The ongoing debacle between residents of Khumaga village and the government of Botswana could have far reaching effects on Botswana’s respect for human rights as government has reneged on its compensation promises.
The erection of the fence in Khumaga which will cost government P36 million will see residents losing part of their land, which they have occupied since the pre-independence era. The idea of erection of a fence was coined by government under the pretence of separating the people from wild animals.
Khumaga is adjacent to Makgadikgadi National Park, something which has seen residents involved in wildlife and human conflicts as well as engaging in tourism activities such as operating camp sites. Despite the proposition by government, that the fence is meant to benefit both the residents and government, there are suspicions that the erection of the new fence is a multi-million pula ploy by tourism magnates, including President Ian Khama and his brother Tshekedi Khama, who is also Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, to advance their tourism interests.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, of which Botswana is a member, outlines principles to be pursued by government on issues regarding acquisition of land from indigenous people. The UNDRIP establishes in article 32(2) that states have a duty to consult indigenous peoples “in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources”.
Such consultations, according to UNDRIP , should comply with a number of minimum requirements, including that: “Consultations must be formal, full and exercised in good faith; there must be a genuine dialogue between governments and indigenous and tribal peoples characterized by communication and understanding, mutual respect, good faith and the sincere wish to reach an accord. UNDRIP also says that consultations have to be undertaken through indigenous and tribal peoples’ representative institutions; and also that consultations have to be “undertaken with the objective of reaching agreement or consent to the proposed measures”.
Despite Tshekedi making assuring statements in the past that he was determined to reach an amicable settlement decision with the residents, government gestures, such as continuing with installation of the fence suggests a different story. The Ngwande Trust, which is owned by the Khumaga community, has always believed that the decision to erect a new fence is a plan by the Tourism ministry to protect the interest of one of the leading tourism companies, Chobe Holdings which has numerous interests in tourism in Botswana, including in Boteti around Khumaga village. The Khamas have interests in Chobe Holdings with their nephew Dale Ter Haar serving as one of its directors.
Chobe Holdings, which is headquartered in Maun, is the mother company of Desert and Delta Safaris and Ker and Downey Botswana, which operates combined 19 luxury lodges and safaris in Botswana and Namibia. The lodge and safaris are sparsely located in tourism rich areas including Okavango, Maun and Boteti (where Khumaga is situated). Some of the lodges owned by Chobe Holdings’ two companies include Chobe Game Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango, Xugana Island Lodge and Leroo La Tau among others.
In 2013 Chobe Holdings challenged the ownership of Gwaraga land, a wildlife rich area owned by the Ngwande Trust. Chobe Holdings contended that Ngwande Trust’s acquisition of the land will conflict with its operations and argued that it was never consulted when the Land Board handed the land to the Trust. According to councillor for Khumaga/Moreomaoto Thomas Kgethenyane, the residents, though they opposed the government’s proposal, went into negotiation on “give and take basis” of which government agreed to some of their demands.
As per the initial agreement, government was to allow the community Trust and individuals who held camp site licences to continue having access to the other side of the fence and also to be allowed to operate their businesses freely. Recently, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Rule Jimmy Opelo accompanied by other officials from the ministry issued a directive that everybody should move to the other side of the fence contrary to the “give and take” preposition initially agreed on.
“We were informed the relocation affects everybody, and that there is no more space left on the other side of the fence for allocation of camp sites,” said Kgethenyane, “This is not what we agreed but government is going ahead with its plans.” WeekendPost has been informed that the government’s ‘bullying’ approach will see residents losing the land, lucrative farming areas as well as their camp sites leases and licences. As the conflict between government and Khumaga resident grows thick, councillor Kgethenyane has promised to bring the matter to the attention of the international community, if government continues with its action.
“As we speak, government is hiding information on the entry points after erection of this new fence. Everybody is in the dark about it despite earlier assurance by government that residents would be allowed to have access to the river,” he said. “The whole thing was a lie, people are being driven into poverty with no beneficiation in the tourism activities and people will lose their ploughing fields.”
KEY PLAYERS ON KHUMAGA SAGA
Slumber Tsogwane –Boteti West MP and Minister of Local Government “Consultation does not mean agreement, but Khumaga residents know what the Government wants to do as they were consulted, and Government continues to engage them. Of course not all people agree with the Government’s decision, and I am not aware of their intention to go to court. If it is something that they want to do, there is nothing wrong with it.” April 2016 Tshekedi Khama- Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism“I do not believe in imposing decisions. I try to reach consensus with people because if you impose decisions on them, you will face some sort of resistance. When things are done right, people will appreciate and there will be no criticism.” February 2016
The outgoing President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, shares his thoughts with us as he leaves the Bench at the end of this year.
WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?
Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.
Botswana’s civil society is one of the non-state actors that could save the country’s democracy from sliding into regression, a Germany based think tank has revealed. This is according to a discussion paper by researchers at the German Development Institute who analysed the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes In Botswana.
In the paper titled “E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes,” the researchers offer a strongly worded commentary on Botswana’s ‘flawed democracy.’ The authors noted that with Botswana’s Parliament structurally – and in practice – feeble, the potential for checks and balances on executive power rests with the judiciary.
Bangwato in Serowe — where Bamagwato Paramount Chief and former President Lt. Gen Ian Khama originates – disagree on whether they must send a delegation to dialogue with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s family in Moshupa. Just last week, a meeting was called by the Regent of Bamagwato, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, at Serowe Kgotla to, among others, update the tribe on the whereabouts of their Kgosi (Khama).
Further, his state of health was also discussed, with Kgamane telling the attendees that all is well with Khama. The main reason for the meeting was to deliberate on the escalating tension between Khama and Masisi — a three-year bloodletting going unabated.