The Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NCONGO) has strongly voiced out their displeasure over land grabbing by government a move that has disempowered the communities in the region.
NCONGO has issued a scathing attack on government decision to take concession areas from communities and allocate them to foreign investors.
The government through former President Ian Khama directive titled “Reservation of tourism sites to the Ministry of Environment” ordered that the thirty three tourism sites should be transferred to the central government in Ngamiland, Okavango, Chobe, Ghanzi and Kgalagadi areas.
The land was transferred to a Land Bank which was administered by the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Ministry.
The University of Botswana Okavango Research Centre, Director Professor Joseph Mbaiwa argues that he will be happy to see the land being handed back to the communities in hot spot tourism areas in Okavango and Ngamiland.
According to Mbaiwa the decision by government to grab land from the communities has disempowered the communities from the resources that they have been relying on for their own livelihood.
Mbaiwa is hopeful that since there is a change of government there is hope that under President Mokgweetsi Masisi the communities will be handed back their concession areas.
“If it was under Khama I would tell them to forget because he was not going to listen to them as he has done while in the office when communities were against the government decision to take concessions from them”, added Mbaiwa.
Mbaiwa remain hopeful that Masisi will consider the community request as it has been an ongoing battle.
Mbaiwa stated that after the government took concession areas a decision that left many communities residing in abundant resources to have wallowed in poverty.
He said that before the communities owned concession areas and they were able to negotiate with investors who were interested in joint venture partnership with the communities.
Mbaiwa indicated that the community engaged investors who offered better returns from investors who also played gave back to communities through their corporate social responsibility.
“Currently the government engage investors and grant them lease. The investor is not obliged to consult the communities. The communities are only told that they will be given a certain amount of money a move that I think is wrong since communities are now spectators ,”said Mbaiwa.
He indicated that the communities have lost power in terms of running concession areas that belong to them.
However the NCONGO Executive Board in their scathing attack titled “Land Distribution in Ngamiland with Emphasis on the famous and Pristine Okavango Delta” demands that the land should be handed back to the community trusts.
NCONGO indicated that their demands comes after a long battle with the government after the land was grabbed from the communities in Ngamiland with the sole intention of leasing such community concessions to investors.
The NGO also stated in the letter that the government went ahead to grab land from communities without consultation with Ngamiland Community Trusts, tribal leadership, and the community at large.
“We at NCONGO are of the position that leasing concessions to community trusts is the best model because the local communities are guaranteed 90% of employment in the companies that enter into partnership with the Trust, therefore reducing poaching and taking of other resources. The second benefit is the skills brought by investors who train local communities in various trades,” the NGO explained.
The NGO Executive board further indicated that communities have been using money accrued from the concession areas through joint venture partnership for community developments, sponsoring students in tertiary schools, sponsorship of soccer tournaments and teams such as the Sankuyo Bush Bucks, adopting schools, funding small commercial enterprises like general dealers, mortuaries and campsites for the benefit of communities.
The NGO further stated that these projects are identified by the communities and funded though the money attained from the concessions.
The NGO argues that the Land Bank Policy goes against the Tribal Land Act and Community Based Natural Resources Management policy which promoted community participation in conservation and livelihood improvement.
NCONGO also noted that they are against the Land Bank Policy where the Ngamiland communities through their trusts have been side-lined in land distribution.
The letter further state that the community concession leases have now been awarded to Tour Operators unlike in the past where the leases were issued to the community trust who then sub-leased to tour operators through a public tender so that the communities can get the maximum benefits of their resources.
The letter stated that the government has always been getting what is due to it being annual royalties and other levies as stipulated in the lease agreements.
The NGO is of the view that the current standoff between government and tribal leadership in the country in regard to distribution of land is a sign that the time has come for the government to extensively engage the communities.