Scores of desperate investors in Botswana are facing financial ruin as a multimillion-pula tourism project on the Chobe River struggles to stay afloat amid a sharp downturn in the country’s crucial travel and hospitality industry.
The Bridgetown lodge in Kasane is the brainchild of former speaker of parliament and former minister of labour and home affairs Patrick Balopi, who in 2010 received a presidential order of honour for developing the “state of the art, self-catering holiday resort with a potential to empower over 4 000 citizens”.
Investors now accuse Balopi of failing to keep undertakings made when the resort was launched on the back of a P46-million bank loan.
Also raising eyebrows is the fact that he offloaded his shares in 2013, and that there are now fresh moves to sell the lodge.
Balopi declined to comment, but told the Botswana Gazette earlier this year that the project was “well-intentioned” but lacked the required participation by Batswana to make it viable.
“The timing of the project was maybe wrong, with the economy taking a downturn and the [government’s] imposition of a hunting ban, which hurt tourism. We had to put in conferencing and restaurant facilities and we ran out of resources.”
An investigation by Weekend Post and the Ink Centre for Investigative Journalism has established that the resort is up for sale to a South African company for P95-million,The current owner, Botswana property mogul Ahmad Mansur Sidiqui, said he has invested P24-million in Bridgetown and is selling his stake because the business is “going down”.
Set in a wildlife paradise, Bridgetown was touted as a magnet for tourists and holidaymakers en route to the Okavango delta and the Victoria Falls. About 100 investors injected close to P30-million, with six of them purchasing two-bedroom, self-catering, self-contained “cabanas”, and 90 others time shares.
They say they were promised that those who bought units would receive a minimum monthly rental of P18 000, effective from May 2012, and that the directors pledged to involve them in the affairs of the company, including giving them access to final statements. This had not happened.
The case has been catapulted into the public eye by a High Court ruling in favour of an investor, Bookie Kethusegile, who bought a cabana worth P2.5-million and now alleges that she has not received the promised return on her investment over four years.
Kethusegile (57) said she received a payout of P45 000 after about 14 months into the investment, and another P45 000 in September 2013 after complaining about non-payment. She claims she was told the initial rental would rise to P2 000 a day after six months.
The pensioner claims to have accumulated debts exceeding P600 000 and now cannot service the P2.5-million loan she received from First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB), which has threatened to attach her Bridgetown unit and her house in Tlokweng.
In September 2015 she won an unopposed court order ordering Bridgetown to pay her P1.2-million and outstanding monthly rentals.
After securing a P46-million loan from FNBB, Balopi built 13 two-bedroom self-catering apartments and 10 one-bedroom self-catering apartments, representing a quarter of the planned project.
But the scheme appeared to struggle against stiff competition from established high-end hotels in Kasane, prompting him to call in a local investor three years later.
Virgin Enterprises, owned by Sidiqui and his family members, Jaudat and Tehniat Sidiqui, acquired a stake in Bridgetown when the family injected P9-million in to the business.
The 50/50 partnership allowed the property baron to change the land use from self-catering apartments to a hotel, slashing the room rates from P2 000 to P1 300 per night.
The hearing on Kethusegile’s application was postponed until August this year after Sadiqui’s lawyers argued that he had not received a summons because of a change of address.
Meanwhile, Sidiqui is in sale negotiations two little-known companies, Forbidden Elephant Kingdom and Ashira Investments.
Papers seen by Weekend Post and INK Centre for Investigative Journalism indicate that the acquisition of Bridgetown is at an advanced stage with a purchase price expected to be proposed to Sidiqui before the end of last month.
Forbidden Elephant Kingdom is a South African company that registered in Botswana in March this year. A source who knows it said it has offices in Swaziland and has sponsored football in Botswana.
South Africa company records indicate that it is a recently established business based in Waterkloof, Pretoria. Its sole director, Lloyd Leokaoke said this week from South Africa that he is not aware that Bridgetown has not paid some of its investors.
“The deal is not done yet,” he disclosed.
“It is something we take very serious and we will investigate,” he said about investors who are said to be complaining.
A company search shows that Ashira Investments was registered in Botswana in August 2012 and belongs to Kabelo and Kebonyetsala Kemoabe of Tlokweng. “We don’t know who they are,” sighed Kethusegile.
Another investor who asked not to be named said she purchased a time-share worth P84 000, giving her to access to a room for a week each year. She was not aware that Bridgetown is in financial trouble and that Sidiqui is pulling out.
“What about our investments?'” she asked, adding that she had instructed her lawyers to issue a letter of demand, but that Bridgetown had not responded.
An investor who also did not want her identity disclosed said she invested P60 000 in Bridgetown but has never met its shareholders. She has also engaged attorneys to establish why she has received no returns. “I am not aware of Forbidden Elephant Kingdom,” she said.
Bridgetown spokesperson Mohammed Badrodin said the company had applied for a hotel licence because “there was no business in self-contained apartments”. Although Balopi “had a grand idea, there was little interest”.
The occupancy rate at Bridgetown has never exceeded 32%, he said, and had even fallen to 12% during the 2014 election.
He said Sadiqui constructed bars and a restaurant, but “that did not help resuscitate the resort”. He also revealed that Sidiqui intends to sell his Oasis Motel, near Gaborone, for an undisclosed amount.
“Everyone wants out of hotel and tourism. Gaborone Sun has been sold to Avani, Lahnor sold Masa Square,” he said. Tourism, centred on the Okavango delta and the Chobe and Moremi reserves, is a major source of jobs and wealth in Botswana, accounting for 12% of GDP.
• INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit newsroom to develop investigative journalism, produced this story in collaboration with the WeekendPost newspaper and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.
The United States (US) will on the 3rd of November 2020 chose between incumbent Donald Trump of the Republicans and former Vice President Joe Biden of the Democrats amid the coronavirus pandemics, which has affected how voting is conducted in the world’s biggest economy.
Trump (74) seeks re-election after trouncing Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden (77) is going for his first shot as Democratic nominee after previous unsuccessful spells.
US Presidents mostly succeed in their re-election bid, but there have been nine individuals who failed to garner a second term mandate, the latest being George W H. Bush, a Republican who served as the 41st US President between 1989 and 1993.
Dr Mark Rozell, a Dean of the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia describes the complex US electoral system that will deliver the winner at the 3rd November elections.
“The founders of our Republic de-centralised authority significantly in creating our constitutional system, which means that they gave an enormous amount of independent power and authority to State and local governments,” Dr Rozell told international media on Elections 2020 Virtual Reporting Tour.
Unlike parliamentary democracies, like Botswana the United States does not have all of the national government elected in one year. They do not have what is commonly called mandate elections where the entire federal government is elected all in one election cycle giving a “mandate” to a particular political party to lead, and instead US have what are called staggered elections, elections over time.
The two house Congress, members of the House of Representatives have two-year long terms of office. Every two years the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, but senators serve for six years and one third of the Senate is elected every two years.
For this election cycle, US citizens will be electing the President and Vice
President, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the open or contested seats in the Senate, whereas two thirds are still fulfilling the remainder of their terms beyond this year.
An important facet of US electoral system to understand given the federalism nature of the republic, the US elect presidents State by State, therefore they do not have a national popular vote for the presidency.
“We have a national popular vote total that says that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump or in Year 2000 that Al Gore got a half million more votes than George W. Bush, but we have what is called a State by State winner takes all system where each State is assigned a number of electors to our Electoral College and the candidate who wins the popular vote within each State takes 100 percent of the electors to the Electoral College,” explained Dr Rozell.
“And that is why mathematically, it is possible for someone to win the popular vote but lose the presidency.”
Dr Rozell indicated that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won very large popular majorities in some big population States like California, but the system allows a candidate to only have to win a State by one vote to win a 100 percent of its electors, the margin does not matter.
“Donald Trump won many more States by smaller margins, hence he got an Electoral College majority.”
Another interesting features by the way of US constitutional system, according to Dr Rozell, but extremely rare, is what is called the faithless elector.
“That’s the elector to the Electoral College who says, ‘I’m not going to vote the popular vote in my State, I think my State made a bad decision and I’m going to break with the popular vote,’’ Dr Rozell said.
“That’s constitutionally a very complicated matter in our federalism system because although the federal constitution says electors may exercise discretion, most States have passed State laws making it illegal for any elector to the Electoral College to break faith with the popular vote of that State, it is a criminal act that can be penalized if one is to do that. And we just had an important Supreme Court case that upheld the right of the states to impose and to enforce this restriction”
There are 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, the candidate who gets 270 or more becomes President of the United States.
If however there are more candidates, and this happens extremely rarely, and a third candidate got some electors to the Electoral College denying the two major party candidates, either one getting a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next President.
“You’d have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269 which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” stated Dr Rozell.
BLUE STATES vs RED STATES
Since the 2000 United States presidential election, red states and blue states have referred to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.
Many states have populations that are so heavily concentrated in the Democratic party or the Republican party that there is really no competition in those states.
California is a heavily Democratic State, so is New York and Maryland. It is given that Joe Biden will win those states. Meanwhile Texas, Florida and Alabama are republicans. So, the candidates will spent no time campaigning in those states because it is already a given.
However there are swing states, where there is a competition between about five and 10 states total in each election cycle that make a difference, and that is where the candidates end up spending almost all of their time.
“So it ends up making a national contest for the presidency actually look like several state-wide contests with candidates spending a lot of time talking about State and local issues in those parts of the country,” said Dr Rozell.
High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.
Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana. “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.
As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.
Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.
The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”
Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.
According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.
Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.
“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.
Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.
“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”
The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.
In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.