Sunday, September 27, 2020

Botswana is no longer an attractive destination

April 4 2010: I hear and read about a lot of grumbling regarding Botswana’s failure to woo 2010 World Cup teams to set base in Botswana.

The grumblings follow recent announcement by the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Shaw Kgathi that no country has showed any interest to camp in Botswana. I really do not understand why in the first place people harboured high expectations that Botswana could attract high profile teams to set base in the country.

In comparative terms Botswana has such obvious advantages as peace and tranquility but to be ‘brutally’ honest, Botswana is no longer an attractive destination for people who take themselves seriously.

It has lost its sparkle and only illegal immigrants and conmen still regard Botswana as a destination that deserves a repeat visit. We can, of course, conveniently blame the Mickey-mouse 2010 Task Force for having been inept but this is akin to killing a pitiful messenger.

Obviously the 2010 Task Force should take a share of the blame particularly because they allowed themselves to be used by accepting to execute an assignment that was out of bound. You do not have to wear welder’s goggles to identify the culprit in this embarrassing fiasco. A couple of interlocking factors have combined to frustrate the government’s lackadaisical efforts and in the process just shown the extent to which Botswana has degenerated into a wretched wasteland. Even countries without credibility of whatsoever now have the audacity to poke fun at our country as having more goats than people, which explains its leadership deficiency.

Whereas the goats-leadership theory is contemptible, it goes to show the extent to which the country has become a soft target for harebrained xenophobes who need to accomplish emotional orgasm at every little opportunity. However, this discourteous attitude towards Botswana was inevitable due to a number of factors. For some years now, specifically since President Khama traded his military uniform for the BDP’s red-painted coats, there has been an unrelenting determination to enforce discipline in a variety of ways, such as a clampdown on alcohol consumption through strict and uncompromising liquor regulations. This has seen liquor outlets ordered to comply, without fail, with stipulated hours of operation failing which security agents forcibly close bars.

Following these instructions, Botswana Railways discontinued the consumption of alcohol in their passenger trains. While the public was still smarting from these severe blows, President Khama introduced a 30% alcohol levy. On account of these developments and many other related factors, I opined in Mmegi (Botswana under Siege ÔÇô 10 March 2006) that this unilateral decision making often based on impulse and mindless show of power would take Botswana many years backward.
I opined that the liquor regulations were simply transitional, temporarily stupefying us into submission before an ultimate ban on alcohol is effected.

Now the President is slowly opening up and revealing his intentions by saying that he will continue imposing cruel levies until alcohol becomes unaffordable. My essay further argued that it is foolhardy of us to expect 2010 World Cup fans to lodge in Botswana under the prevailing circumstances, especially considering that the entertainment industry has largely been criminalized.

I opined that serious visitors from the developed world would never dare lodge in a country where the laws reduce civil liberties to the value of human excreta. Certainly things have been getting rather worse with the enactment of other punitive laws that combine to completely erode personal freedoms. Yet we still harbor hopes of wooing self-respecting foreign nationals to set base in a country that is sliding into an abyss.

Many of our recent laws and regulations have combined to undermine Botswana’s otherwise undefiled natural environment which has been the biggest attraction for foreign visitors. Foreign nationals, especially from the developed world where civil liberties are guaranteed, worshipped and protected, would find it obscene to lodge in Botswana where one has to steer clear of wearing miniskirts and such other tangy modern outfits.

They definitely will find it untenable to stay in a country where foreign nationals are summarily deported for making reference to the state President’s looks or just for staring at his portrait. Travelers and casual visitors are usually very sensitive and sometimes demand more than what they actually get from their home countries.

They hardly can visit a country where they will have fears that they might be deported for using their every day lingo such as ‘fuck you’, ‘bullshit’ or for minor prostitution related offences. These may appear as very small and unimportant issues but when you talk about international travelers who spend part of their fortunes financing a large chunk of our development projects, we really need to be realistic and give them more than locals do get. Foreign nationals would find it absolutely unthinkable to even spend a few days in a country where suspects and bystanders are shot on sight like dogs with incurable scabies or flu. If citizens feel uncomfortable with their own security agents, what more about visiting foreign nationals from developed countries who generally view Africans as criminal lunatics?

Visitors, especially those who add value to the tourism sector, choose destinations where they can relax and unwind without having to take extreme caution or worry much about institutionalized state terror. Our erstwhile expectations of wooing 2010 World Cup teams, especially high profile foot-balling nations are illogical and idiotic.

Remember comments such as one or two killings shouldn’t cause alarm? Such words still reverberate in many would be visitors and in the absence of an apology or a rebuke, it certainly appears to be the position of the government of Botswana.
And do you expect foreign nationals to visit Botswana at ‘own risk’?

Of course, many support infrastructures such as airports, stadia and hotels are yet to be completed but these are not the real problems. After all, some big teams have set up base in places where the construction of major facilities is still in progress.

All they needed was assurances from the authorities but in our case they never bothered to come and inspect our facilities. The few that came, if any, were just fulfilling some mandatory requirements such as having to select three bids from which the most suitable would be selected. 2010 Task Force can bear testimony if they could really be honest to tell it all. Unfortunately there is just too much lying and deceit from the government enclave in recent times otherwise they would just let it be known that for them the assignment was just a matter of sailing for pleasure.

Ever wondered why the presidency never bothered to assist in luring teams and their followers to Botswana? They actually knew that under the prevailing circumstances, such was a mission impossible. The damage is too big to be repaired more-so that much of it was caused by the words and actions of the state president and his deputy.

When other head of states are busy aggressively marketing their countries for the 2010 World Cup likely windfall, our president is busy marketing himself to people in the rural areas in a way that shows the extent to which he always gets his priorities wrong.

To make matters worse, Botswana is accused by other African countries for breaking African solidarity by taking sides with European countries regarding the decision of the International Criminal Court to indict, arrest and extradite Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.
It is likely that other African countries are clandestinely sabotaging Botswana’s efforts to lure 2010 World Cup teams.

Clearly, Botswana is now reaping the consequences of her assault on personal freedoms as well as strained relations with other nation states which perhaps explains why even African teams are not interested in coming to the country.

Unless we get teams and soccer followers who have no clue about contemporary life in Botswana, we have miserably lost out and we deserve it. We should have known that ‘he that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas’.


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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.