be affordable to Thai visitors, and so it has found it increasingly
difficult to compete with the privately owned elephant camps that have
developed around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pai near Mae Hong Son.
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Neoliberalising Nature? 753
These camps offer much the same tourist product as the TECC: elephant
rides, elephant shows, the chance to purchase an elephant painting or
the opportunity to experience mahout training for one or more days. It is
clear that the elephant camps are not a singular phenomenon that offers
a homogenous experience which is produced and managed in the same
way.
Although international tourism has been Thailand’s single biggest
foreign exchange earner for the past 10 years, those involved in tourism
are painfully aware of how fickle the industry can be. In particular,
Thailand has been the site of a major disaster, the tsunami of 2004,
and suffered from outbreaks of avian flu and severe acute respiratory
syndrome, and each of these has affected the number of visitors to
Thailand. Partly as a result of this, the TECC has explored other avenues
to demonstrate the importance of conserving wild and domesticated
elephants in Thailand. Prasop Tipprasert, chief of the Training School
for Thai Elephants and Mahouts (at the TECC), argued that tourist rides
and even the mahout training experiences might not be the basis for
funding elephant conservation in the longer term. Therefore, the TECC
developed new products from their elephants, including elephant dung
paper and organic fertiliser. He has also been involved in a medical
study with the University of Chiang Mai about the positive influence
of experiences with elephants on autistic children. He suggested that
through the study on autism he hoped that Thai people would see the
utility of elephants and support their conservation.23 Therefore, their
long-term survival might well depend on demonstrating their utility but
not necessarily their market value. As such, it is clear that even in an
area where the elephant tourism industry is booming, those involved in
elephant conservation are wary of relying on a global industry to save
the species in the longer term. Indeed it is very interesting to note that
Tipprasert’s view was that the future lay with demonstrating the wider
importance of the elephant to Thai people.
This view of elephants as more than just a commodity taps into
the historical relationship with elephants through the practice of
mahoutship. For example, mahouts will pray to Ganesha before any
journey with an elephant. Ganesha is a very popular idol in Thailand, as
well as the wider South and Southeast Asian regions, and it is common
for people to make an offering to Ganesha before any undertaking. In
addition to this, elephants were once a status symbol in Thailand. The
rich could demonstrate their wealth through the number of elephants
they owned. As in Africa, elephant symbolism is ever present in
Thailand, from the logo of Chang Beer (Chang is Thai for elephant)
to the lapel pins worn by women students at Chiang Mai University.
However, there are very few people in Thailand who believe that
culture alone can save the elephants. Due to the high number of captive
elephants, combined with the amount of money required to keep a
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captive elephant, the survival of captive elephants will be reliant on their
ability to pay their way, either in the tourism industry or by providing
services for people. This does lend captive elephants to neoliberal
principles. Kontogeorgopoulos (2009:443) argues that Thailand has
failed to conserve elephants based on their intrinsic worth as living
creatures, and so their future depends on demonstrating their economic
importance and utility to human beings.
Neoliberal approaches to nature can be used to re-invent traditional
practices. For example, an elephant fashion show organised by the
owner of the Elephant Life Experience to mark National Elephant
Day on 13 March 2008 demonstrates the use of historical practices
of training elephants to create a diverse range of products to support
conservation. The show featured clothes made from fabrics which
used patterns taken from paintings by elephants. The elephants painted
pictures onto paper and the patterns were then transferred to fabrics to
be used for bespoke designs by a British fashion designer, Lawrence
Goldman. Funds generated from the sales of the outfits were to be used
for elephant conservation, and it was the first such event anywhere in
the world. The Elephant fashion show was intended to draw attention
to elephant conservation, the Art by Elephants Foundation and to
the artificial insemination programme organised between the National
Elephant Hospital at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and the
privately owned Mae Sa Camp. The event was covered by global
television networks, including the BBC, and appeared on youtube.24
The neoliberalisation of nature in Thailand has become hybridised
through its engagement with locally specific contexts, histories and
social processes to create new opportunities and ways in which elephants
can be conserved. It is clear from these events that the links between
the private sector and the national government institutions were reliant
on the global tourism industry, but they used the historical practices of
training elephants to create a diverse range of products associated with
elephants.
The cases of elephant riding in Botswana and Thailand demonstrate
neoliberalism can be extended to an increasing range of non-
human phenomena through the development of new tourist spectacles.
However, the two cases also show that this is an uneven process, and
is molded by other values for elephants (especially in Thailand). This
reveals that the global tourism industry drives and deepens processes of
neoliberalisation, but does so in complex and varying ways. It has not
led to an inevitable and all consuming process which displaces all other
values and approaches to conservation. The ways in which wildlife can
be neoliberalised is dependent on the wider cultural and socio-political
contexts in each area. Tourism has developed experiences with elephants
as valuable commodities of the market in both Botswana and Thailand,
but local cultural traditions associated with elephants and the wider
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Neoliberalising Nature? 755
socio-political conditions of each country have produced very different
economic possibilities and tourism products.
Neoliberalisation of nature is not a neat process, easily implemented
in standardised ways. Instead it plays out in particular ways on the
ground, and this allows us to gain greater insight into actually existing
neoliberalisms (Brenner and Theodore 2002). In the case of Botswana,
the specificities of ownership of captive versus wild elephants and the
lack of history of training and using elephants as work animals shapes
the character of neoliberalised nature. Thailand’s elephants, on the other
hand, were re-trained and employed in the tourism industry to manage
the problems associated with street-walking elephants since they lost
their jobs in the logging industry.
Elephant Welfare in the Work Place
Concerns about elephant welfare are one source of commonality
between Thailand and Botswana, and both have much to learn from
comparing experiences to ensure that captive elephants are well cared
for. The use of elephants in Thailand and Botswana for elephant back
tourism is fraught with a series of ethical issues centred around animal
rights and animal welfare, essentially arising from the ways that they
are used as a labour force for international tourism. For example,
the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society
of the USA are strongly opposed to any form of elephant training for the
tourism industry (or any other industry) on the grounds of cruelty.25
As Kontogeorgopoulos (2009:430) points out, there are important
objections to the ways some elephant training relies on the use of
physical force. Critics also object to the ways that male elephants in
Asia may be chained for many weeks during musth because they become
unpredictable and violent. Furthermore, elephants that live in camps find
it difficult to bond with each other as part of a herd, which means they
do not reproduce as effectively as in the wild. Finally, captive elephants
may not receive a sufficient variety of foodstuffs to provide them with
adequate nutrition.
Many of these issues unfold in similar ways in Thailand and
Botswana, however both areas also have specific problems they are
confronted with. For example, because Botswana does not have a
background associated with elephant trekking there is a lack of the
knowledge about the long-term management of captive elephants. As
one interviewee pointed out, taking on a captive elephant is not a short-
term business strategy since the animals can live for 50–60 years and
need to be cared for throughout their lives.26 One of the problems with
the expansion of the elephant-riding industry in southern Africa as a
whole was that there was little understanding of the lifelong commitment
attached to working with elephants. One researcher expressed concerns
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that lots of elephant-riding experiences were popping up in southern
Africa but they were run by people with little or no experience of
animal training or working with elephants.27
While the stakeholders involved in the elephant-trekking industry
see elephant-back safaris as highly successful, some interviewees in
Botswana said that they thought African elephants are unsuited to close
work with people because of their unpredictable temperament.28 It is
often during the period when mahouts are changed when elephants
can become unsettled and dangerous.29 For example, one interviewee
who worked with trained elephants in Botswana stated that they were
concerned it would only be a matter of time before a tourist was killed
by an African elephant due to the absence of experienced mahouts. One
of the criticisms levelled at the elephant-riding industry in Botswana is
that it is an industry driven by profit and not by concerns about elephant
welfare and conservation. In particular, an interviewee stated there was
a perception that you could make “big bucks” from elephant riding in
part because of the high prices charged by the lodges in Botswana; and
that this has drawn in private operators who have little appreciation of
what it takes to work with elephants in the longer term. These concerns
about animal welfare led to the creation of the Elephant Management and
Owners Association to draw up standards for the elephant-back safari
industry. This was regarded as particularly pressing after undercover
footage was released which exposed cruelty during training of young
elephants.30
While elephants have an important cultural status in Thailand, there
are concerns that they will not be looked after once they are unable
to earn a wage. One interviewee explained that a mahout abandoned
his elephant at the elephant hospital in TECC because he believed it
would no longer be able to work for a living.31 However, it is important
to point out that mahouts are not intentionally cruel to their elephants,
the animals are the main source of income for mahouts, and they may
live together for many decades. One mahout commented on the street
wandering elephants that it was desperation which drove mahouts to
take their elephants to beg in urban areas and tourist resorts; they were
aware that the elephants found the environment stressful, but felt they
had no choice and did it to survive.32
The cross comparison between elephant riding in Thailand and in
Botswana highlighted some important issues. On the surface, it may
appear that the use of captive elephants in Thailand and Botswana is very
similar. The practice was created in both areas to find a use for elephants
that were in undesirable situations such as begging on the streets in
Bangkok or performing in a circus. However, there are also significant
contrasts between the two cases. Although Botswana (along with the
other African range states) have held a few elephants in captivity (eg in
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Neoliberalising Nature? 757
zoos) the actual practice of training elephants to carry humans is not a
traditional activity in Africa, and it is usually undertaken by foreigners.
This is quite unlike Thailand where elephants have been used as working
animals for thousands of years. Botswana has seen the introduction of a
new practice, whereas Thailand has merely altered an historical practice.
As such, the captive elephants in Botswana and people’s relationships
with them have undergone a far greater transition where they have been
re-packaged in order to become a global tourism product. Thailand’s
elephants, on the other hand, were already employed in work and used as
a source of labour: they have merely changed who they and their mahouts
work for, and shifted from being public sector (logging) to private sector
(tourism) employees. In addition to this, Botswana’s captive elephants
only exist as safari elephants because there is a market demand for them,
whereas Thailand’s captive elephants would exist regardless because
they had already been taken out of the wild in such large numbers.
Elephant trekking in Botswana has created a completely different way
in which their elephants can be valued since they can now be valued as a
source of labour. In this way, Botswana’s elephants are more conducive
to the principles of neoliberalism: the development of elephant trekking
has allowed the re-regulation of elephants in privately owned elephant
camps. Thailand’s elephants are more easily acquired as private property
than they are in Botswana. The owners of elephants in Thailand have
other (albeit limited) options regarding the way they choose to use their
elephants. Although the majority of elephants in Thailand are restricted
to tourism, there is also demand for elephants to be used in other ways,
which include informal forms of transport (particularly in the hills) or in
a government-registered logging plantation. Therefore, the application
of neoliberalism through the global tourism industry in Thailand has
transformed traditional ways in which elephants were used in order to
create new products for the tourism industry as well as offering a way in
which Thailand’s captive elephant population can be conserved. These
new ways in which elephants can be used exist alongside traditional
values (they do not displace them), but tourism demand has created
new practices. The two cases demonstrate that the implementation of
neoliberalism adapts to existing circumstances.
Conclusion
To conclude, the case of the elephant-back safari industry in two
different contexts demonstrates the ways that the tourism industry acts
as a driver of the neoliberalisation of nature, but it also reveals the
contours and boundaries of actually existing neoliberalism (Brenner
and Theodore 2002). First, it shows how the global tourism industry
is not simply reflective of global neoliberalisation, but is a critically
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important constitutive element that expands and deepens processes of
neoliberalisation. Second, the elephant-back safari industry in Thailand
and in Botswana revealed that the tourism industry is one means by
which nature is neoliberalised. Through the creation of new work
elephants in Botswana and re-regulation and re-packaging of working
elephants in Thailand as a tourist spectacle, the industry has provided
an opportunity for neoliberalism to target and open up new frontiers
in nature (Castree 2008a:141; 2009). Third, examining the ways
trained elephants are used in the tourism industry in Thailand and
Botswana allowed for comparative research on the same “product”
in two very different contexts; in turn this meant it was possible to
analyse the variations in “actually existing neoliberalisms” (Brenner
and Theodore 2004). The analysis of the commonalities and differences
between elephant riding in Thailand and Botswana revealed that the
effects were not unremittingly negative (Castree 2008b:166). This
is especially important when we consider the case of unemployed
elephants in Thailand following the 1989 logging ban; the tourism
industry provided a very important alternative source of employment
for elephants and their mahouts. Fourth, the comparative analysis of
Thailand and Botswana highlighted the ways that neoliberalisation
adapts to context-specific processes, values, ideas and institutions.
The elephant-back tourism industry demonstrates that processes of
neoliberalisation of nature through the global tourism industry produces
a kind of “palimpsest” effect; it brings new values and uses for nature
that are compatible with its use in international markets, but in Thailand
it does not completely displace existing ways of valuing, using, owning
and approaching nature. It is clear that neoliberalism, through tourism,
reconfigures and redesigns nature for global consumption; the elephant-
riding industry is an excellent example of how tourism remakes the
nature in an acceptable image to appeal to international clients. In sum,
the growth of elephant-back tourism is an example of neoliberalised
nature because the animals are trained, repackaged and developed for
consumption by the global tourism industry.
Acknowledgements
We are grateful to the ESRC for funding this research, grant reference RES-000-22-
2599, Neoliberalising Nature? A Comparative Analysis of Asian and African Elephant
Based Ecotourism. We would also like to thank three anonymous referees for their very
helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. This paper was originally presented
to a Symposium on Conservation and Capitalism, 9–10 September 2008, Manchester
University, and we are grateful to the participants for their comments. Finally, this
research would not have been possible without the support of the International
Tourism Research Centre and the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre at
the University of Botswana, the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and Maetaman
Elephant Camp.
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Endnotes
1http://www.unwto.org/index.php (accessed 15 August 2009).
2Interview with the Principal Tourism Officer, Department of Tourism, Gaborone, 9
October 2008.
3Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Draft Elephant Management Plan
for Botswana.
4Interview with researcher, Maun, 23 October 2008.
5Interview with District Wildlife Co-ordinator, Department of Wildlife and National
Parks, Maun, 31 October 2008.
6African Odyssey Programme of Tourist Activities, Chobe Marina Lodge, Kasane.
7Pers. comm., Dr Susan Keitumetse, Okavango Research Centre, University of
Botswana/Botswana Tourism Board, Maun, 26 May 2008; also see Mbaiwa (2004).
8http://www.abucamp.com/Abu%20Camp.htm (accessed 15 July 20008).
9Elephant Back Safaris Media Pack, Elephant Back Safaris, Private Bag 332, Maun,
Botswana.
10 http://www.abucamp.com/Abu%20Camp.htm (accessed 15 July 2008).
11 http://www.sanctuarylodges.com (accessed 13 July 2008).
12 http://www.livingwithelephants.org/index.htm (accessed 15 July 2008).
13 Interview with Sandi Groves, Living with Elephants, Maun, 28 May 2008.
14 http://www.livingwithelephants.org/project.htm (accessed 15 July 2008).
15 Pers. comm., tour guide, Kwara Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, 30 May 2008; also
see Mbaiwa (2004) for further discussion.
16 The original five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),
which were Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
17 Observations from Maetaman Elephant Camp, 7 April 2008; Mae Sa Elephant Camp,
10 April 2008; and TECC, 13 March 2008 and 10 April 2008.
18 Interview with Somchat Changkarn, Mahout Training School, TECC, Lampang, 20
March 2008. Interview with Pat, Theerapat, Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai, 6 April
2008 (see also Scigliano 2004).
19 Interview with Pornsawan, Pongsopawijit, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang
Mai University, 31 March 2008; anonymous interview, researcher in Chiang Mai, 18
April 2008.
20 Interview with Prasop Tipprasert, Elephant Specialist, Forest Industry
Organisation/Chief of the Training School for Thai Elephants and Mahouts, TECC,
Lampang, 20 March 2008; pers. comm., Pornsawan Pongsopawijit, Faculty of Veterinary
Medicine, Chiang Mai University, 17 March 2008.
21 Interview with Prasop Tipprasert, Elephant Specialist, Forest Industry
Organisation/Chief of the Training School for Thai Elephants and Mahouts, TECC,
Lampang, 20 March 2008; pers. comm., Pornsawan Pongsopawijit, Faculty of Veterinary
Medicine, Chiang Mai University, 17 March 2008; interview with the Manager Thai
Permanent Life exhibition, Thailand Cultural Centre, Bangkok, 25 March 2008.
22 Interview with Anchalee Kalampimjit, manager Maetaman Elephant Camp, owner
of the Elephant Life Experience Camp, Maerim, 7–8 April 2008.
23 Interview with Prasop Tipprasert, elephant specialist, Forest Industry
Organisation/chief of the Training School for Thai Elephants and Mahouts, TECC,
Lampang, 20 March 2008.
24 Pers. comm., Anchalee Kalmapijit, Maetaman/ Elephant Life Experience, Chiang
Mai, 13 March 2008; http://www.elephantart.com (accessed 8 April 2008).
25 “Elephant Back Safaris simply accidents waiting to happen, warns top tourism
insurer” on http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw_united_states/media_center/press_releases/5_
10_2007_41436.php (accessed 29 January 2009); “Elephants sent into safari slavery
from Zimbabwe’s world famous Hwange national park” posted 8 November 2007, http://
www.ifaw.org/ifaw_southern_africa/media_center/press_releases/11_8_2006_47671.
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php (accessed 29 January 2009); Humane Society of the US: “Judgement day finally
arrives in the Tuli elephant abuse case”, posted 17 April 2003, http://www.hsus.org/
wildlife/wildlife_news/judgment_day_finally_arrives_in_the_tuli_elephant_abuse_
case.html (accessed 29 January 2009).
26 Interview with Sandi Groves, Living with Elephants, Maun, 28 May 2008; also
anonymous interviewee, UK, June 2008.
27 Anonymous interviewee, UK, June 2008.
28 Interviews with two guides at the Lyia Guest House, Kasane, 21 October 2008;
anonymous guide, Kasane, 11 October 2008; anonymous interviewee, UK, June 2008.
29 Anonymous interviewee, Maun, May 2008.
30 Anonymous interviewee, UK, June 2008; also see http://www.africanconservation.
org/component/option,com_mtree/task,viewlink/link_id,89/Itemid,3/ (accessed 19
January 2009).
31 Anonymous interview, Maetaman Elephant Camp, owner, 7–8 April 2008.
32 Interview with mahout 1 from Surin, interviewed in Chiang Saen, 24–25 April 2008;
mahout 2 also from Surin, interviewed in Chiang Saen, 24–25 April 2008.
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... Most WTAs operate somewhere between these extremes, and research on nonhuman welfare and rights in (eco)tourism has materialized over the past two decades (see Cohen 2009;Hayward et al., 2012;Fennell, 2013b;Cohen, 2019;von Essen et al., 2020;Thomsen & Thomsen, 2020). Wildlife ecotourism transcends wildlife tourism by embracing non-consumptive activities such as wildlife sightseeing, compared to consumptive practices such as hunting or fishing (Burns, 2017), to equally stress ecological sustainability and human (economic) livelihoods (Duffy & Moore, 2010;Karanth et al., 2012;Sheppard & Fennel, 2019;Thomsen et al., 2021b). Moorhouse et al. (2015) suggest that tourists are not typically educated on how to identify poor animal-welfare conditions that may reinforce horrific practices such as inadvertently funding the illegal wildlife trade. ...
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In this volume, African ecofeminist and ecowomanist theologies are used to reimagine human relationships with Mother Earth from paradigms of liberation. The main contribution of this volume is that it is written from a multi- and trans-disciplinary perspective to explore and reimagine human relationships to Earth from an African ecofeminist theological approach. The volume presents original and innovative research by the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (hereafter Circle) and friends of the Circle. It engages in critical conversations of re-interpreting and reimagining African cultural, religious, theological and philosophical perspectives on gender and the Earth in efforts to construct Earth-friendly relationships in the face of a growing global environmental crisis. The conversations include scholarly voices of African women and men in various fields such as Theology, Environmental Law and Policy, Tourism, Agricultural Science and Natural Resources and Economics. The theological and theoretical frameworks and principles applied in the various chapters are relevant resources for academic research and are used by theologians and scholars in other academic disciplines from multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary perspectives. Research areas focus on religion, gender and ecological justice in Africa and globally. Methodologically, contributors from fields such as ecology, gender, religion and theology explore the theme of Mother Africa and Mother Earth from their particular areas of specialisation and contexts. The majority of the chapters are theoretically oriented, with one chapter making reference to empirical ethnographic research. The targeted readers of this volume are scholars in the fields of gender, ecology, religion and theology. No part of the volume is plagiarised from another publication or has been published elsewhere before.
... Before the region was developed, there were no plantations, no market gardens, and elephants could be where reproduction and feeding are under exclusive human control. But permanent guarding and fodder supplementation induce high costs that are hardly bearable during the low tourism season or in the event of crises that affect tourist frequentation (Duffy & Moore, 2010). Ultimately, reproduction is controlled through the payment of stud fees. ...
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Few empirical studies have described social‐ecological systems (SESs) in transition. Some studies focused on external drivers that impact the SES and communities' responses to adapt to changes, including economic, land and conservation policies. Others have considered the effect of social and cultural changes on communities' capacity to sustain their activities. While sociocultural changes are increasingly common through globalization and world‐wide economic development, there is an urgent need to better understand and document how these changes affect individual and community agency to adapt or transform a system that is facing a combination of powerful internal and external forces. The human–Asian elephant relationship appears particularly illustrative of a complex SES because of the dual status of the elephant being wild or under human care, and the entanglement of ecological, cultural, social and economic dimensions. The ongoing and rapid political, socio‐economic and environmental changes occurring in Laos for the last decades have strongly affected this relationship. We conducted an ethnological survey to assess how the SES has evolved in Laos and its consequences for human‐wild‐captive elephant interactions and elephant handling practices. We show that in the 1990s, the SES was based on the principles of common access to natural resources and social control over nature and spirits, and led to a form of elephant handling with close interactions between captive and wild elephants. Husbandry practices then could be likened to pastoralism as a mode of production associated with a mode of relation close to seasonal freedom. Since the turn of the present century, the commodification of nature and of increasingly divided access to natural resources led eventually to the segregation of wild elephants and captivity of their working conspecifics. With the intensification of workload, owners switched to a ranching‐like economy, based on the accumulation of monetary capital from the employment of elephants in logging or tourism. We discuss how the combination of external drivers, such as economic liberalization, land and conservation policies, and internal drivers linked to sociocultural changes could affect a SES in transition, leading to a fading interest of the new generation in their family heritage. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article. Peu d'études empiriques ont décrit les systèmes sociaux‐écologiques (SSE) en transition. Certaines études se sont concentrées sur les facteurs externes qui ont un impact sur les SSE et sur les réponses des communautés pour s'adapter aux changements, notamment les politiques économiques, foncières et de conservation. D'autres ont considéré l'effet des changements sociaux et culturels sur la capacité des communautés à maintenir leurs activités. Alors que les changements socioculturels sont de plus en plus courants du fait de la mondialisation et du développement économique mondial, il est urgent de mieux comprendre et documenter la manière dont ces changements affectent la capacité des individus et des communautés à s'adapter ou transformer un système qui fait face à une combinaison de puissantes forces internes et externes. La relation entre l'homme et l'éléphant d'Asie est un bon exemple d'un SSE complexe en raison du double statut de l'éléphant, sauvage ou domestique, et la conjonction de multiples dimensions: écologiques, culturelles, sociales et économiques. Les changements politiques, socio‐économiques et environnementaux rapides survenus au Laos au cours des dernières décennies ont fortement affecté cette relation. Nous avons mené une enquête ethnologique pour étudier comment le SSE a évolué au Laos et décrire les conséquences de ces évolutions sur les interactions entre l'humain, l'éléphant domestique et l'éléphant sauvage, ainsi que les changements des pratiques d'élevage. Nous montrons que dans les années 1990, le SSE était fondé sur les principes d'accès commun aux ressources naturelles et de contrôle social sur la nature et les esprits. Ce SSE a conduit à une forme d'élevage des éléphants avec des interactions étroites entre les éléphants domestiques et sauvages. Les pratiques d'élevage pouvaient alors être assimilées au pastoralisme en tant que mode de production, associé à un mode de relation proche de la liberté saisonnière. Depuis le début du siècle, la marchandisation de la nature et l'accès de plus en plus divisé aux ressources naturelles ont finalement conduit à la ségrégation des éléphants sauvages et à la captivité de leurs congénères de travail. Avec l'intensification de la charge de travail, les propriétaires ont adopté une économie de type ranching, basée sur l'accumulation de capital monétaire provenant de l'emploi des éléphants dans l'exploitation forestière ou le tourisme. Nous discutons de la manière dont la combinaison de facteurs externes tels que la libéralisation économique, les politiques foncières et de conservation, et de facteurs internes liés aux changements socioculturels peuvent affecter un SSE en transition, conduisant à une perte d'intérêt de la nouvelle génération pour son héritage familial. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article
... Scholars debate the extent to which PES programs are neoliberal, noting that actual PES programs rarely fit the ideal type (e.g. Duffy and Moore 2010;vonHedemann and Osborne 2016;Ishihara, Pascual, and Hodge 2017). Indeed, practitioners design programs to adapt to their site's particular context or watch them disappear without much fanfare. ...
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The role of labor in value production for neoliberal conservation arrangements is a topic that has only recently begun to receive attention from scholars. Engaging with Marx’s labor theory of value, this article analyzes the interaction of a water fund Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) program with labor institutions in the Ecuadorian Andes. Data from participant observation, key actor interviews, and textual materials support an empirical case study of the model water fund, Fondo para la protección del agua – FONAG. Despite neoliberal discourse promoting financial and material incentives as the main driver of conservation action, this article demonstrates how PES agreements interact with pre-existing labor and land use regimes to generate and circulate value beyond the contractual arrangement between the target community and PES promoters. This article furthermore highlights how value produced from pre-existing labor institutions may constitute an overlooked component of “green grabbing” as it may be unacknowledged and susceptible to appropriation by international organizations.
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The great majority of people in developing countries depend on the informal economy for their livelihoods. In countries that rely heavily on tourism, pandemics and related confinements make these individuals even more socioeconomically vulnerable. This paper critically explores the immediate socioeconomic effects on the informal tourism economy of confinement measures associated with the corona virus-19 pandemic, as seen from a social vulnerability perspective. Mexico is one of the countries that depends the most on tourism and the informal economy, so this nation was selected for an exploratory case study. The results suggest that many workers in the informal tourism sector were affected immediately by-and their vulnerability increased because of-pandemic-related confinements. These restrictive measures' imposition on the entire population highlighted Mexico's deep social inequalities. Recommendations are offered of how to protect vulnerable individuals involved in the informal tourism economy.
Article
Rationale Recreation practitioners in the public and non-profit sectors are key in supporting community residents’ well-being through the facilitation of recreation programs and services; however, practitioners are working under the influence of neoliberalism governance, which challenges practitioners’ ability to support low-income citizens’ participation in recreation. Through the lens of neoliberalism, this paper aims to explore practitioners’ challenges and strategies towards implementing recreation programs and services targeted at low-income citizens and discusses the implications it has on recreation programs and services for low-income citizens. Method Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with 18 practitioners who design and implement recreation programs and access provisions for low-income citizens. Findings Practitioners faced multiple constraints while employing a variety of solutions to deliver provisions to low-income citizens, including (1) Limited resources: doing more with less, (2) Spreading the word, and (3) Enhancing program access through program relocation, and (4) Reducing program costs. Implications Facilitating access to and participation in recreation for low-income citizens is complex and requires multiple practitioner-led solutions that consider the broader structural factors of living in poverty. Research contribution This study provides insight into the challenges practitioners experienced as they employed different strategies to support low-income citizens’ participation in recreation, and more particularly, provides an understanding of how such strategies and challenges impact recreation programs and services for low-income citizens.
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This article advances a more-than-human perspective on geographies of death and dying, engaging with extinctionscapes as spaces where the memorialization of nonhuman life generates affective and commodifiable experiences with species loss in conservation landscapes. Bringing geographical concepts, such as absence-presence, into conversation with recent literature on lively commodities, we describe how animals at the threshold of life and death are made to work for conservation as well as how their afterlives are subjected to ongoing forms of commodification through acts of memorialization in landscape. Specifically, our analysis focuses on the stories of three rhinos at a conservancy in Kenya to consider the themes of death and dying, value, and commodification in relation to endangered species conservation. By situating the lives and afterlives of these rhinos in the history of settler colonialism and capitalism in Kenya, we examine how commodification, as a social and cultural process, becomes entangled with the corporeal and discorporate lives of animals and contributes to the reproduction of historic injustices through extinctionscapes. Ultimately, we argue for ongoing critical engagement with the amorphous borderland of life and death in geographies of conservation, which represents an important space of biopolitics and commodification.
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An important pillar to the mainstream conservation of elephants (Loxodonta africana, L. cyclotis and Elephas maximus) is the relatively narrow and growing interest of ‘human-elephant conflict’ prevention and mitigation. This thesis problematises the hegemonic HEC discourse (Igoe, Neves and Brockington, 2010:488) which acts as a powerful resource to promote human-elephant separation, often producing failing and harmful practices, which are often obscured from public view. The discourse frames human-elephant interactions as conflict with elephants, blames local population growth and encroachment for its escalation and in turn fixates on technocratic methods of separation and control while promoting many projects as ‘win-win’ . As methods of separation are favoured, compensation is routinely tested but derided and local financial resilience, autonomy and values largely ignored. Methods of separation are replicated across Asia and Africa, finding some success to avoid crop loss. However, separation seems ill-suited to elephants, ecologically dangerous, physically difficult, and unevenly costly. It is also an appeasement to agribusiness , an acceleration of neoliberal capitalism within traditional communities, a reprise of fortress conservation and a tool to legitimise harmful forms of nature’s commodification. These issues highlight the need to question human-elephant separation and awaken opportunities to realise actively shared spaces.
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Neoliberalism--the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action--has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so. Writing for a wide audience, David Harvey, author of The New Imperialism and The Condition of Postmodernity, here tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalization came from and how it proliferated on the world stage. Through critical engagement with this history, he constructs a framework, not only for analyzing the political and economic dangers that now surround us, but also for assessing the prospects for the more socially just alternatives being advocated by many oppositional movements.
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This paper presents the problem of interdependence and interconditionality of the concepts "sustainable tourism" and "sustainable development of tourism". The relevance of the topic chosen is associated with the problem of sustainability of tourism development in the conditions of global instability as the modern tourism is a rapidly developing social and cultural phenomenon which dynamics is based on a system of human interaction with the world. Being in the center of the research field, tourism is related to the modern global processes and is hardly exposed to their influence that is reflected in the change of its qualitative and quantitative characteristics. The tourism being one of the steadily developing branches of the world economy is the industry almost in all countries that has valuable potential opportunities in terms of creating a different kind of economic interests, and attracts more and more attention. The potential opportunities of tourism include: improving balance of payments, access to new investment resources, the increase in state revenues, creation of new jobs, development of public utilities, and others. The paper provides an overview of the literature on the issue of sustainable development of tourism. We give the principles and indicators for sustainable tourism development. The carried out analysis allowed us to determine some of the basic principles of sustainable tourism development taking into account the conceptual arguments in favor of development, sustainable development, and sustainable tourism development.
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This highly acclaimed book, the standard history of Thailand for almost twenty years, has now been completely revised by the author. David K. Wyatt has also added new sections examining the social and economic changes that have transformed the country in the past two decades.
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What do wild animals mean to humans? Will they survive both rampant habitat loss and extinction caused by human encroachment and, as ecotourists, our enthusiasm for them? With ecotourism now the fastest growing segment of tourism, and encounters with wild animals - be it swimming with dolphins, going on safari or bird watching - ever more popular, these are critical questions. Yet until now little has been known about why people crave encounters with wild animals and the meaning for the ecotourism industry, conservation efforts and society at large. Facing the Wild is the first serious empirical examination of why people seek out animals in their natural environment, what the desire for this experience tells us about the meanings of animals, nature, authenticity and wilderness in contemporary industrialized societies, and whether visitors change their environmental perspectives and behaviour, as the custodians of wildlife parks would like them to. The book explores the contradictions and ambivalence that so many people experience in the presence of 'wild nature' - in loving it we may diminish it and in the act of wanting to see it we may destroy it. Ultimately the book makes a case for 'respectful stewardship' of a 'hybrid nature' and provides insight for both practitioners and ecotourists alike.
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Is Botswana still ‘an African miracle’? Thanks to diamonds the country's growth rate was the highest in the world into the 1990s, and regular parliamentary elections judged free on polling day have been held since 1965. However a duopoly of presidentialism and ruling party preponderance has stimulated arrogance, complacency and corruption among the country's rulers. What is ‘perpetual democracy’? The ruling BDP is kept in perpetual power by the first-past-the post election system. The President in Botswana is empowered to do whatever he pleases. President Mogae has amended the constitution to ensure the automatic succession of the Vice-President General Ian Khama, the son of Seretse and Ruth Khama. A new Directorate of Intelligence Services provides closer control of power. Why are the Khoisan confined to ‘a gulag of special settlements’? The expulsion of the San from Central Kalahari Game Reserve was relentlessly enforced in 1997 and 2002. A multi-cultural coalition asserts that the government is implementing ‘a philosophy of cultural genocide on the non-Tswana tribes’. How can the gift of diamonds be turned to reform? Professor Good asserts the need to strengthen and democratise the electoral and voting systems. He sees diversification as essential to reduce the dependency on diamonds. He urges the use of mineral wealth to reduce the gap between rich and poor; half of the population are at present in poverty in a rich country. KENNETH GOOD was Professor of Politics at the University of Botswana when he was expelled from the country. South Africa: Jacana.