Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the CKGR

Recently, there has been a spate of articles in the local newspapers on the CKGR relocation issue. Although the views expressed therein offer nothing new to the debate, the Ministry feels obliged to comment at this stage, to set the record straight, so that the public is given a balanced view.

The articles demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the issue by their authors. The authors lack foresight and, to a large degree, are mischievous as  evidenced in their readiness to shamelessly parrot and recycle the baseless allegations made by Survival International, allegations which have been discredited and proven to be false, not only by the Government of Botswana, but by  numerous independent observers, locally and abroad.

On the issue of the CKGR relocation, the Government has always maintained that it is not averse to the fact that there are citizens who disagree or may disagree with its policies and programmes. Like in any democratic society, there will always be a few people who may disagree with the views, wishes and interests of the majority, as it is clearly the case in the CKGR relocation issue. The individuals who disagree with Government on this issue have taken Government to court as it is their right to do so.

From the articles in question, it would seem that the authors are misled into believing that a majority of the people who relocated from the CKGR are against the relocation, when in reality, only a handful are against. Resorting to campaigns of such extra-ordinary fabrications, to incite the public against Government and the wishes and interests of the majority, of the people who voluntarily relocated from the CKGR, is simply a grave disservice to a people who definitely need to be assisted to exit a life of grinding poverty.

Government maintains that the decision to relocate people from the CKGR, while unpopular with a few, was necessary, to, amongst others, insure food security and socio-economic advancement opportunities, not only of the former residents of the CKGR, but for the thousands of people, living in the south-western part of the country who are also dependent on the wildlife resources of the CKGR for their livelihood opportunities.

Some quarters have questioned this approach and called for the CKGR to be divided into two parts, one part for wildlife and the other for human settlement. In our view, such a proposal simply lacks foresight, as it would not only interfere with the migratory routes of wildlife, but would also deny others access to this critical resource. Also, it would mean relocating some of the residents, such as those who resided at Molapo, to locations south of the boundary, which, in all fairness, is all the same as relocation outside the Game Reserve.

As a number of independent observers and the majority of the former residents of the CKGR attest, relocation outside the Game Reserve offers access to far more superior services and better life prospects than was the case when they lived inside the Game Reserve. It is through this access that the people could be assisted to address the problems of unemployment, alcoholism and poverty.

Government is under no illusion that the problems and challenges faced by the former residents can be eradicated overnight. The residents were, before relocation, consulted and these matters explained to them over a period of 11 years. They requested that they be relocated in 1996 and they selected for themselves the locations to settle outside the Game Reserve.

Allegations that the relocation denies Basarwa access to the CKGR and the right to live where they choose are false and misleading. The former residents of the CKGR, like all citizens of Botswana, have the right to apply for and be allocated a piece of land anywhere in the country and to use that land for the purpose provided for under the land tenure system within which it falls. Development of permanent settlements inside National Parks and Game Reserves is not allowed in the country, as it was realized that it creates land use conflicts. The CKGR is no exception to this rule. The CKGR is also not the ancestral land of Basarwa. Basarwa (San) communities have for thousands of years lived and continue to live across the entire territory of Botswana and Southern Africa. The people who resided in the Reserve were made up of people of multi-ethnic and multi-lingual backgrounds and to lump them all together as Basarwa is grossly misleading.

It should also be noted that the former residents of the CKGR can visit the Reserve for spiritual purposes or visits to the gravesites of their departed loved ones. All that is required of them is to obtain a permit, issued to them free of charge, stipulating the duration and purpose of their visit. 

This is done because movement into and out of all National Parks and Game Reserves in the country is monitored and controlled and the CKGR is not an exception.

Allegations that Basarwa are not allowed to hunt are also baseless. Government has made special provisions for the former residents to have access to game meat. They are issued with Special Game licenses which entitle them to hunt in Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) adjacent to the Reserve.  The terrain in these WMAs is similar to that in the Reserve and as the CKGR is not fenced, wildlife moves freely between the Reserve and the WMAs. This is movement which enables other communities in that region access to this resource.

As for utilizing the wildlife resource in the Game Reserve, the former residents have been mobilized to form Community Trusts which will manage community projects once the Management Plan for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is approved and implemented.

The potential that lies ahead for the former residents of the CKGR is clearly illustrated in the example set by the Sankoyo community, which lives near the Moremi Game Reserve in the North West district.  The community established the Sankoyo Tshwaragano Management Trust, which runs a lodge and campsite in the area. Revenue generated through these projects enabled the community to provide the following to its members in 2005;
 
– P300 monthly stipend for the elderly in the community (60 years and above)
 
-  P500 at the end of the year for all households in the community;
 
-  7 houses/shelter for the under-privileged;
 
-  food baskets for all orphans in the community;
 
-  sponsorship for tertiary education for JC and form 5 leavers in the community;
 
-  financial support for bereaved families;
 
-  loan scheme of up to P30 000 for community members at very low interest rate;
 
-  standpipe installation for all 53 households in the community  and waterborne toilets are reportedly in the pipeline; and
 
-  P50 000 donation to Masiela Trust Fund.
 
The Sankoyo Trust has in its employ, 20 members of that community.

This is what Government envisages for the former residents of the CKGR. Those who are inciting the former residents to resist Government efforts to assist them improve their stations in life have offered nothing other than imaginary images of people living in isolation and game-meat feasts inside the Reserve. This is a disservice to a people who need healthcare, education, clean water and other facilities and services that can help them, their children and future generations, lead sustainable livelihoods. The isolation called for is clearly a recipe for a vicious cycle of poverty and it will be foolhardy for anyone to regard poverty as another human being’s culture.

Lastly, reference has also been made in a number of commentaries to the issue of the ILO Convention 169. Unfortunately, the views expressed by the authors only serve to expose their lack of understanding and/or comprehension of the ongoing debate surrounding ILO 169 and other indigenous issues. If it does not surprise them that, despite the fact that ILO Convention 169 was drafted almost three decades ago, it has so far been ratified by only 17 out of a total UN membership of 192 states, then there is, unfortunately, something terribly wrong with them. This is a convention that no nation in Africa or Asia has ever ratified, neither has Australia, Canada, New Zealand, USA, UK, etc, for the simple reason that, there is no consensus on most of its crucial provisions, which are regarded by many, including Botswana, as artificial, unrealistic, simply rhetorical and irrelevant. This Convention, in other words, is fundamentally flawed.

Our sincere advice to the authors of these commentaries is to first make an effort to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the subject matter, which may no doubt prove a little complex, before they rush to make misleading, uninformed and simplistic pronouncements. It may also be helpful to some of the authors to spare a little effort towards familiarizing themselves with the policies, programmes and initiatives targeted at remote area communities in the country by both Government and Non-Governmental Organizations.

We have no doubt that this would empower them to make meaningful contributions to the debate surrounding the welfare of Basarwa communities in Botswana.

On its part, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stands ready and willing to assist them and anybody with information it has on these issues and where it is unable to, it will make every effort to direct them to those who may be able to provide the information they require. Our contacts are Tel: (267) 3600763, 71642458, Fax: (267) 3913366, e-mail [email protected] or feel free to visit us at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Clifford Maribe is Director (Public Relations, Reseaerch and Information in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

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