Wilderness Safaris has pulled out to protect their brand from being blowtorched by politics of greed

18 Jun 2017

News of withdrawal of interest in Air Botswana by Wilderness Safaris, a tourism outfit with close links to the Khama dynasty has been received with widespread relief and in some instances jubilation and even euphoria.

In the mist of that euphoria Batswana have been too eager to give some credit to Wilderness Safaris for showing a kind of responsiveness that has now become a rare commodity in our shores.

Quite instinctively, the public has reserved even greater credit to itself for standing up against what they perceive to be powerful corporate and government interests that are conniving to take steak from the poor.

As a result, in the public psyche, the whole withdrawal thing is now being clothed and made to look like it’s an outcome of well choreographed shareholder activism - some kind of popular revolt, if you want.

We are barking at a wrong tree.

The euphoria is nothing but an act of self consolation by an abused people desperate for anything that tastes even remotely like good feeling.

Put in perspective the withdrawal from Air Botswana by Wilderness is not victory for public at all.

Thus patently misplaced, the celebrations have in them, all the hallmarks of bravado.

To the masterminds of this saga, the bluster of self-importance by the public makes the whole nation look like an army of dirty-faced native showboats.

The excitement surrounding the withdrawal especially in the absence of explicit reasons by either Government or Wilderness Safaris overlooks the fact that such withdrawal might at best be only temporary and at worst a tactical ruse that is deliberately staged to allow time to pass and with that deflect the public glare currently hinged on the transaction.

There is also a danger in the middle of all the excitement that we might just of overlook the fact that giving  credit to Wilderness Safaris for their withdrawal is akin to extending to the company, or those who sought to favour it a moral equivalent to the majority of citizens who are in essence the victims.

These are the people who rightly regard Air Botswana as an important part of the family silver.

To be fair to the company, Wilderness Safaris is a very potent tourism brand.

The company makes its money by hosting tourists from all over the world in many of its pristine, high value resorts across Africa.

But because of the sensitive nature of their business, the company’s biggest stock in trade is not their resorts – but their ethics.

Potent as it is, that brand is also fragile. That is the rub.

The Wilderness brand is a result of many years of hard and costly work by the company employees and its executives.

That brand, we have to point out thrives on trust and demonstrable upholding of basic corporate ethics by the company. And it would not make sense for executives at Wilderness Safaris to risk contaminating or at worst blow-torching it by a whim of politics of greed currently sweeping across Botswana, a hugely important destination for their customers, but by no measure an indispensable one.

Whatever its real reasons for withdrawing its expression of interest from acquiring Air Botswana, Wilderness was in essence always only a scapegoat – though possibly a complicit one.

We should never lose sight of the fact that the real author of this sorry tale remains Botswana cabinet, who willfully chose to circumvent all their own processes to fast-track what could possibly in the end have been an illegal transaction.

They are now turning around and want to shift blame by accusing the media of scaring away investors.

If anybody is scaring away investors, it has to be the Government of Botswana.

If all processes had been followed ahead of giving Air Botswana to Wilderness, there was never going to be any protest – at least not a valid one.

It is the Government of Botswana that has turned the whole thing into a theatrical fiasco.

More important than celebrating the Wilderness Safaris withdrawal is to insist on processes and procedures.

The need to adhere to those processes has become more pressing in the face of a Government that has shown such a blatant disregard for governance.

There is also a need to strengthening oversight institutions.

Such institutions have become ever more crucial in the face of such growing culture of impunity that we see before our eyes.

There is nothing wrong with privatizing Air Botswana. In fact if Botswana Government had its way, in its clutch of parastatals, Air Botswana would have been the first to be privatized in the late 1990s, way ahead of even Botswana Telecommunications Corporation.  Similarly, in its prospectus of events, the privatization agency, PEEPA had always touted Air Botswana as a preferred guinea pig in its privatization trials, however it was on account of such external circumstances, chiefly the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States that undermined the process.

Following those attacks international air travel plummeted and airline values diminished. Air Botswana was not exempted and as a result its privatisation was rightly shelved.

Many years later, there is, in fact still a solid case for privatizing Air Botswana.

But the way cabinet went about it turned the whole thing into a zero sum game, the end result of which could not be accepted by any of the participants.

In the end Wilderness Safaris pulled out, not out of any altruist feelings towards Batswana but to protect their sensitive, hard gained brand.