Sunday Standard (Botswana)

05 Mar 2019

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

On Friday we listened with interest to the state President Mokgweetsi Masisi speaking, passionately so, but with a heavy heart about the issue relating to the so called international conservationists and their attempt to discredit Botswana.

In his address to local journalists at a breakfast meeting, President Masisi spoke at length about how some people out there are seated in the comfort of their homes and trying very hard to lecturer Botswana about the management of species, “they don’t have”.

Masisi is right to interpret the outburst by the international community, more especially those of the white colour as being racist. It is indeed true that some of the so called conservationist care-less about the indigenous people of this country. They seem to see Botswana or Batswana as part of the “big African Zoo” that is meant to satisfy their adventure needs.

As the President said on Friday, no one should misrepresent his views or views of any other indigenous Motswana to equal sort of hatred against the whites or foreigners. The international community, more especially the white people should not be displaying their level of ignorance and arrogance in this manner. They should not be reminded of the generosity that the indigenous people of Botswana – the peace loving people of this country has afforded them over the past decades. As we write this less than two percent of Batswana owns or even operate multimillion concessions in the luxurious Okavango Delta. Instead of insulting and attempting to backstab Batswana, the white people who make millions after millions of Pulas through their businesses at hot tourists’ sites in Chobe, Ngamiland and Okavango district should be thankful. They should, infact be helping the country to come up with solutions to the human/wildlife conflict that we have been witnessing over the years.

The Elephants Without Borders (EWB) – the NGO that has been at the forefront of this campaign against Botswana might have been successful to fool the world that our country encourages poaching but they cannot stop the arrival of time when people of this country claim back what belongs to them.

Therefore President Masisi and his government need to fear no one in their attempt to position the people of this country to also become active players in the tourism sector. Toes might be stepped on.

We are where we are now because for a very long time as a country we never made any deliberate moves to tackle this issue. It was and still is our elephant in the room. One knows there is an elephant in the room when people seem uncomfortable and everyone knows the discomfort is there and no one wants to bring the issue up. Instead, in our case, everyone has been tiptoeing around it, with those in the corridors of power uniting in the unlikely hope that it will somehow go away by itself. This kind of problems never varnishes on their own and their consequences are detrimental not just to ordinary Batswana but whole economy.

We need to remind President Masisi that when we start ignoring contradictions, avoid careful reasoning and fail to ask probing questions, we also start to overlook problems. With the same breath, we continue to rest easy in the short term, but in the long term the same problems will build up. As this happens, the gulf between rhetoric & reality becomes hard to deny. This is where we are now. We are at a point where we can no longer avoid facing the sad reality before us. Toes might be stepped on. Some people might be disappointed & hurt in the process but one way or the other we need to find a solution immediately.

The bitter pill that we all need to swallow – starting with President Masisi is that to truly unleash our country’s potential, we need to tackle the concentration of ownership, control and market dominance by foreigners in leading sectors such as retail and tourism. This is the big elephant that is in our room that we need to face. This is the most discomfort topic that we should address without shame.

As we wrap up this commentary, we need to also state that our challenge as a country is not just changing the dynamics of the game in the tourism sector but also forced to reduce controls that hamper entrepreneurial dynamism and often bred corruption.

Going forward to be competitive, as a country we need to have citizens and leaders who think critically without favouring their political, religious or even racial affiliations.  We need to step on some toes. We need to make deliberate decisions as part of our economic reforms and this starts by opening up on issues such as the participation of locals in key sectors such as tourism.  There is no doubt that if properly managed, the tourism will continue being a valuable instrument for progress, job creation, infrastructure development and economic growth for our people. As such the #bottomline if need be, let us step on some toes for the sake of progress of our people.