Saturday, March 6, 2021

Botswana advised to extend lease period for wildlife concession areas

At a time when indigenous Batswana are trying to break into the lucrative luxury safari tourism in the Okavango Delta, the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) has made a recommendation that has potential to frustrate such efforts.

The first issue that ANRC addresses is of the high leakages (over 70 percent) of Botswana’s foreign earnings from tourism. This is a direct result of Botswana’s tourism sector supply chain being foreign-dominated. One solution that the Centre proposes is that the government should take fiscal measures to encourage re-investment rather than repatriation of profits.

“Reinvestment of profits in wildlife concession areas is however constrained by the 15 year leases,” says the Centre, which is a non-lending arm of the African Development Bank.

As it is and partly because of these leases, it is extremely difficult for indigenous Batswana to get into luxury safari tourism. A standard lease agreement between the Tawana Land Board and tour operators contains a right-of-refusal clause which gives the sitting tenant the right to match the price of a third party vying to replace him/her in a particular concession area. In the event that the tenant still loses and has to vacate the site, s/he has to be fully compensated for infrastructural developments that, in most cases, would have been carried out over an extremely long period of time at prohibitive cost. Extending the lease period would mean that tenants spend more money, making it even more difficult for citizens to replace them.

Speaking during the GabZ FM pre-election debates last year, parliamentary candidates for Maun West, Tawana Moremi of the Umbrella for Democratic Change and George Lubinda of the Botswana Congress Party, lamented that Ngamiland people are not benefitting from tourism in the Okavango Delta. By the latter’s estimate, 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.

In “Chiefs, Hunters and San in the Creation of Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta; Multiracial Interactions and Initiatives, 1956-1979”, Dr. Maitseo Bolaane of the University of Botswana links the current low participation rate of locals in the lucrative Okavango Delta tourism market, back to an order that was inaugurated during the colonial era. In 1963, the Maun District Commissioner was a man called Eustace Clark who did everything in his power to try to sabotage the establishment of the Moremi Game Reserve by the Ngamiland community.

Bolaane writes: “Clark saw no place for Africans in managing safari hunting. He pointed out in confidential correspondence that safari hunting ‘is a highly skilled job needing considerable capital and experience.’ Officials further argued that ‘a tribal or amateur African company would certainly not have sufficient experience and would not be likely to attract the best type of professional hunter … it would not be possible to use African professional hunters for many years to come (if ever).’”

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