SOME Englishmen are feeling very hurt—Africa just doesn’t know its place, they loudly mutter. The problem is that His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales is not being treated right, despite volunteering his time to traipse down to the African bush, where his family once run almost the entire show.
Prince Harry is currently in the continent for three months for work on conservation of endangered animals, a trip that takes him to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania.
It is one of those animal things that western do-gooders like, and on the face of it would be a worthy cause—poachers are decimating Africa’s wildlife faster than you can say “Buckingham Palace”.
Coming after some ill-conceived comments during his former hangout in Afghanistan, and the publication of some rather unflattering photographs of the prince, the royal family has been pulling out the stops to patch up the holes by lining up such “safe” excursions.
One would think that African countries would be delighted for such a high profile boost their flagging conservation efforts, right? Wrong - the Namibians for one have not been too impressed.
The news editor at The Namibian, the southern African country’s largest newspaper, wasn’t exactly subtle.
“I haven’t seen any sign of Prince Harry here. They say it’s a private visit and we are not even allowed to take his picture,” Wonder Gochu said.
“This boy’s visit here will not change anything. People still go hungry, people who have no jobs will still have no jobs when he goes back. They will not even give a second thought about him being here or not being here.”
And even the government wouldn’t be left behind: Namibia’s minister of environment and tourism was scathing, calling the trip a “publicity stunt”.
The conservation train
“Harry is not the first prominent person to visit Namibia and get involved with its conservation projects,” Pohamba Shifeta said.
“We receive a lot of prominent people. We appreciate this, but we don’t want it to turn into a public relations exercise.” (Shifeta however had no qualms posing for photos with the prince.)
For his troubles, Harry even got a warning to keep off the touchy issue of “trophy hunting”, with the minister insisting it was legal, the insinuation being that the locals did a better job at conservation than some charities backed by palace types.
The minister’s real problem was he wasn’t aware of the prince’s presence on Namibian soil and he was just pulling rank. Harry reportedly then charmed himself back into the official’s good graces.
But essentially, the prince’s visit is being seen as that of just another rich westerner seeking adventure during a summer jaunt. And as would be expected, his miffed countrymen are not taking the acerbic reaction by Africans too kindly, with reactions like those of a cat on a hot tin roof.
The support has ranged from “we-brought-them-out-of-the-stone age” and “they-bite-the-hand-that-feeds-them” to “relocate-the-rhinos-and-elephants-here-where-they-are-safer” and “hand-back-our-billions-in-aid-I-am-no-longer donating-to-charity-again”
But Britain’s “key-board warriors” are missing the point, and it is staring right back at them.
Hungry men, especially African ones, just do not have the time to blow kisses at rhinos and elephants when all they see is a meal ticket. It is a sad narrative but it is the harsh reality in parts of Africa, where clashes between animals and humans are frequent, and poverty resides next door to million-dollar tusks and horns.
Harry should take the advice that he has been so freely given if he really wants to make a difference: get on the next flight to China instead. As long as there is a demand by the market, which pays more for rhino horn that it does for gold, there will be supply. Lots of it.
Asia is where the real “sharp end of conservation”, to quote his publicists, is to be found, not Africa. An attempt by Harry to go east a couple of years foundered—the royal family hasn’t tended to impress Beijing too much. But he needs to try again and go.
In the meantime, the dashing prince just mustn’t take the distinct lack of impressed Africans too personally—it’s a seasonal thing around here. Even Obama, now the flavour of the month knows this too well.