Chobe Holdings Limited which is listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) is among big tourism companies that are smuggling large contrabands of beef which is potentially infected with the economy threatening Foot and Mouth virus through Maun International Airport to private bush air strips in disease free zones ÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.
From bush air strips the meat is transported by road to up market camp sites where it is served to A-list clients. The underground business has been going on for years under the noses of Botswana Police Service (BPS) and the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS).
A Sunday Standard reporter who has been investigating the underground business led the Botswana Police Service and Department of Veterinary Services in an undercover operation to a private bush airstrip in Kumaga Village of Boteti sub district where a private safari airplane carrying the contraband beef had landed.
For the DVS and BPS this was venturing into dangerous territory. The Botswana Tourism sector is controlled by powerful business interests with strong political connections. For the most part, big players in the tourism industry are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of the government, ruling party and opposition. President Khama and a number of opposition leaders have a direct financial interest in the tourism industry, while president Khama’s nephew Dale Ter Haar is a non-executive, independent director of Chobe Holdings Limited. This means that whilst he is one of the nine directors, he has no shareholding, direct or otherwise, in the Chobe Holdings Group.
In Kumaga the BPS, Sunday Standard and DVS investigators found two guides who were dropping off tourists from Leroo La Tau to catch a flight to different camps in Okavango Delta.
The officers informed the guides of their intention to conduct a search of the air craft. The guides requested that they be allowed to call their manager who was the only one authorised to open the freight.
The manager however indicated that he did not have transport to the airstrip. The investigating team then proceeded to Leroo la Tau where the manager Nelson Ditiro Njiraro confirmed that they had been smuggling meat through the airport from butchery in Maun to Boteti for years.
Njiraro also admitted in an interview that some of the meat that they had smuggled through the airport was still in deep freezers. He showed the police officers and veterinary officers the contraband beef stockpiled in deep freezers.
Njiraro also promised that he would make recommendations to his directors to stop smuggling meat from FMD red zones into Boteti after police and veterinary officers warned him about dangers of smuggling meat into Boteti.
However police and veterinary did not confiscate the meat from the Leroo La Tau deep freezers. They only warned the manager that it was a criminal offence to smuggle meat from FMD prone zones in Maun to Boteti.
Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that the smuggling racket has been going on for years under the noses of the Botswana Police service (BPS) and DVS officials.
The FMD ban busting underground operation poses a huge quarantine risk to Botswana’s multi- billion Pula beef export sector as it can spread the FMD virus to disease free zones.
DVS confirmed that they were not aware of the beef smuggling racket until the Sunday Standard tip off.
The DVS Director Dr Letlhogile Modise confirmed in an interview that the department has since warned Desert and Delta to desist from smuggling meat from FMD prone areas to FMD free zones. Desert and Delta Chief Executive Officer, Derrick Flat declined to comment.
The DVS and Botswana police who investigated the smuggling of meat by Desert and Delta to one of their camps in Khumaga village could not take action despite the fact that a Leroo la Tau camp manager in Khumaga was found in possession of meat smuggled through Maun Airport into Boteti.
Veterinary officers in Maun explained that there were no measures in place to curb beef smuggling at the Maun airport as is the case with disease control fences on roads leaving FMD prone areas. University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Acting Director Professor Joseph Mbaiwa said that the security agents and veterinary could have acted out of fear when it comes to enforcing laws since some of facilities and operations in the tourism are run by those who wield influence.
Mbaiwa further indicated that the incident does show that big corporations companies have interest in the livelihoods of communities where they operate hence they are promoting tourism at the expense of beef industry.
Chobe Holdings Limited, through its subsidiaries, owns and operates lodges and camps on leased lands in Northern Botswana and the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. The company operates through three segments: Camp, Lodge and Safari Operations; Transfers and Touring; and Air Maintenance Operations. It operates 11 eco-tourism lodges and camps with a combined capacity of 314 beds under the Desert & Delta Safaris, as well as Ker & Downey Botswana brands. The company also provides air, road, and water passenger transfer services; and a suite of aircraft maintenance services. In addition, it offers tour and safari services, as well as rents farm land and equipment. The company was incorporated in 1983 and is based in Gaborone, Botswana.