Saturday, May 28, 2022

Hotels inside Chobe National Park will open a cesspool of corruption

Against all expert opinion, Botswana government is going ahead full steam to allow the construction of eight hotels inside the Chobe National Park. Just a few years ago, Botswana government would not even allow the erection of a single communications tower that had been requested by the BOCRA (the telecommunications regulator.) How things change. It would be interesting to know who will be the people behind the hotels. How many of the locals will benefit, not as menial labourers, but as hotel owners.

Early in the year this newspaper reported that Botswana Defence Force had bult a runway in the vicinity of two lodges owned by one Karim Kader. The response by BDF was both insincere and also untruthful. The fact that the said businessman and or his associates were basically supervising the BDF workmen as the army carried out the construction of project should leave us all ashamed. The eight hotels are by the way a continuation of a project started by the use of the BDF. It is not clear just what the Department of Wildlife and National Parks wants to achieve. But one thing is clear. The department has been cowed by sharks masquerading as politicians.

The Department of wildlife is run by some of the best trained civil servants in the entire public service. Top of these are well trained conservationists and scientists. But they have no backbones. They are unable to stand up to political pressure even when actions of their political masters threaten to destroy the much cherished trophies of tourism. Department of wildlife has apparently concocted a new Development Plan for Chobe National Park that effectively gives a greenlight to the construction of these hotels. They have amended a long standing Plan that prohibited such hotels and made a provision for not one, but eight such hotels. The scientists leading Department of  wildlife have shown a shocking lack of courage and a failure by them to stand up to the truth be a source of shame for them all.

Thankfully some organized groups have been vocal in their criticism of government plan. Not only is this plan not supported by science it is also not supported by economics. It is naked cronyism. It will end up not empowering the people of the Chobe, but the rich businesspeople who are already employed. There is little doubt that the envisaged changes will further fuel corruption. A very strange trend of land acquisition is fast emerging in this country. Not so long ago an announcement was made that a large chunk of land inside the Okavango Delta will be carved out for construction of holiday homes for the president’s guests. This on and by itself is shameful to say the least especially given the ecological sensitivities of the Okavango to any such large scale developments. Botswana has had a very successful policy of high cost, low volume tourism.

Are we abandoning it? Worse, actions by Botswana government risks backfiring. Countries from where tourists come from might just choose to boycott and turn their backs on Botswana tourism simply because of the disturbances that the manufacturers of the plan to allow the construction of eight hotels inside the national park will do to wildlife and to the environment. There is no question that corridors used by animals will be affected by this large number of hotels.

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