Identity, Guns, and Nineteenth-Century Globalization: An Examination of Botswana


  • Cathy Skidmore Hess


In 2019, the Botswanan government reversed the hunting ban instituted in 2014. The ban had met with stiff opposition within Botswana and widespread critique. Some condemned the excessive influence of the international conservation community. Many focused on the negative impact of large herds of elephants on the physical environment and remote communities of the Northeast. However, although framed in terms of conservation concerns and the economic viability of remote communities, the controversies surrounding Botswana’s hunting policies reflected a much longer history of occupation, and discourses of power. By the mid-nineteenth century, new forms of global consumption and trade were transforming the economic and political map of southern Africa. For much of the region, hunting, cattle, and guns were at heart of these changes. Often issues of sovereignty and power were articulated in terms of access to land, access to animals and access to weapons. Likewise, group and individual identity also became embedded in rights in animals and rights in weapons. This article examines the role of hunting and herding as a local experience within a global economic context. As such it looks at the multiplicity of roles and actions involved in composing nineteenth century hunting parties, gaining access to animals, as well as dividing and distributing goods and compensations. In so doing it considers as far as possible, the motivations and strategies of those involved at various levels. It also argues that rights in animals, access to the global economy and resources are essential to understanding both the nineteenth century ivory boom and current debates.