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Survival International today criticised the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for awarding its 'Achievement in African Leadership' prize to Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana who oversaw the eviction of the Kalahari Bushmen from their land.
Festus Mogae's government evicted the Bushmen from their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in 2002, and banned them from hunting and gathering.
Bushman hunters were arrested and tortured; those protesting peacefully against the evictions were arrested and shot at; and at least one woman died of starvation and thirst when Mogae's government shut down the borders of the reserve.
The Bushmen filed a legal case against the government, and in 2006 the Botswana High Court declared the evictions 'unlawful and unconstitutional'. One of the judges said the government's refusal to allow the Bushmen to hunt 'was tantamount to condemning the [Bushmen] to death by starvation.'
But the government, headed by Mogae until April this year, continues to prevent the Bushmen from returning home. It refuses to let them pump water from an unused borehole in one of their communities, or to let them hunt for food.
The Botswana government is now pressing ahead with plans to mine diamonds and develop tourism on the Bushmen's land.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, 'It's not that difficult to please the majority, but good governance demands respect for minorities, especially those discriminated against like the Kalahari Bushmen. President Mogae's tenure overturned decades of tacit respect for Bushman land rights. What he initiated still threatens the survival of the Bushman tribes in the central Kalahari. This prize makes a mockery of 'good governance'.'
The Mo Ibrahim Prize consists of US$ 5 million over 10 years and US$ 200,000 annually for life thereafter. The committee awarding the prize included former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.