Monday, July 27, 2020

How COVID-19 devastated African Safari industry

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African Safari | Source: Sneha via Unsplash

With COVID-19 wrecking the economies of superpowers like the US and China, Africa is no exception. The continent of Africa is bestowed with rich biodiversity which attracts millions of tourists every year. But due to the pandemic, the safari industry of Africa is in a freefall.

The countries which are visited more often by the international tourists for their remarkable safari experiences include Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. These contribute more than 12 billion US dollars to the economy, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The tourism industry is one of the most impacted economic sectors due to lockdowns being imposed all over the world. The magnitude of loss came into light when Safaribookings.com, a website for booking safari tours in Africa, ran its fourth monthly survey. The bookings this year declined by a massive 75%. “We don’t have bookings, and we don’t have money to pay salaries for staff, office rental etc. Things are really bad” says a Kenyan safari vehicle operator. Thousands of the people depending on services related to industry lost the livelihood due to this downturn..

Khimbini Hlongwane, the proprietor of a small tour business in Kruger National Park of South Africa, is devastated as he had invested all his savings to purchase a new minibus for his visitors. “It hasn’t moved since the day we bought it,” he says.  Leon Plutsick, who owns a lodge in Manyeleti private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park says that he is barely surviving on the remaining meagre reserves. What used to be a lodge packed with tourists, is now replaced by Baboons. A tour guide and father of four, Sipho Nkosi, who earns a decent amount of 550 rand per tour, finds himself and his family in troubled waters. “We’d saved some money. But it's running out, so we’ll start starving” he says.

Not only the local communities but also the prolific wildlife of Africa is bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Tourist funds play a key role in conservation projects. Jackson Looseyia, a conservationist and lodge owner at Maasai Mara says, “In conservation terms, it is a crisis. We have no money coming in whatsoever, and the future is so bleak”.

Many of the families dependent on ecotourism see no option but to turn towards poaching as a means of survival. This further poses a threat to the species. Dickson Kaelo, CEO of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association says, “Due to the high rates of unemployment, commercial bushmeat has become rampant in some areas. Recently there were even cases of giraffes killed for commercial purposes”. At least six black rhinos, who might face extinction soon, were killed by poachers in Okavango Delta, Botswana, in the month of March. Efforts are being taken to evacuate the remaining rhinos and shift them to safer places.

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa is urging the government to reopen the national parks and sanctuaries for the public, latest by September. However, the South African government states that the tourism industry is not likely to reopen before 2021.

Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda are not open for tourists. Zambia is permitting tourists but with an obligatory two-week quarantine. Tanzania has imposed no such requirements. However, tourists will think twice before going on any international trips as we have not yet won the fight against coronavirus.

All this has left the people associated with the ecotourism sector in Africa in a dark tunnel with seemingly no end at the moment.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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