Hashtag annual calendar of tourism events so white

25 Mar 2018

If the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) ever needs background music for its 2018 annual calendar of events, it would find the most appropriate in a hip hop song by Jadakiss and Anthony Hamilton, Why?

Save for a few instances, “why” is the interrogative adverb that visitors to BTO’s Facebook wall responded with after the organisation posted a pdf document of the calendar: “why Gabz int. air show?? its a duplication of Matsieng air show.....please stop wasting public funds!!”; “Why is Mascom Derby not included in the calendar?”, “Kante lona Botswana Tourism what events do you sponsor/associate yourself with?”, “Dithubaruba?”, “This has not included other events...why?”, “But why do two international airshows??”, “Okay what about the Domboshaba Cultural Festival tho? Do you not think that's important enough to add”, “Kante Son Of The Soil go diregile jang ka ene betsho?” and much more wonderment that pursues this line of questioning.

On the streets, however, people are asking a more pointed question. Why does the calendar appear to be heavily biased in favour of entertainment that is more likely to appeal to westerners (meaning white people) than to indigenous (meaning black) people? A government department, BTO spends hundreds of millions of pula to sponsor these events.

To be fair, there are some black people who patronize the Khawa Dune Challenge & Cultural Festival, Wesbank International Air Show, Toyota Kalahari 1000 Desert Race, Race for Rhinos, Makgadikgadi Epic, Desert Bush Walk, Gaborone International Air Show, Tour de Tuli, Tsodilo Wellness Retreat and Heart of the City Carnival. However, an overwhelming majority of them are middle-class elites who have developed western lifestyle tastes – an ordinary Motswana walking in the desert bush around Jwaneng would likelier be on a stray-cattle-wrangling errand than having fun. That can only be so because one necessarily has to have loads of disposable cash to merely participate in some of the events in the calendar. While the patronage of blacks is highly visible at one too many of those events, more than 98 percent of them participate as spectators.

Evidently out of place in that calendar is the Kuru Dance Festival whose venue, D’kar, has had its name misspelt as “Dikara.”  The cultural festival component precariously dangles from the title of the Khawa Dune Challenge & Cultural Festival as a clear afterthought and might fall off at some stage.

Generally, BTO has fiscally orphaned indigenous culture tourism. Where it could be popularizing and giving market structure to the hugely popular football tournaments of the Christmas festive season in the North East or dikhwaere in the south – or developing local weightlifting, BTO instead hosted the World’s Strongest Man competitions in Gaborone at quite substantial sums of money.

When she was an exchange student at the University of Botswana, Rachel Jones, did a case study of cultural tourism in Sexaxa Village in Ngamiland and made findings that are both hopeful and depressing: “Botswana has promoted for many years a type of high-end, low-volume tourism that has left many Batswana at the wayside”; “Botswana’s marketing of its wildlife has come at the expense of cultural tourism. Tourists arrive in Botswana unaware that there is a vibrant culture (one of the past and of the present) and it is often too late to change their already-packed itineraries.”; and, “If cultural tourism can be a stepping stone out of poverty, then its significance cannot be underestimated.” Most importantly, Jones – who is American, quotes research that asserts that says that generally, cultural tourists tend to stay longer than all other groups of tourists.

Language that is this blatantly racial has also been used before by political leaders with regard to ownership stake in the Okavango Delta. During a debate ahead of the 2014 general election, two candidates in opposing camps found common ground on this issue. George Lubinda of the Botswana Congress Party said that whites control between 85 and 90 percent of the Delta tourism while Batswana only work as tourist guides and cleaners at hospitality establishments for very paltry pay. Tawana Moremi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change said that in the future, Batswana may no longer even qualify to work as tour guides because entry requirements for such positions have been rigged in favour of whites. His understanding of the matter, as he conveyed it then, was that the Botswana Qualifications Authority had commissioned some whites with a background in the tourist industry to develop entry requirements for guides. One requirement, Tawana said, was that the guides must master certain (purportedly western, non-indigenous) swimming techniques which would result in Batswana not qualifying to work as guides. He added that the Delta tourism has a lucrative local value chain which is nepotistically and overwhelmingly dominated by whites.

The two men were exhibiting courage in using straightforward language to tackle an issue whose discussion is generally frowned upon. Batswana, especially young urban people, have been encouraged to think that Botswana is a multi-racial democracy where all races are equal and that there is such a thing as “black racism.” The latter is ridiculous because racism operates as a group-power dynamic and as a group, blacks don’t have power over any other race. Conceptually, black racism would itself be a good thing because it would mean that blacks finally have power.

Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States, black people there have no such compunction and started #OscarsSoWhite, a hashtag protest movement in 2016 to protest an Oscar’s nomination list that was almost entirely white.

To some people here, it is legitimate to wonder whether BTO’s so-white calendar of events has something to do with the racial identity of the person who is ultimately responsible for Botswana’s tourism - the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism is Tshekedi Khama. Born of a white father and black mother, Khama, who is the president’s younger brother, has never embraced his black cultural heritage and well past his salad days, can handle idiomatic Setswana. Information that has come out at public hearings of the Public Accounts Committee show that Tshekedi micromanages BTO to such extent that at one point, he arrogated to himself the power and authority of the entire board of directors. This raises the question of the role that he plays in selecting events for the annual calendar, especially that he is said to be BTO’s self-appointed chief procurement officer.

It is widely expected that as a result of deal between Khama and Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, Tshekedi will become vice president and later president. The question that some on the streets are asking is: what would be the fate of indigenous culture tourism if Tshekedi Khama gets more power? The national conversation around #OscarsSoWhite produced some positive results; however, it unlikely that the wrongs of #AnnualCalendarSoWhite will be righted because there is no national conversation about it.

If nothing changes, Mozart or the Beatles (whose song, “Because”, would seem to offer faint promise of an answer to “Why?”) would do beautifully for background music.