Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Survival International issues a fresh warning to Botswana Government

The message from Survival International to President Ian Khama is stark; if your government does not stop harassing Basarwa, we will re-start an international campaign against Botswana tourism and diamond sectors.

This was said by Alice Bayer, the Press Officer for the London-based Non-Governmental Organisation in an interview with Sunday Standard.

Survival International is of the view that since 2009 when Basarwa took Botswana Government to court and won over what they perceived as forced and illegal relocations from the Central Game Reserve, the Botswana Government has not relented in its persecution of Basarwa.

Even worse, many of the problems that Basarwa had gone to court over remain unresolved, said Bayer.
“We are considering restoring the campaign. We are not there yet but what decision we take will in every way be determined by the behaviour of Botswana Government,” said Bayer.

She said Botswana government has to stop what she said is routine, government orchestrated persecution of Basarwa.

These, Bayer said, included arrests, refusal to issue special hunting licenses, beatings by law enforcement agencies as well as a determined refusal by Botswana Government to honour the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments both of which found in favour of Basarwa.

She emphasised the fact that Survival International has not yet made a decision, adding that when that happens, key targets will be Botswana’s tourism sector and the country’s diamond mining industry.

The reason why tourism and diamonds are targets of choice is too fold; the first reason is purely economic. Diamonds and tourism are Botswana’s two top-most revenue earners.

Another reason, argues Survival International, is that Basarwa of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve are victims of government policies that have effectively benefited diamond mining and tourism companies that have since descended on the Reserve following what has since become hollow legal victories for Basarwa to be allowed a free stay in the Reserve.

Botswana Government and Survival International are locked in a fierce interpretation battle of the judgments. While Botswana governments holds that the judgments apply only to a hundred or so applicants who had appended their names on the papers that appeared before the courts, for their part, Survival International says that the judgments should be read and interpreted generously to include even those Basarwa whose names were not on papers but who nonetheless were relocated from the reserve.

“Government treatment of Basarwa has been very bad. It is getting worse. Routinely, Basarwa are arrested, beaten up and intimidated. And these apply to children who often are also arrested for no good reason.”

But how is Survival International able to confidently make these damning accusations seated as they are thousands of miles away in an office somewhere in Central London? “We have contacts on the ground. For obvious reasons we can’t reveal who they are, but we have no reason not to believe them.

The fact that Botswana Government has not respected court decisions is there for all to see; up to this day not a single hunting license has been issued and intimidations are the order of the day,” said Bayer.

The clearest pre-emptive strike of what to expect comes from the Director of Survival International, Stephen Corry. Writing in this edition of the paper, Corry says not a single special game licence for subsistence hunting in the reserve has been granted for over a decade.

He adds that Basarwa’s handful of goats and donkeys are frequently stopped from entering the reserve along with Basarwa themselves while some are given only one month’s ‘permit’, with threats of arrest if they ‘overstay’.

“It’s worth noting that foreign tourists can spend three times longer in Botswana, with no visa or permit, than the original inhabitants of the country can spend in their homeland ÔÇô even with a permit, which by law they don’t need! All this amounts to much more than just harassment. Two years ago, the Appeal Court described the government’s ‘degrading’ treatment of Basarwa in the CKGR as a ‘harrowing story of human suffering and despair’, but the force of that ruling has clearly had no impact on the president. Not only has no apology ever been offered, the government is now right back to its bad old ways.”

He says government’s ill treatment of Basarwa is rooted on minister’s determination to profit from diamonds and other resources in the reserve, a charge the government will no doubt have a difficult time shooting down.

Besides the fact that government has issued prospecting licenses effectively covering the entire Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a number of tourism companies are also heavily present, chiefly led by Wilderness Safaris of which President Khama, a number of his advisors and some opposition politicians are shareholders.

While his office had earlier sought to deny that President Khama is a shareholder of Wilderness Safaris, Sunday Standard has information to the effect that the president was one of the big investors in the tourism outfit at a time when the company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange.

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Sunday Standard August 9 – 15

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 9 - 15, 2020.