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Why Lake Ngami is claiming lives

Over loading of passengers by operators

When the mighty Lake Ngami is mentioned, most people recall the occasional drowning cases that recently associated with the Lake. Boat accidents have claimed several lives of visitors, boat operators and fishermen. The police have attempted to map what could be causing the accidents. On the other hand tourism officials and conservation officials emphasise the importance of the revered site.

In 2014 alone, Sehithwa Police recorded eight cases of drowning in Lake Ngami. According to the Station Commander, Zakes Masike explains that most the deaths are a result of boat accidents occasioned by waves that overpower the boat; excessive overloading of passengers; and also using the boat whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Police reports indicate that victims of drowning occasionally involve fish traders – but most of the accidents involve people who are new to the lake. Police say people come to explore the lake, “but sadly without knowledge of the dangers that the lake could potentially cause, visitors end up becoming victims to drowning,” said the station commander.

 However there is an opposite and debatable argument as to what could be causing the loss of lives. For traditionalists and elders from surrounding villages the main causes of drowning at the lake is the complete disregard of believes and cultural practices that should be performed before one embarked on a journey to the Lake Ngami. Elders stress that for visitors to explore the lake without any danger of drowning its advisable that they pass through traditional healers or leaders of the village to protect them against evil spirits believed to be in control of the lake.

Located at the southern edge of the North West district about 100km from Maun, Lake Ngami lies in the Okavango Delta Ramar Site within Ngamiland. It is situated within a shallow sedimentary depression at the distal end of the Okavango Delta. According to Management Plan for Lake Ngami (MPLN) during the 1980’s and 1990’s the lake was a dry basin which only experienced occasional inflows from the Kunyere and Nhabe rivers.  

But since the start of the recent high flood phase in the Okavango system in 2004, the lake has steadily filled and forecast reports point to a possibility of the lake carrying water for the next couple of decades. The area is currently concentrated in six main villages of Bodibeng, Bothathogo, Sehithwa, Toteng, Kareng and Legothwana which fall under the jurisdiction of Maun Administrative Authority (MAA).

The dark side of people drowning at the Lake worries tourism officials because they believe that it is somehow clouding its natural beauty. They believe that these misfortunes kill the essential tourism element of the lake to. Tourism resources of the Lake relate primarily to birdlife viewing and fishing rather than wildlife.

The entire Lake Ngami has been identified by Birdlife Botswana as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The MPLN underscores that Lake Ngami is unique in Botswana and Southern Africa with respect to birdlife and states that there is no other comparable birding area in the region. IBA is a worldwide initiative aimed at identifying and protecting a global network of sites for the conservation of the world's birds and other biodiversity. According to Birdlife Botswana, twelve Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been designated in Botswana which Lake Ngami is part of. These are birds considered threatened species listed as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened.

According to the Director of Birdlife Botswana Dr Kabelo Senyatso, Lake Ngami being an officially recognized Important Bird Area, the IBAs status to Botswana adds an extra value to the tourism destination of this country.

“Due to this status of Lake Ngami Botswana obviously benefits from the increase of tourists arrival to Lake Ngami,” he added.

Dr Senyatso also expressed concern about increasing cases of drowning at the Lake. He explains that it has a negative impact to the country’s tourism. He says the Lake is viewed as an unsafe area because of the frequent cases of drowning which have unfortunately resulted in deaths. He added that this has led to his office to presently not actively promote tourism to the site until it is developed in terms of bird viewing facility such as piers, a fence, or a bird-hide and well-resourced first-aid kits, as well as competent rescue teams in place.

Dr Senyatso calls on the government to invest both in development of the tourism infrastructure, and conservation of Lake Ngami in order to fully exploit its benefits.

Notwithstanding the controversial influx of Zambians and Congolese traders at the lake, residents around the lake have benefited much in terms of commercial fishing operations which is on the rise at the lake. Most locals engaged in the business of fishing there testify that Lake Ngami has now become a source of economic upgrade for many. They believe that if it were not of the recent influx of foreigners who have disturbed and caused commotion to their business, Lake Ngami could survive the hardship of environmental changes and benefit future families.

Commercial fishing in the lake is reported to have also fuelled a conflict of interest between the same life of birds reported by Birdlife Botswana and fish traders.

Birdlife Botswana Director, Dr Senyatso explains that a conflict of natural resources and artificial fishing facilities arise because fishermen and birds compete for the same fish/food resource. He says these events at the lake negatively impact on the birdlife. He added that the disturbance into the environmental cycle/food chain by human presence affect the normal behavior of the birds.  

MPLN informs that unmanaged movement within the lake by fishermen poses a threat to breeding birds because fishermen approach too close to their breeding sites causing them to fly away.

“Fishermen also unwittingly chase birds off nest by trying to feed them, but the dead fish they dump rots and causes birds to abandon the nests. Also this abandoned fishing nets sometimes filled with rotting fish are a threat because they trap birds and livestock,” reads the MPLN.  

Explaining what future environmental concerns at the lake might create, Dr Senyatso opines that it is unlikely that Lake Ngami could lose its status of being an IBA within the next five years or beyond.

“IBAs are designated based on long-term population trends of threatened bird species and the condition of habitats at the site, so we remain optimistic that these are improving, rather than being degraded.”

Senyatso advises that Botswana should minimize the negative impact and keep all the stakeholders’ attention on the benefit of Lake Ngami as a tourism destination. He explains that all the stakeholders including tourists, public and private sectors in the tourism industry, and communities residing near Lake Ngami should equally benefit from Lake Ngami.
 

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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