It has just surfaced that, contrary to public perceptions created by the Office of the President last week, President Festus Mogae has not solicited any backing from opposition political parties over his policy to relocate Basarwa from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and against the London based NGO, Survival International.
According to the BCP (Botswana Congress Party) Vice President, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang, what Mogae and his minister of Foreign Affairs, General Mompati Merafhe, together with Director of Research in that ministry, Clifford Maribe, did was to brief opposition leaders on the story in “exactly the same way government has been briefing various interests, including people from overseas.”
Dr Gobotswang is particularly not impressed that an impression has been created that government is lobbying for support from them.
“Even if he had sought any support from us, as BCP, we are still to formally craft our party position on the matter,” said Gobotswang.
So far, BCP has been able to collect a mass of substantial data on the matter and this will guide them before forming an official opinion, he said.
Party experts briefed the party at its last conference in Maun, but there still has to be a field trip by the party officers to the CKGR and new resettlements to confirm some issues, he said.
Gobotswang said, in forming their position, BCP will be careful not to be influenced by the briefing they received last week from President Mogae and his aides.
Of particular concern to the BCP is to ascertain the real reasons behind the relocations.
“Government has been very shifty on this matter. So it’s very difficult for one to kind of really know their motives,” he said.
He also said there is a fundamental difference between government and the BCP with regard towards attitudes towards Basarwa.
“We have philosophical variances with government over the issue of these relocations. Other than that, we want the relevant treaties ratified; we view Basarwa as indigenous peoples, and the government does not,” said Gobotswang.
Without preempting his party position on the relocations, Gobotswang says government policy should demonstrate and allow room for compromise and flexibility, adding that government has to understand how difficult it is to win against “one issue Non Governmental Organisations like Survival International.”
“What did Botswana lose when it retreated in the dredging of the Boro near Maun a few years back when some environmental NGOs behaved like Survival International? Nothing,” says Gobotswang signaling that, personally, he does not think the fight is worth it.
Speaking from London, the Survival International Campaigns Coordinator, Fiona Watson, said her organisation welcomed the involvement of opposition parties in the matter.
“Survival welcomes the involvement of opposition parties in the CKGR issue. In a healthy democracy it is obviously the duty of the opposition parties to become involved in an issue such as this one that so seriously affects the human rights of a vulnerable group of people.
She, however, said for opposition parties to be well informed “we strongly urge their leaders to go into the CKGR and into the resettlement camps, independently of the government, and to speak directly to the affected Basarwa. They should not rely on government departments to provide them with information on this issue. Instead, they should be acting pro-actively, gathering their own information and challenging the government’s policies.”
“We would like to see the opposition parties pressing the government for a quick and just resolution of the CKGR issue,” she said.
Survival said they would also like to make it clear that it is not their intention to destroy the economy of Botswana.
“The issue is very easy to resolve and the government could resolve it quickly by simply letting the Basarwa return to their lands and letting them continue to hunt and gather there,” said Watson.
She said Basarwa of the CKGR asked Survival to run boycotts against tourism and diamonds.
“Botswana is part of an international community and the government has to realise that consumers have choices. In an increasingly aware world, consumers make their choices partly on the basis of human rights considerations. Survival will continue its campaign until the Basarwa are allowed home or until the Basarwa ask us to stop working on their behalf,” said Watson.