The Central African Republic is one of the most lawless and corrupt countries on the continent and known mostly today as the presumed home of LRA fugitive, Joseph Kony. Turns out he has some interesting company.
The reason Kony is probably in the CAR, routed from Uganda and being hunted down by a posse of 100 green berets recently sent by Obama, is that the CAR is ungovernable and unmanageable, in part because so much of it is remote, thick jungle. The other part of the reason is because its leaders are thugs.
What a wonderful place to raise a family and run a business, right?
Wrong. Unless… you’re a hunting company.
Hunting companies are extremely small, highly lucrative businesses. Compared, for example, to the overhead of a photography safari company, today, a hunting company of similar size may require a tenth of the capital investment, have about the same operating costs, and yet provide a return ten times or more of a photography safari company with the same amount of assets and staff.
The product sale price, which is ten times or more that of a photography safari company, is justified because of the company’s … “guts.”
Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.
This is mostly because the service and “plant” (actual tents, food, equipment, and even staff) is of much lower quality than in a photography safari company. In the old days this was reversed, but today a hunting camp is just above OK and maybe even not OK.
Flush toilets, for example, are unusual. Solar lighting or lighting of any kind other than kerosene lanterns is unlikely. Simple spring beds replace four-poster rosewood sculptures. Frankly, I prefer this kind of camp, but I’m old and nostalgic and something of a penny-pincher.
But the food is only so-so because the cooks aren’t well trained. The staff is pulled from a line of relatives in need of work, both African help-staff (always black) and so-called poorly named professional hunters (which are almost always white).
And while the principals may know how to shoot, the younger hunters generally portray hardened biceps and much less, have little upstairs, and generally can’t get any other kind of work. Their resumes are short descriptions of Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.
And sometimes, simple stupidity.
Such is the story of the erstwhile Swedish hunting company, Central African Wildlife Adventures. (Oh, did I fail to mention that their websites are on par with an eighth grader’s weekend project?)
This brilliant enterprise decided to set up business just about the time that Kony was fleeing north from Uganda, incapable of resting his fugitive soul anywhere in Africa with a teaspoon of stability, so we deduce he’s set up camp in the CAR.
We don’t know specifically what shenanigans the company produced to get its plot of land in the CAR, but we do know that the bribes were apparently not good enough. Because last month the principal and general manager were arrested for the slaughter and murder of somewhere between 13 and 18 people in a situation that reeks of Joseph Kony’s calling card.
According to the 24-year old general manager, David Simpson, who has languished in a CAR prison just long enough to get another cub scout badge of courage and whose brother reported him as being “upbeat” about the situation, he was flying the company’s small plane when he noticed the massacre site below him and so did what every good cub scout is taught to do: report it to the trusted authorities.
Listen, David Simpson, there are no trusted authorities in the CAR. What were you expecting? That they would send you a letter of commendation?
Full disclosure: I am no hunter. But in my long career I have known and worked with good hunters, a very rare breed, rarer than the bongo which companies like CAWA offer to assist making extinct.
But in the main, and especially today, hunting companies are not only bad businesses but directed by if not bad people pretty dumb ones. Bribing is second nature and those who play the game in places like the CAR generally get called out.
The media is filled with sympathetic reports, and I’m a bit surprised by the amount of sarcasm I feel. It would otherwise go without saying that Simpson and the company owner are not guilty of this, and that only the basest and most corrupt justice on earth would dare pursue this case against them.
But read between the lines of the current volume of sympathetic media and you’ll learn that the British Foreign Office is not quite as involved as it was when British tourists were kidnapped by Somalis, or is currently now involved in the great Chinese scandal of the century. And not for want of class, I don’t think.
I prefer to believe that the British Foreign Office, like me, realizes that someone so stupid as to invite their arrest in the CAR is quite likely to do something equally stupid once sprung.
That doesn’t mean Simpson et al should be abandoned. But we’ve got to overlay some reasonable perspective on this story. Not every African country is so barbarous and primitive as the Central African Republic.
And I think I could count on one hand the number of colleagues in African tourism that would have done something so stupid as report a Kony massacre site in the CAR to CAR officials. David Simpson and CAWA owner, Erik Mararv, are apparently two. I won’t name the other three. There’s always hope.
Play with the pyre and you generally get burned.
I’m astonished about your comments and analysis… and I read between your lines that you don’t know much about either hunting, the Central African Republic or CAWA safaris… I guess you never worked there, nor don’t know what means working there, particularly in the Eastern part of the country. Few points:
– Hunting is just like every business (and like photographic defitely is), there are the good, the bad and the ugly among operators, but its detractors should pop in in northern and eastern CAR just to see what exactly they are doing and how they operate.
– As you mention it, there are almost no government in CAR; no public services, life expectancy at birth is among the lowest in the world, and in large parts of the country the only operating services are those of the churches network;
– in such a context it is very difficult to operate, as in such rural areas where there are no government nor cooperation agencies services, you become quickly the only formal employer, buyer of products and services, and finally service providers. Villagers in those remote part of the country complained being abandoned by everybody on earth. Trophy hunting companies are the last formal organization to operate in such areas.
– When looking at ecological impact, would you know the situation in CAR you would know that animals are being shot in metric cubic tons for the bushmeat markets, and that the last areas that still hold significant wildlife population are the trophy hunting areas, including for species like Bongo…
– While tourism died long time ago in CAR, hunting still operate, in difficult conditions, but justify the maintenance of among the largest and most rich wildlife areas of West and Central Africa, the day the hunting would be gone, so would be the wildlife…
– Last I’m as well working in leading “photographic tourism” destinations such as Tanzania and when considering contribution of each activity to conservation and local development, I’m afraid that the amount of benefit accrued locally is almost the same, e.g. vast majority of the benefits accumulated outside the country…and some photographic tourist camps bieng among the most ugly things I’ve ever seen, while hunting camps are frquently of high standard in CAR and Tanzania…
– Finally while there are definitely good and less good outfitters in CAR, CAWA is considered to be among the good ones – paying fully its fees, and having taking heavy risks to open what quickly became among the best wildlife areas of the country. They are investing in the country and managing carefully their area, are offering employment to amost 250 local people, are open to collaboration with scientists regarding wildlife research, and are offering what is considered by other stakeholders as a high standard product. So please, use a bit your mind and try to get some proper information before writing stupid things like you did.
PS: I’m like you, not a hunter, but I do collaborate with both hunters and photographic tourism operators.
I find it VERY amusing to read your blog entry, as even though it has some humor in it (picture not the least) it is hypocritical to the point of being ridiculous…
You personally write (and brag) on your bio that you have:
“been kidnaped in Nigeria, jailed in Guinea-Bisseau, rescued from the last Rwandan war; was the first westerner allowed to leave Addis after the Red Terror; had canoes overturned among crocs and hippos on the Zambezi; been charged by an elephant that he hit with a plate of waldorf salad; lost in the jungles of Cameroun; marooned in the Ituri Forest and rescued by Rhodesian sanction busters; and was among the few outsiders to travel through Uganda during the time of Idi Amin”
May I ask you what the difference is from these great white “fools” and you?
Also your point on how much “photographic safaris” invest and do so much more for the wildlife then “hunting safaris” shows how little you know of Africa. It really surprises me to hear something like that from somebody who consider himself being “one of the most experienced guides” in east Africa (I suppose that is another one of your jokes?)
Anyone who lives and works in Africa for a longer period of time knows that photographic safaris as well as hunting safaris are all needed in order to sustain and preserve as much as possible of the pristine wilderness still found on the continent. WHY these two forms of tourism do never really compete with each other is because hunting safaris are always conducted in areas where photographic safaris don’t go. And why do the photographic safaris not go there? Because not all areas in Africa has the game density that photographic clients ‘needs. But these areas still exist, often around and outside national parks, and the only way to preserve them is to have hunting clients come and shoot very old animals in order to pay for the others. In Africa it is simple, what pays, stays.
Eastern CAR is one of these areas where regular photographic tourists would never be able to go. Why? Because the investments having to be done in order to get to the most remote corner of Africa is so great that the safaris become very expensive and then the terrain makes spotting animals very difficult. Only trophy hunters seeking very elusive species like the bongo and the lord derby eland will ever go to an area like this and pay huge sums in order to shoot a very old and “past breeding age” animal. This animal life does then pay for the whole herd which is still living and thriving. If a hunter would not have paid over 20 grand to shoot this animal, it would have anyway been killed by bush meat poachers and with it would have gone the whole heard. Now which way is the best in order to sustain African wildlife in your opinion? Trophy hunters killing one old male in order to save the herd or poachers wiping out a whole heard for just the sake of a few dollars gained from the bush-meat trade?
Then I would also like to comment on your phrase where you say that hunting companies don’t invest in their areas and just wipe out what they have in there… I do agree that there are bad examples in all businesses, but in this case with CAWA, I happen to know the family (and David) very well and know they have invested an incredible amount in a very risking project, with very little profit and with huge risks, only in order to work on/save a wilderness which would otherwise disappear under the smattering rounds of Kalashnikovs. The question to be asked would be: why do they do this? Well, because they love this country, its people and its wildlife and want to do what they can in order to protect it for future generations.
Now against this, I would like to know what YOU have invested in Africa? Please let me know what YOU have invested in this continent, and what YOU risk? As it is always easy to sit in the comfy sofa back home, criticizing people who work their asses of for something they believe in. But if you do that, then PLEASE let me know what YOU have done for the African wildlife… apart from selling safaris and taking people on tours to a number of companies which are of course not YOURS. Traveling around and looking what other people have done, it is easy to think and say “I could have done this as well”, but it is a very different thing to actually do it.
And at last you very confidently say: “Jim has never lost a client”…. Well buddy, know that you just lost one in me.
obviously done great amount of research on this. hope u read and taken note of the first two comments they are very well writen and very well put. im personal proud of my Macho. Brave Bold Courageous. Daring brother for doing the right thing and reporting it as aposed to taking ur aproach throw a few branches over them and hope they dont smell to much u will never get ur cub scout badges like that my ill educated friend
Have you ever heard the phrase if you cant say something nice dont say at all? Because you really need to put that phrase into use. You brag about having to be rescued so many times therefore that makes you seem a bigger fool then david, who was only trying to do the right thing. You also have to remember david will have been trurmatized after finding the bodies he did what he would have done in england if he found the bodies here. Please learn to respect other people you wouldnt want people saying nasty things about you
I am fairly amused at the length you’ve taken in writing out this long story, criticizing this man. I wont amuse you the same way by wasting my time writing a long comment, but I will cover a few things:
First: to clear up some things, you are obviously ignorant about- in CAR there are three kinds of western business influence: Diamonds, Uranium, and Hunting. CAWA is the largest hunting company in CAR. Compared to the other businesses, CAWA has the highest salary for the locals. In your opinion, which business is contributing best to the economy (and ultimately the society there)? Or would you rather criticize a hunting company for shooting a few animals, instead of a uranium plant digging up minerals to create weapons- while at the same time, the bush meat industry is growing… Another point you are obviously ignorant about: CAWA hires all the local poachers as trackers and camp staff. They employ nearly 500 locals a year, who in turn support their families back home. The company alone has successfully slowed the bush meat trade in the whole eastern half of the CAR. That’s right chief- they have successfully given the locals a sense of “value” to the animals; the poachers know they can make a lot more money working for the company, than going out and shooting hundreds of bongo a year. Its hard for you to believe, but killing 10 bongo a year, and satisfying the poachers at the same time, is clearly more positive than the killing of 100s of bongo- this is true for every species the company hunts there.
Second: David had moral obligations to inform the government of the massacre: These were former employees- friends. So how about you show a little respect?
I understand if you don’t want to support this man, my friend. But please just keep your opinion to yourself, and quit trying to make the situation worse by your criticism.
Your web title wreaks of arrogance- (africaanswerman?) And your bio, as peter mentioned, is a complete joke. You brag about your blunders, and yet criticize this man as if being imprisoned is worse than what you claim to have experienced? Im surprised you have not been educated by your years in Africa. If the dark continent has taught me one thing, its that I will spend a lifetime understanding the various peoples, life, and situation there- answering questions you claim to have all the answers for. Africa teaches humility, and wonder- not pride to smear across a webpage. When you leave, this will be your legacy here- criticizing others in unfortunate situations, to make yourself feel like a macho man. Does that make you happy?
But then again, East Africa is a very safe place- a place for tourist like you to sit and wallow in your self-worth and insights into a continent separated by a hundred lifetimes of knowledge. Obviously, you seam very scared of going to CAR yourself, which is why you write about how bad a place it is. It aint that bad chief. Do yourself a favor, and keep your ignorant, arrogant, comments to yourself. It might make you feel like a big man, but honestly, it makes you look like an ass. But then again, I understand why youd have to build your masculinity; ive seen your photos on your bio- doesn’t really give the “bush man” persona does it?- more like, sits-at-your-computer-at-home-trolling. Mr. Africaanswerman, you are a joke my friend.
You took yourself a lot of time to criticize Mr. Simpson and CAWA which for me looks like sitting most of the time in front of a desk than rather beeing outside……..! I will not waste a lot of time in writing a comment to the unqualified prattling you wrote in your article ! Nearly all is said by the comments posted before mine. I think people who are born and raised in CAR are able to decide if it is sensefull to establish a hunting company there or not, they know CAR more than you do …….. they know Africa more than you do……!!!
On the subject with PH-trained biceps and nothing in the head ……… I heard it would be even doctors among them, which you certainly are not inferior in education and Intellligence…….and definetly they can have another work……if they want to……
Like Adam allready wrote,
do yourself and the Rest of the World a favor, and keep your ignorant, unqualified and arrogant, comments to yourself!!!!
You may think that you are warning and helping people to be more careful in dangerous territory. You are wrong. Your cynical, detatched comments are just more licence for the do-nothing brigade to sneer and jibe from a distance.
It would be more helpful for you to show some solidarity for those who have enough to deal with without your pontificating.
Raising awareness of injustice does take courage and David was brought up to do the right thing. God will bless him for that.
Our Heavenly Father will also bring the real perpretrators of this atrocity to justice, one way or another. And David may already have been very well instrumental in starting the chain of events that lead to that outcome.
While there is no 100% innocence in the work of hunters in Africa I believe that these are the good guys. David is going through an ordeal for reasons beyond the appreciation of your narrow and critical gaze.
The wildlife and propsects of many people in these beautiful but terrible places would be devastated without good, young people like David who are doing their best in very difficult circumstances.
David deserves more respect from you.
Your insulting characterisations are ill targeted in this case.