Kenya’s Ogiek people, one of the last hunter-gatherer ethnic communities in East Africa, have joined a call by rights groups to the Botswana government to allow Basarwa families relocated from the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve to return home.
Basarwa were relocated to settlements outside CKGR in 1997 as a result of government plans to set aside the protected area for wildlife and tourism development. Rights groups have claimed that Basarwa were forcibly removed from their ancestral land to make way for diamond exploration in the CKGR. The government has maintained that the emphasis has always been on persuasion and voluntary relocation.
Addressing a press conference on their return from a fact-finding mission to New Xade, one of the settlements, Ogiek representatives Kiplangat Cheruyot and Mpoiko Kobei, said the evicted Basarwa families were living in squalor and shame in the resettlement areas. “Their lives, culture and tradition have been disrupted through the evictions.
Families have been torn apart and the conflict between the people and the government agencies has induced a state of permanent fear,” Cheruyot said.
The Ogiek said their visit was a sign of solidarity with the CKGR Basarwa and their representative organisation, the First People of the Kalahari (FPK).
According to Kobei, Botswana could learn from Kenya, which had after some resistance turned around to help its ethnic communities run profitable ecotourism ventures from the reserves.
Cheruyot echoed this view. “Kenya fought its hunter-gatherers, mountain and forest people for decades, but the government realised its mistakes and gave indigenous hunter-gatherer people like ours title deeds for land. They helped the people to own and manage the wildlife resources in their areas, and draw the benefits of exploitation. I am sure Botswana can learn from our experience.”
Basarwa launched a legal challenge against their relocation from the CKGR in 2002. Deliberations on Basarwa’s claim began recently and a judgment is expected on December 13.
The Botswana National Front, the opposition political party, announced that it planned to hold mass protest next week over Basarwa evictions