Monday, November 29, 2021

Survival International’s tourism boycott may have begun to bite

In line with war strategy that requires combatants to not reveal details of casualties, the Botswana government would be disinclined to admit that the two-year international tourism boycott spearheaded by Survival International (SI) is hitting it where it hurts the most. However, a recent development suggests that that may be the case.

Among a high-powered delegation that flew to the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) last Monday morning were the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama and Thabo Dithebe, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO). Tourism has come to occupy centre stage in the current stand-off between the government and SI. The latter has called for an international boycott of Botswana’s tourism until the government gives free rein to the Gwi and Gana communities native to the game reserve. SI is always keen to stress that the reserve is the latter’s ancestral land. In its latest campaign, SI wants the Botswana government to restore all basic services it provided to the residents as well as to allow them to hunt game.

In January last year and as part of the tourism boycott, SI’s operatives targeted BTO stands at the Adventure Travel Show in London and the Fitur Travel Fair in Madrid handing out hundreds of flyers to visitors and tourism industry professionals to draw attention to “Botswana’s persecution of Africa’s last hunting Bushmen.” Two international travel companies, Travelpickr and Horizonte Paralelo joined the boycott, with the latter releasing a statement that said it was “deeply troubled to … learn about the degrading treatment of the Bushmen at the hands of the government.” The boycott took the form of these companies cancelling pending tour requests for Botswana as well as suspending all tours and blocking tour requests to Botswana.

Minus lifting the hunting ban, the government now wants to normalise the CKGR situation and this past Monday, a high-powered delegation led by ministers Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Slumber Tsogwane (Local Government and Rural Development) and Khama was flown to the CKGR in three helicopters, two from the Botswana Defence Force and one from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Two days prior, an advance team of government officials from Gantsi had visited the settlements of Molapo, Metsiamanong and Mothomelo to consult residents on plans to restore basic services that were discontinued in 2001. Another team will visit Gugama settlement this week.

Throughout the government has resisted pressure from SI and other organisations but a source says that last week’s engagement suggests both change of heart and a new sense of urgency. At this stage it is unclear how much impact the boycott has had on Botswana’s tourism but whatever the case, SI is not letting up its campaign. On its website, the pressure group is urging netizens to write protest letters to President Ian Khama and Botswana diplomatic missions in their countries as well as sign a standard letter to Minister Khama. The latter reads: “I am appalled by your government’s treatment of the Bushmen of the CKGR. Until their right to live freely on their land without permits is recognized, I’m not coming to Botswana.” At press time, the SI website showed that the pressure group was less than 600 emails short of its target of 10 000. Those in the United Kingdom and the United States are being urged to write to their political representatives.

At least by its own claim, SI says that its campaign against De Beers was the reason the diamond mining company sold off its deposit at Gope within the CKGR to Gem Diamonds. The Gope mine (which has been renamed Ghaghoo) contains a deposit worth an estimated $4 billion and was officially opened last September. Besides SI, a peer in the British House of Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has, since 1997, been a vigorous campaigner for the rights of San communities living in the CKGR, raising questions in the upper house of parliament every now and then. Like SI, he wants the Botswana government to allow the residents to live freely in the game reserve.


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