Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Like that of his predecessors, Khama’s policy on CKGR has failed

A few weeks after he was inaugurated President of Botswana, President Ian Khama visited the Central Kalahari Game Reserve including such areas like New Xade where many of the people from inside the Reserve had been relocated by Government.

In just over a month of his presidency, President Khama had made no less than three visits to the CKGR.

Other than doling out blankets during his visits, President Khama also arrived at the CKGR bearing news that he wanted a fresh start on the relations between government and people of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

He even invited some of the Basarwa leadership to his office for discussion with government on how to resolve their long standing differences.

At the time we commended the President for ushering in a different air; that of regarding Basarwa as equals, especially his disposition to want to give them an opportunity to say out their minds which was a stark departure from erstwhile government mentality of talking at them rather than talking to them.
We are however sorry to observe that almost five years on, there has not been any positive real movement towards resolving Basarwa grievances.

If anything the situation has been allow to regress and it now threatens to explode. We have missed a golden opportunity.

While things at the CKGR have always been terrible, under Khama they could be worse.
This is because unlike his predecessors he is personally involved, not just as leader of a government, but also as a businessman.

Khama’s and his family commercial interests in the tourism sector are well known.

Specifically, Wilderness Safaris, a company in which Khama has a significant stake, happens to have operations in the CKGR. And this has made the situation all the more untidy.

The President’s commercial interests complicate relations even more.

We want to point out from the onset that we are worried that should Khama allow his commercial interests to cloud his judgment on this matter, Botswana stands to lose out.

As a country Botswana has already had a lot of its public image damaged in the eyes of the international community as a result of perceptions created over the CKGR.

Nobody wants a repeat of the showdown that characterized relations between Basarwa and government for almost two decades, starting in the early 1990s.

In fact as a country we are currently ill-prepared to confront the challenges that will come with it, should the matter explode again as it threatens to do. There is a pattern of events which show that unless steps are taken Botswana as a country is headed for an era which we had come to think was behind us ÔÇô fighting a public relations war against world organisations over our policies at the CKGR.

Compared to the era that was the previous encounter in the 1990s and beyond where Botswana had come into it with her stock very high in terms of image, today we are as country standing on a lower moral ground.

While we used to be regarded as an exceptional case when it comes to observance of human rights, today we are regarded just as any other third world country that has lost its way in many fronts.
Not only that. A fight over CKGR is simply not worth it.

As a country our priorities should be towards putting our economy on track, getting people back to work by creating jobs, rather than plunging into a public relations runaway fight with one of our country’s most disempowered tribes ÔÇô a showdown that as history has shown our government would lose.
There is ample evidence that even though Basarwa have won court cases against government, the state behavior has at best been begrudging and at worst out right humiliating.

Not only is state-sponsored harassment continuing against Basarwa in the CKGR, there is also growing evidence to suggest that government has not fully complied with court judgments which found that Basarwa had every right to remain inside the Reserve.

Instead of seizing on an opportunity to make sure that those Basarwa who stayed inside the Reserve did so honorably and with dignity, government, through her many agencies like game scouts and police, embarked on making Basarwa’s stay in the Reserve as miserable as possible.

We call on President Ian Khama to work at ensuring that his government protects Basarwa.

Basarwa have already suffered too long and too badly at the hands of both government and other majority ethnic groups.

They cannot afford to once again be victims of government policies that put commercial interests above those of their own, especially when as is the case they went out of their way to exhaust all avenues open to them through the court to prove that government had treated them badly, unfairly and with no humanitarian considerations.

Reports of police beatings threaten to spark a campaign against Botswana led by such global organisations like Survival International.

As a country we can avoid such a meaningless encounter, which as we have pointed out can only distract us from our immediate national priorities. We also doubt today’s government has the stamina, let alone the intellect, to engage the world community as its predecessors tried but with little to show for it.

While his policy on the CKGR has so far been a total failure, President Khama, we want to point out, still has a window of opportunity on his side to avert this showdown.
We hope he will rise to the occasion.

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