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.
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.
The State has chosen to ignore intents by kingpins in the P100 billion scandal to sue for a combined P85 million as tables turn against the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the matter.
Key players in the matter; the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Bank of Botswana (BoB) have eroded the prospects of success following the duo’s institutions’ appearance before parliamentary committees recently.