Saturday, April 4, 2020

Thousands rural poor left in the lurch as claims of impropriety rocks BOCOBONET

Thousands of Botswana in rural areas who were hoping to escape poverty through the ambitious natural resource management project (NRMP) face an uncertain future as the major financier, Kellogg Foundation, threatens to withdraw funding amid allegations of financial mismanagement at BOCOBONET, the project drivers.

There are even speculations that the NGO may fold. BOCOBONET was registered as the Network for Community based Organizations in April 1999 and has established an office in Gaborone. The organization aims to promote the interests of its members involved in Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) by playing a mediating and advocating role between communities and service providers, including Government of Botswana, the private sector, NGOs and training institutes.

The project, however, faces ruin because the relationship between BOCOBONET and the major donor for the project, Kellogg Foundation, is on the skids and indications are that the sponsorship will not be renewed for the next financial year.

The relationship soured in September, when the Kellogg foundation started questioning the BOCOBONET executive’s decision to fire Ms Boitumelo Batungamile under mysterious circumstances. It is understood that Batungamile fell out with the BOCOBONET leadership when she started questioning the NGO’s financial propriety.

BOBONET Executive Director, Abel Mabei, did not take kindly to Kellogg Foundation’s queries, and in a strongly worded E- mail massage warned the donor to stay out of BOCOBONET’s business saying, “I am seriously perturbed by your gesture of authoritative attitude… I am equally worried by the manner in which you have chosen to communicate with me over the phone. I want you to know that it is not proper and correct….. I am not aware of any structure that will require the Board of BOCOBONET to take action against any of its employees only after prior permission from you.”

Kellogg foundation then sent a message asking for a meeting with both the BOCOBONET executive and the dismissed Batungamile who was allegedly making claims of financial mismanagement against the NGO. BOCOBONET executive, however, boycotted the meeting fuelling speculations that they had a lot to hide.

As the relationship between the NGO and its donor continued to freeze, the Kellogg Foundation Program Director, Dr Gloria Somolekae wrote to the BOCOBONET Executive Director that “BOCOBONET as one of our biggest grantees in Botswana has been selected for a financial systems and operations inspections of the two active grants that your organization is currently implementing….
“Our Finance Specialists, Ms. Sabina Brand and the Program Manager in my team Mr. Rest Kanju will visit BOCOBONET on October 11 and 12, 2007 to asses the current state of finances and systems of organization as they relate to the grant commitment and purpose.”

The situation, however, has been complicated by unconfirmed reports that Mabei, the BOCOBONET Executive Director, has now tendered his resignation letter before the Kellogg Foundation report on the state of the NGO’s finances is released.

The BOCOBONET project was hailed as a step in the right direction towards delivering rural folks from poverty.
In Botswana, due to the economic and social marginality of rural areas, the rate of urban migration has increased over the past decade to the point today that less than half of Botswana’s population resides outside of cities. Those who continue to base their livelihoods on the use of veldt and forest resources must cope with relatively fragile lands that only minimally support agriculture.

In the late 1980s, the government of Botswana began to implement a decentralized natural resource management policy promulgated on the premise that national conservation efforts would be enhanced if rural communities achieved economic benefits from the sustainable use of wildlife and veldt resources. Based on this principle the government of Botswana established the Natural Resources Management Project (NRMP) in 1991 to further develop and implement this policy in rural Botswana. NRMP enables rural communities that acquire legal standing and demonstrate organizational and management capacity to secure rights from the government to manage surrounding wilderness areas, including local resources, which can be used for their own consumption or turned to profitable enterprise.

BOCOBONET was registered as the Network for Community based Organizations in April 1999 and has established an office in Gaborone. The organization aims to promote the interests of its members involved in Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) by playing a mediating and advocating role between communities and service providers, including the Government of Botswana, the private sector, NGOs and training institutes.

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