The Truth On Hubert Sauper’s "Darwin’s Nightmare" Film

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"Darwin’s Nightmare," a film made by Mr. Sauper, is bound to attract attention – at least for viewing it once. Tragically, those who are the subject of this film and whose lives may be drastically affected by it have not been able to express their views. This is principally because the film, titled as it is, readily fits into the stereotype image of Africa that is widespread and daily reinforced by stories, even today as we write this, from Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Niger Delta, the DR Congo, etc.

Statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, United Republic of Tanzania

An open letter to the maker of the film “Darwin’s Nightmare”

"Darwin’s Nightmare," a film made by Mr. Sauper, is bound to attract attention – at least for viewing it once. Tragically, those who are the subject of this film and whose lives may be drastically affected by it have not been able to express their views. This is principally because the film, titled as it is, readily fits into the stereotype image of Africa that is widespread and daily reinforced by stories, even today as we write this, from Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Niger Delta, the DR Congo, etc.

But there is another face of Africa, an African, which wants to move forward, to rely on itself, to bring the good life for its people. There is a very real story which “Darwin’s Nightmare” (in its crude dramatization) does not even make a token effort to tell.

And that story is about the fishing and fish processing industry around Lake Victoria.

In Tanzania and in East Africa we are concerned at the image that this film has erroneously portrayed and are worried at the negative impacts it will have on the people of the Lake Victoria region. We would therefore wish that Mr. Sauper and the “outside world” look at the economic and social aspects as follows:

First, the Tanzania side of the Lake Victoria produces about 475,400 tonnes of fish annually, of which the Nile Perch accounts for around 125,000t. The factories process 80,000t of Nile Perch for export. This leaves 45,000t of Nile perch and 350,400t. of the other species totalling 395,400t (83% of the total production) for local consumption. The other major species are Nile Tilapia – 20,500t. Sardines – 228,200t and Haplochromis – 100,300t. Tanzania does not allow the export of other fish, apart from Nile Perch, to ensure fish protein security. The rest is reserved exclusively for local consumption. So the claim made in the film regarding lack of fish for local consumption is quite simply untrue.

Second, the Nile perch is an introduced species from the lower Nile system, which gained dominance in Lake Victoria in the early 1990s. Before that time, the number of full-time fishers was about 30,000 persons, but after the starting of industrial processing the number has increased to about 100,000 plus 300,000 part time fishers and 4,000 industrial workers. The industry has a big multiplier effect which puts the total employment at about two million people, deriving livelihoods from extended activities in fishing vessel construction and repair, fishing gears and related equipment construction and maintenance, food vending, water and road transportation of fish, and railway and airport workers.

Third, the daily beach price to fishers who supply Nile perch to the processing factories is about USD 1.4 per kilogram. The beach prices for the Tilapia and Sardines are USD 0.5 and 0.2 respectively, thus earning the fishers an accumulated income of USD 127,640,000 from Nile Perch and USD 179,860,000 from all species annually. The export trade from Nile Perch earns the country about USD 100 million annually in addition to several taxes from the village level upwards. These data show that local fishers get far more than exporters.

Fourth, Tanzania is richly endowed with other major water resources, which include Lake Tanganyika, Lake Nyasa (=L. Malawi), many smaller lakes, rivers and freshwater wetlands as well as the Indian Ocean; together they produce another 100,000t of fish annually.

Fifth, Tanzania has a significant animal husbandry sector, estimated at about 10 million cattle and other livestock, many of which are within the Lake Victoria basin. This has long been the traditional source of animal protein for rural communities away from the shores of major fishery areas and so complements fish as food.

From the above facts we request Mr. Sauper, and the rest of other world media which have a desire to see a positive and realistic image of Africa, to see the following positive aspects of the Lake Victoria fisheries:-

i)    The amount of fish available for food and internal trade around the Lake zone and the whole country is big by any developing world standards. The allegation of the Nile Perch trade creating food insecurity is therefore unrealistic;

ii)    There is no other single production and processing industry in the Tanzanian economy, which has created such a huge employment opportunity and income distribution to the lowest level of the society in such a short time span as the Nile perch trade. These facts totally negate the allegation that the trade has created poverty;

iii)         As a country, we condemn prostitution but is a social vice not exclusive to Tanzania and it is found all over the world;

iv)    The HIV/AIDS pandemic was initially severe on the western side of the lake more than 10 years before the onset of the Nile Perch trade, but has now spread to the whole country, and the governments is struggling hard to contain it. Therefore, it has nothing to do with the Nile perch trade, and it is quite immoral for Mr. Sauper to capitalize on such an imminent national and world social disaster for his personal gain;

v)    The negative aspects created about people consuming the remains of filleted Nile perch carcasses clearly proves the intended malice of Mr. Sauper to perpetuate the negative image of Africa. It could have taken a man of his calibre about half an hour to learn that most of those remains are not smoked for export to regional trade with neighbouring countries. And this is for a good reason because the filleting process leaves a lot of meat on the frame;

vi)    The linkage between airfreight of Nile Perch fillets to arms smuggling is again a proof of Mr. Sauper’s malicious intentions. He knows well that political instability in the neighbouring countries has been there long before the onset of the Nile Perch trade. The large part of fish processed is exported by air for quick delivery to the markets of the developed world. The users of these aircraft are respected companies such as Chapman Freeborn (based in Ostend, Belgium). The Tanzanian processors do not choose the aircraft, which fly their fish out. These are contracted by companies in Europe. The same aircrafts, which fly fish, are also used for general freight transport across Africa and in delivering relief supplies to disaster victims in countries such as Pakistan and to Darfur in Sudan.

vii)    Mr. Sauper suggests that poverty and homelessness are a direct consequence of the fisheries export. It would seem obvious to most people that such human tragedies are found in most places on this planet, including in the cities of Europe, and are rarely, if ever, connected to any particular industry. The film erroneously leads viewers to the conclusion that there is a close connection between the export of fish to Europe and the import of weapons to Africa, or, in other words, that Europe perpetuates war to strip Africa of its fish and other resources;

viii)    Finally, the film doe not show or mention the many fishing communities around the Lake who have seen their lives improve because of the enhanced fisheries and exports. The great majority of fishing communities are far better off then the ones depicted. By focusing on a small group - while we agree that the conditions they live in are appalling and unacceptable – Mr. Sauper maliciously closes the eyes of viewers to the many benefits that the Lake Victoria fishery has brought to hundreds of thousands of people, the progress that has been made in fighting poverty in the region, and the huge economic benefits the country, which is otherwise partly dependent on foreign aid, has gained.

In conclusion, we would like to submit that the above information is not intended to interfere in any way with the right of Mr. Sauper to tell his story. Rather, it is the real story, which can be independently verified by any well intending person that we wish to convey.

The Truth On Hubert Sauper’s- “Darwin’s Nightmare Film”

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