Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Which party, between Khama and DWNP, is sabotaging Botswana’s tourism?

Nowhere in his strongly-worded press statement does the Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Dr. Kabelo Senyatso, openly accuse former president Ian Khama of sabotaging Botswana’s tourism. However, the words he uses describe sabotage and Khama himself understood and responded to them in such context.

“The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) is aware of a social media post that purports that ‘in 18 months about 120 rhinos with and without horns have been slaughtered’ and that ‘after corona there will be none left for tourists to come and see’. The DWNP is disappointed at the tone of the post, which is regrettable coming from a former very high ranking Government official who should otherwise be aware of the security sensitivities of the subject matter, and its potential negative implication on tourism, which is the second highest foreign revenue earner for the country. The motive for the post is unclear, but borders on economic sabotage.”

The last paragraph reads: “Members of the public are requested to verify any anti-poaching data with DWNP before making irresponsible and misleading statements that may have a negative implication on Botswana. Batswana are urged to jealousy guard our wildlife and heritage resources against ill-intentioned posts, such as the one cited above.”

What Senyatso quotes in the first sentence are statements that Khama had made in Facebook the previous day following the killing of three rhinos by poachers.Years ago when he was personally attacked by Johnson Motshwarakgole at a national congress of the manual workers union, Khama said that as a soldier he fights back when someone attacks him. He has fought back, accusing the government that Senyatso works for of itself having displayed conduct that can have the net effect of sabotaging the economy.

“Economic sabotage is more about their inability or incompetence to rein in poaching, which has exploded in the last two years and as a result is going to cause great harm to our economy,” Khama told Sunday Standard in response to the charge that his own conduct borders on economic sabotage.

Going back to when he was still army commander, Khama was a key figure in a successful, if controversial anti-poaching campaign that was carried out under the ambit of what came to be known as the “shoot-to-kill” policy. The term “policy” is used loosely because there was never any official (meaning codified) government action plan to kill poachers. Post-office, Khama has sought to justify this tactic, telling a British newspaper called The Independent: “The shoot-to-kill policy is an operational procedure adopted by most countries and their security forces around the world, and applied depending on the situation at hand … An example of such a situation is where armed officers assigned to protect a VIP are confronted by an assassin, will draw their weapons and shoot to kill the assailant to save the life of the VIP.” The shoot-to-kill policy (such as it is) has now caused serious friction between Botswana and Namibia following last December’s killing of four Namibian fishermen/poachers – depending on whom you want to believe.

Khama also sees economic sabotage in the apparent “abandonment” of a tourism project that he pursued with vigour during his presidency. Himself a caving enthusiast, Khama sought to turn Gcwihaba Caves into a tourist venture. The caves are a UNESCO world heritage centre and were declared a national monument in 2006. They contain a unique geological formation of stalagmites, stalactites, dripstones and columns as well as an array of spectacular micro-formations of helictites, straws. They also support large colonies of four resident bat species. When he was Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Khama’s younger brother, Tshekedi Khama, told parliament that he (Khama) has helped obtain financial and other assistance from the private sector for the tourism project and had also fostered collaboration between museum professionals and international experts.

Tshekedi made this statement in the course of answering a question of the nature of his elder brother’s stewardship over the caves, which included custodianship of a door key to the caves. Kgatleng West MP, Gilbert Mangole, had asked Tshekedi about the significance of the caves and the likely impact of human activity on the area with respect to the “occasional leisure expeditions” by President Khama. The response was that Khama visited the caves not for leisure but exploration. In a different forum, the explanation for Khama’s custodianship of the caves was that one of them was kept under lock and key because it was inhabited by dangerous snakes and was therefore dangerous for members of a nearby community to enter. The cave is reportedly not easily accessible and one needs to expertly crawl on their stomach to navigate its passages.

In November 2018, Khama officially opened a metal staircase that goes into the caves at an event that was attended by his entire cabinet. Speaking at the event, then Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi thanked Khama for his “visionary leadership”, noting that he was always welcome to visit the caves even after leaving office. Khama has left office and confirms that he can still visit the caves. However, he is unhappy with inaction on an infrastructure development project to both develop and diversify tourism that he feels is going nowhere under Masisi. He says that like dam tourism, this is one of the projects that have been “abandoned” for the simple reason that he (Khama) was promoting them.

“This is real sabotage by them,” he charges.

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