Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi. (Photo: EPA-EFE / GIAN EHRENZELLER)
Under Covid-19 international travel restrictions, inbound tourism to Botswana has collapsed. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, however, buys luxury lodges at government expense.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
The first signal – April 9 – was President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s âacquisitionâ of a piece of the famous Moremi reserve âin the public interestâ. A month later, the Registrar General bought Tautona Lodge in Ghanzi, reputed to be 58 million pula (76 million rand), which surprised the local council and even the lodge staff.
A nearby wildlife area has been purchased, according to local newspaper The Telegraph, “for the Intelligence and Security Directorate to serve as a training center.” The lodge was owned by former agriculture minister and ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MP from Ghanzi South, Christian de Graaff.
Moremi Game Reserve is in northern Botswana in the Okavango Delta, which becomes a lush animal habitat during seasonal flooding, while Tautona Lodge is a private game reserve near the town of Ghanzi.
âIt is shocking that the government has unanimously decided to buy [Tautona] despite his statement that the country is in the midst of an economic crisis, âsaid Ghanzi city councilor Kealeboga Gaebuse. “As there are other pressing issues for Batswana, we believed that priority spending would be made in their direction.”
Asked in parliament about the purchase, Presidential Minister Kabo Neal Morwaeng said the government was in the process of acquiring and “setting up hospitality outposts across the country to build a more inclusive government. close to the people “. Opposition members are still trying to figure out what this means.
Writing for Botswana online news site Mmegi, Kgosietsile Ngakaagae accused Masisi of planning a “Louis Vuitton paradise resort” in the heart of the Okavango Delta.
âThe president has no right to any recourse and, certainly, does not deserve it. The Batswana are dying because hospitals have an insufficient supply of oxygen, while the nation’s wealth is lavishly lavished on itself.
âThe entertainment industry is on its knees and there is no slack in the creative arts yet. The alcohol industry is on its knees and thousands of livelihoods have been completely wiped out. The whole nation is getting their hair cut and President Masisi is switching to a Louis Vuitton hairstyle. “
The biggest problem – and the reason why setting up ‘hospitality stations’ seems bizarre right now – is that the country’s tourism industry on which it relies so heavily has collapsed. The UK government’s travel advisory advises against all but essential travel within the country. The International Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it more bluntly: âAvoid traveling to Botswana. “
Adding to this problem is Botswana’s traditional reliance on a high value, low volume approach to high net worth international tourists. With Covid-19 and travel restrictions, it is no longer suited to its purpose.
Research by four Botswana-based sociologists published in Tourism Review International in June 2021 estimated that Africa has lost 7.6 million tourism-related jobs since 2019 and $ 53 billion in revenue. In Botswana, 26,000 people in tourism jobs were unemployed.
The focus on spendthrift international tourists rather than the local market came back to bite him hard when they dried up. It hasn’t just hit the conventional tourism industry and high-cost lodges. Communities located in wildlife management areas benefit from user rights over defined concession areas by sub-leasing to tour operators.
This was done through the community natural resource management system, which provided income to 46% of the rural population.
According to the report, the impact of the closures on the livelihoods of communities has been astronomical, increasing food insecurity and poverty, posing threats to conservation, increased poaching, encroachment by people and their livestock, bushmeat consumption and reduced funding for conservation.
There have also been huge job losses among small, medium and micro enterprises, independent operators such as chefs, professional guides and mokoro (canoe) polers in the Okavango Delta and the Chobe River.
In this context, the government’s follies on high-end properties for seemingly private use by officials are described as scandalous.
âWe had thought,â Councilor Gaebuse said, âthat since there are other pressing issues for Batswana, priority spending will be made in their direction. Buying a lodge is not a priority, so in this case the government is simply trying to economically empower an individual.
He said there was a secret in the Tautona purchase because the government did not consult with the local community. “The purchase will not only benefit De Graaff, we believe President Mokgweetsi Masisi will benefit as well.”
According to Ngakaagae, writing in Mmegi: âBy pretending to fight corruption, [Masisiâs] the government gave him a huge public farm, now his personal property. Now he has set aside 21 x 8 kilometers of the country’s most valuable land [in Moremi] for his personal and exclusive pleasure.
“Your guess is as good as mine, on how much the nation will pay for the president’s pleasure.” There will surely be a military contingent dedicated to the place. There will be infrastructure developments that will cost the nation millions. There will be an airstrip and a helipad. There will be health and communications infrastructure and maintenance costs that will run into the millions, along with dedicated public servants who will take care of the place. “
The president’s office was approached for comment, but at the time of publication, no response had been received. Opposition parliamentarians were told the office was “not free to release documents” regarding the Tautona purchase. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.