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Basarwa oppose Nkates Ngamiland business

Three years after government awarded it the tender for management of Tsaro Lodge, Kgori Safaris, a company jointly owned by Botswana Democratic Party politician Jacob Nkate has failed to get an operating license from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism.

In an interview Nkate said: “yes I can confirm that three years down the line we have still not been granted a license for Tsaro Lodge.  We are still negotiating with the ministry. I will not comment more on the issue for fear of prejudicing our negotiations with the ministry.” Minister Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama recently told Weekend Post that there has been a delay in the issuance of a license for Tsaro as the lodge’s previous owners, Khwai Development Trust have a case before the courts relating to the lodge. “KDT has gone to court. But I want to make it clear that one of the directors of Kgori is a Motswana,” he said at the time.

Basarwa community oppose Kgori Safaris

Under the Community Based Natural Resources Programme, KDT was granted exclusive rights holder of Wildlife Management Areas of NG 18 and 19 for the purpose of development of tourist activities and management of natural resources for the general benefit of and improvement of the Basarwa community of Khwai village. Under this programme KDT was issued with a lease agreement by Tawana Land Board of Tsaro lodge, a lodge located on a five hectares piece of land in NG 19. However in 2014, NG 18 and 19 were transferred to the controversial tourism land bank that communities say is illegal.

The ownership of the lodge is embroiled in controversy with KDT claiming its award to Kgori was fraudulent.  The spokesperson of the Basarwa community, Baefesia Sango, told WeekendPost in an interview that their belief as the community is that Kgori did not meet requirements to be awarded the lodge.  He said the assessment process conducted by Botswana Tourism Organisation that chose Kgori among the companies that bid for it was shrouded in secrecy.

In the award letter dated 15 October 2014, then Permanent Secretary in the then Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Neil Fitt awarded Kgori Safaris the tender to operate the lodge. The letter read in part that “we are pleased to inform you that your bid for Tourism Utilization and Management of Tsaro Lodge (Tender Number: 1.09/10314/NG 19 (2) has been successful”. Sango and the community’s argument is that the PS did not have powers to award the tender.

The award was subject to the following: that Kgori provide proof of consent for funds from both directors of the company, as well as to provide certified supporting documents from financial institutions providing funding for the project. Further, Kgori was asked to provide a revised Social Corporate Responsibility (CSR) plan with concrete timelines and deliverables for the duration of the lease to be awarded. Fitt lastly asked Kgori to provide details on staff ablutions as this was not captured in the company proposal. In 2016, Kgori Managing Director Jim Van Ransburg told this journalist that Kgori was looking to invest handsomely on employment creation and education opportunities for the about 600 Khwai residents.

However, Sango said in 2007, “Government refused to give KDT a license to operate the lodge saying they used permanent building materials to build it contrary to building requirements in the Okavango Delta that say only temporary materials should be used.” He further said government advised that the trust must put the lodge up for tender so that the company that wins it will bear the costs for demolishing it and building a new lodge. “But in 2014, Kgori was allowed to operate the lodge under its current brick status while we were denied. Why?” Sango asked rhetorically.

He said because they had heeded government’s advice to put the lodge up for a tendering process  in 2014, KDT approached BTO in 2014 to help them look for a partner to operate the lodge.  Sango said BTO then prepared terms of reference for the tender which he said stipulated that KDT was the one that will choose the company to award the lodge tender to.  “BTO’s mandate was to shortlist three companies and recommend those companies to us to choose from.”

Three months after the process commenced they learnt that Kgori had been awarded the tender.    “We just heard on the streets that it had been awarded without our consent,” Sango said, adding that the trust has since incurred lots of costs on the lodge saying in 2005, KDT received P 2, 5 Million funding from GEF to maintain the lodge. Sango revealed that the terms of reference clearly stipulated that the successful bidder will be required to enter in to a formal lease agreement with the KDT under facilitation by BTO as per the draft lease agreement forming part of the tender documents.

Sango said when they queried why the lodge was given to Kgori without their consent they were told that NG 19, the land where Tsaro is located, has been transferred to the tourism land bank and therefore as the community they ceased to have powers over the award of the tourism concessions. They were further told that under the land bank, the tenderer chosen, Kgori Safaris, will enter in to agreement with government through Botswana Tourism not the trust as it used to be the case.

According to Sango, however in January 17, 2017, KDT’s lease for Tsaro lodge expired and when they applied for a new lease from Tawana Land Board the land board turned them down. He said through their lawyers, Dingake Law partners they are challenging Tawana Land Board’s refusal to grant them the lease extension.

Sango said as KDT they are calling on government to stop BTO from meddling in affairs of community trusts and concentrate on marketing Botswana. He further posited that government must scrap off the tourism land bank saying its illegal as only the land board has powers over the tribal land.

Ngamiland Communities want the land bank scrapped off

Meanwhile the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NCONGO) has called on government to get rid of the tourism land bank and revert to the former system of tourism concessions allocation. Advocating against the land bank, NCONGO tourism says lands should be issued to the   respective Trust and not government through the BTO.

A statement said NCONGO watched as the Government, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Conservation and Tourism, grabbed land from the communities in Ngamiland District with the sole intention of leasing such community concessions to investors. It said through the Land Bank policy, which has never been availed to Ngamiland Community Trusts, tribal leadership, and the community at large, the concessions in Tribal Land are and have been transferred to the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism for purposes of ease of doing business for the tourism sector.

NCONGO said it is of a position that leasing concessions to community trusts is the best model because the local communities are guaranteed 90% of employment in the companies that enter into partnership with the Trust, therefore reducing poaching and taking of other resources. It says the second benefit is the skills brought by investors who train local communities in various trades.

The statement stated that NCONGO is in support of investors coming to Botswana, however where the land already has Leasehold, Private Public Partnership should be employed and or the investors should be encouraged to enter into Joint Venture Partnership with the local business people or the community trust.

The statement followed the saga relating to the firing of four Tawana land board members by former Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele.  The four were allegedly fired for refusing to approve a land award to British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson. In the statement NCONGO appreciated ‘the bravery of the four Tawana Land Board- Board Members who were dismissed from work in regard to their stance pertaining issuance of land to one of the rich investors without following proper channels’.

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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.

Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”

Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.

On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.

He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”

President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.

“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”

When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.

“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”

He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.

“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:

He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”

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Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks

24th March 2023

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.

“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”

In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.

It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.

Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.

President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”

In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”

He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.

“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”

Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”

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Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV

24th March 2023

Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”

Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.

“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”

He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.

In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.

Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.

Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”

“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”

Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.

“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”

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