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Local, foreign fishermen at loggerheads in Ngami

Batswana fishers complain of exploitation at Lake Ngami

Local and foreign fishermen are at loggerheads at Lake Ngami over the price of fish and unfair labour practices. It has emerged that some locals want foreigners to be evicted from the Lake Ngami site while the Department of Wildlife and National Parks is convinced that the arrival of foreigners from Zambia and the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) has improved the fortunes of local fishermen.  

It is understood that it was the position of Government that finding a foreign market for local fishermen was paramount as they were struggling to locate one. The rules were relaxed a bit to allow foreigners to trade, but now locals at the Lake Ngami say this has now turned into disadvantage, because they are being heavily exploited by the foreigners.


Now the locals blame the influx of Zambians and Congolese traders to Lake Ngami on government. Government was at the forefront of finding a market for local fish traders in Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo. The arrangements came after the government realized that Ngami fishers are finding it difficult to locate markets locally and outside the country.  

Though he could not confirm nor deny that the government brought in foreigners to Lake Ngami, in an interview Principal Wildlife Officer of Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Maun, Shaft Nengu agreed that before 2012, when foreigners migrated in numbers to Lake Ngami, the business life of local fishermen in Ngamiland region was faced with difficulties of finding a market for their product.

“But one cannot hide from the fact that before the influx of foreign traders, business was not good for our local commercial fishers because it was difficult for them to find a market,” revealed Nengu.

Nengu observed that his office is also concerned about the ongoing abuse Batswana fishers are experiencing in the lake as they are sadly being exploited by foreigners. He explained that the foreign traders have found an unfair opportunity of the recent rise of commercial fishing to daily rob Batswana. Nengu expressed that if operated fairly, the foreign market was a great opportunity for Batswana, in contrast to what is currently happening where fishers experience underpricing and abusive labour practices.

It is reported that there has been recent high demand for fish in Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the two countries have welcomed the cheap supply of fish from Botswana. After recent flowing in of the lake around 2007, this led to a peak in commercial fishing that has now become the main source of living for residents of surrounding villages.  

Lake Ngami Fishing Multi-Purpose Cooperation (LNMPC) Chairperson, Bareetsi Bogaisang disagrees with the notion that local fish traders used to find it difficult to secure a market for their business. Though he agrees that indeed there where some challenges like any other business would have, he opines that their businesses were operating and profiting smoothly compared to recent times. He said the influx of Zambians and Congolese fish traders at Lake Ngami has negatively affected them.

The chairperson complained that Zambians and Congolese are in total control of commercial operations at the lake. “They are now the ones who decide at what price our fish should be sold to them.”

Bogaisang also observed that not only do foreigners exploit them, but they have now brought difficulties into their businesses. He linked most of the drownings at Lake Ngami to labour pressure that foreigners put on Batswana, as they end up forcing them to work under harsh conditions (late at night and in windy conditions) to meet their immediate demands. In 2014 alone, Botswana police has recorded eight (8) cases of drowning at Lake Ngami, and most of the victims are fish traders.

He explained that the influx of foreign traders into the lake has attracted a lot of other local illegal fishers who are not licensed to operate there. Bogaisang stated that this has led to the business being more individualistic instead of being organised as before. He blamed this on the fact that there is nothing that binds them together. He added that this has also led to the Lake Ngami Fishing Multi Purpose Cooperation being ineffective to control the market price.  

Bogaisang explained that as a cooperative they agreed on minimal price of selling their fish at a price of P4 for small fish and P5 for big fish. It is now understood that foreigners target individuals because they have since realised that some within local fishermen are in desperate need of fast cash. Bogaisang added that the price ended up dropping from the set price to around P1 and P2, a price now set by foreigners.  

He explained that if individuals agree to sell their fish at low prices, they intend to own the foreign market; this has forced others to drop their prices so that they are able to compete for the foreign buyers.

“If a foreigner proposes P30 000 to a desperate local fisher demanding 8000 fish from him, the local will give in without realising that in Zambia or DRC that will make a profit  of around P100 000.”

Bogaisang explained that Lake Ngami Fishing Multi Purpose Cooperation as a marketing body for Lake Ngami fishermen, advocates for one bargaining body that is in control of the commercial process at the lake. He explained that it will be better if the cooperative stands as a middle man between fishers and buyers (Zambians and Congolese).

He explained that it will be best for their business if these foreign traders are not allowed to come anywhere near the lake and the fish being sold in bulk or per kilograms (kg) through the cooperative.  He added that they aim to open a warehouse at the lake and run it as a factory. He highlighted that if the process is like that, Batswana will be in control of setting their standard selling rate hence benefitting more.

Bogaisang complained that the Government is also not doing enough to make sure that Batswana who are in the business of fishing excel at it. “We also want to be recognised like other Batswana who are in different businesses; we must be given the necessary support that we need.”

He indicated that Batswana who have fishing licenses should also be given some training. He said some of the human errors that occur at the lake happen because most of them lack the knowledge of how the fishing business operates. He blamed the Government for neglecting them at Lake Ngami as he explains that there is no intensive monitoring taking place there.

Meanwhile Nengu, who is also head of Fisheries at DNWP, Maun, refuted claims that the influx of fishing operations at Lake Ngami might lead to extinction and depletion of fish in the near future. He explained that his office has made thorough research and they have proven otherwise that the lake has not shown any sign of decline in number of fish resources.

As a usual routine the fishing operations at Lake Ngami have ceased to be effective from December 31 2014 until March 1st 2015 for another season but LNMPC chairperson is concerned that they barely benefited in the past season due to the influx of foreigners.

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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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