BY MOSIDI MOKAEYA
Maun based Professor at the Okavango Research Institute, Joseph Mbaiwa, has dismissed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Trans-frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) as mere paper parks.
“They only sound great on paper and this will not change unless the highly lucrative tourism activities in the parks bring real benefit to communities living in and around them,” he said.
The SADC TFCA Programme, Mbaiwa said, has not made any difference although it is coordinated at regional level.
“About 30% of Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) TFCA are in Botswana but communities in the area live in abject poverty. Ordinary people of KAZA and other TFCAs across the region have no clue about the SADC TFCA Programme although it directly affects them,” he said. He regretted TFCAs remain a top down programme with affected communities mostly kept in the dark.
“People who live in TFCAs do not even know what a TFCA is. Public education on the subject is non-existent,” said Mbaiwa.
Commenting on the state of affairs in the Okavango Delta, Mbaiwa said the linkages between the tourism and the local economy are extremely poor.
“Ideally destination areas like the Okavango Delta should have the ability to create strong linkages with the domestic economy,” said Mbaiwa.
Most of the operators in the region do not use local booking companies or travel agencies, most of them use international agencies based outside the region especially in Europe and America where most of the tourists originate.
“As a result of this arrangement, the region is denied the service fees and all its associated benefits as they accrue to outside providers. There is nothing wrong with booking from outside KAZA for instance but there is everything wrong when there is no filtration of such funds into the local economy and establishments,” said Mbaiwa.
Local commercial banks and booking companies, Mbaiwa said, would greatly benefit from the tourism industry in the region if money was made to pass through the local establishments.
“Locals booking companies and banks should be able to take a part of the tourism business in KAZA. What we have is a situation where booking that is done directly outside the region especially in Europe and America creates employment opportunities in those countries and huge amounts of money in banks out there while nothing filtrates through to Botswana or KAZA or even SADC,” he said.
He added: “This approach in doing business denies the region including Botswana the necessary tax money since these booking companies and banks are paying tax out there.
Despite the well intended KAZA TFCA programme, tourism benefits outside economies in terms of employment opportunities, tax and rental income. Banks and booking companies out there rent buildings to operate.
Mbaiwa said SADC can do better by insuring that citizens become involved in the tourism industry.
“Political will by respective governments is needed. Namibia has reportedly come up with a law that requires that all the companies operating tourism in that country should have 51% citizen ownership. This is a great start and other member states can learn from the initiative. Business, money, jobs and tax all go to Namibia,” said Mbaiwa.
He said the Namibian Government is trying to retain the money in the country and encourage citizens to be involved in the tourism industry.
“At the same time Namibia is making sure that there is partnership between locals and outsiders who may have the knowledge and skills to operate tourism businesses,” Mbaiwa said.
Meanwhile in Botswana’s case, Mbaiwa was quick to point out that the tourism industry is marred by corruption.
“The local tourism industry is a multi-billion industry with many players. Because of its nature, there has been corruption in the industry which can bring the economy of Botswana down. There is corruption in Botswana’s tourism industry and we will need to deal with it before it gets worse. Citizen participation in the industry needs to be given a priority, so are issues of human wildlife conflicts in these rich tourism destinations,” Mbaiwa said.
He said agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail trade, transport, banking and insurance services, water and electricity, social and personal services should have a continuous boost from KAZA.
“This suggests that the tourism industry in a destination area is expected to have backward and forward linkages with other sectors of the domestic economy.
This is not the case with the tourism industry in the Okavango Delta hence operators buy their food supply including vegetables from South Africa,” he said.
He added that agriculture is one of those sectors where government has invested lots of money but the output is low and poor.
“Farmers in Botswana are on the other hand incapacitated to feed the industry, poor packaging and consistency in supply of their products is still very low therefore operators buy food outside the country,” he said.
The tourism industry especially in KAZA TFCA entails a network of booking agencies that take care of tourists’ travel arrangements.