By Lawrence Seretse
The ruling elite with President Ian Khama at the centre and a few foreigners has created a web of business interests around Botswana’s most valuable tourist areas, from the Okavango to the Kalahari Central Game Reserve.
The web welds family and friends together in one impenetrable group. Mmegi’s investigations tracing the business interests of Directorate of Intelligence and Security boss, Isaac Kgosi have inadvertently led to Wilderness Safaris, a company with connections to almost every member of the ruling elite, family and their friends.
The Khama that emerges is more than a conservationist but rather a keen investor in tourism, with an ever-widening web of business interests in the sector. For example, the President shares business interests with a well-known wildlife filmmaker, Dereck Joubert, to whom he gave a Presidential Award for his wildlife filmmaking. Khama was a business partner of Dereck’s older brother, Keith Eric Joubert who died last January.
Khama presented Joubert and his wife with a Presidential Order of Meritorious last September for, “both their conservation work and the outstanding impact that their films and books and appearances have brought to Botswana”. Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert own the Selinda Camp and Concessions. Selinda Camp is part of Wilderness Safaris Limited.
Khama is a director in a Kasane based tourism company called Baobab Safari Lodges Ltd. He has held an undisclosed stake alongside Susanne and Michael Sydney Slogrove and the late Keith Eric Joubert since 1999.
Baobab Safari Lodges is part of Wilderness Safaris Limited (WSL), another company that Khama has interests in. Wilderness owns 25.68% of Khama’s Baobab Safari Lodges.
Safari owners have pointed out that Joubert is Khama’s close friend and that he influenced the President to ban trophy hunting and take over the hunting concession areas and transfer them into photographic tourism. Khama’s relationship with the Jouberts goes as far as endorsing his wildlife documentary projects and books. The President wrote the foreword to Joubert’s DVDs and book, Eye of the Leopard (2009) and The Last Lions (2012). Besides, the government through Botswana Tourism sponsored The Last Lions promotion.
Khama holds a five percent stake in Linyanti Investments, another subsidiary of Wilderness Holdings Limited. Linyanti is the holding company for Wilderness Safaris subsidiaries and brands. Khama’s associates, the Slogroves used to run one of the only three crocodile farms in Botswana. They ran the Chobe Crocodile Farm in Kasane before they relocated to Victoria Falls. According to the Directory
of Crocodilian Farming Operations IUCN by R. A. Luxmoore, as early as 1987, the farm had 17 rearing ponds, four breeding ponds and over 1,000 crocodiles.
Government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay said that Khama could not respond to a Mmegi questionnaire until he returns from his expeditions, while the Jouberts could not be reached for comment for over a week.
“The President is up north but I sent your enquiries to his secretary’s office. They will follow up and issue a response,” Ramsay said.
However, Mmegi can reveal that Selinda Reserve used to be known as Linyanti Explorations (1976) until the Jouberts bought it in 2006 and transformed it into a walking safari and photographic camp.
Wilderness Safaris and the Great Plains Conservation are like two side of the same coin. Same company, different names though they own a few of the same safari camps. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are co-founders and CEOs of Great Plains Conservation.
The chairman of Wilderness Safaris is Baedzi Parks Tafa, Khama’s right-hand man, lawyer and chairman of the electoral board in the ruling party. Wilderness Safaris connects much more than Khama and his friends. It brings together the entire ruling elite. Mmegi’s early reports have exposed a Kgosi business operation in which former Debswana MD, Blackie Marole and former Botswana Defence Force commander, Tebogo Masire are business partners in a company called Sediba Properties which they still continue to co-own to-date.
In turn, it appeared that Sediba Properties is in partnership with Wilderness Safaris through a Maun-based company called Safari Adventure. Investigations revealed that Okavango Wilderness Safaris, which is a subsidiary of Wilderness Safaris Limited, held a 70% stake in Safari Adventure while Sediba Properties owns 30%.
Mmegi reported earlier this month that as the managing director of Debswana in 2010, Marole offered Kgosi’s private security company Silvershadows, a P200,000 ‘Security Risk Evaluation’ tender from Debswana.
Collin Bell, Chris MacIntyre and Russel Friedman started Wilderness Safaris in 1983. The company runs Botswana’s largest selection of private safari camps in the Chobe-Okavango area. Wilderness Safaris also owns the Kalahari Plains in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It owns a rather looser group of lodges under its umbrella of the recently established Safari Adventure.