This Content Is Only For Subscribers
Last week I wrote about access to land especially by the Basarwa community in Botswana. Today, I want to focus on Moremi Game Reserve and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve which are formally Basarwa ancestral lands and have become tourism sites. That is, struggles over access to and control of wildlife resources have been characterised by conflict and negotiation between the state and local communities and non-state actors.
Contestation over land and natural resources can be traced back to the colonial era at Moremi Game Reserve and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve were first established. This was a critical aspect of the extension of state power, particularly in remote rural areas where it had been marginal. The recent struggle for control of land and management and user rights of protected areas and tourism concessions especially in northern Botswana is motivated by the state’s desire to establish profitable models of capital accumulation and economic growth at the expense of local people’s livelihoods.
Tourism depends on protecting environmental assets from exploitation by local communities confined in these rural green spaces. The role of the state cannot be ignored, as it plays a crucial part in devising mechanisms for capital accumulation.
The establishment of Moremi Game Reserve (MGR) in 1963 led to the displacement of Khwai, Gudigwa and Mababe residents from their ancestral lands especially the inner parts of the reserve such as Xakanaxa and chief’ Islands. It also affected Basarwa’s hunting and gathering economy and marked the beginning of resource conflicts between Khwai residents and wildlife managers. These Basarwa groups then became denied access in Moremi Game Reserve unless coming into the reserve as tourists. The people of Sankoyo (though not Basarwa) were equally removed from Moremi game Reserve to their present day Sankoyo Village.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) has been a site of struggles over land and resource rights for many years. CKGR was promulgated in 1961 with the intention to safeguard the cultural lifestyle of the Basarwa.
However, this was not realised as the Basarwa were dispossessed of their ancestral land by the postcolonial democratic government. Central to the relocation was the government notion that Basarwa could not live in harmony with the animals in the reserve. Yet this contradicts government’s policy of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), which is designed to involve local communities in managing natural resources, thereby ensuring them direct benefits from these resources.
At the CKGR, the forced removal of the Basarwa paved the way for alternative economic projects, diamond mining and ecotourism. For instance, in May 2007 it was reported that a mining company, Gem Diamonds, had purchased the mining licenses for sites around Gope in the south-eastern portion of the CKGR where in the 1980s De Beers had found kimberlite deposits indicating the presence of diamonds.
Wilderness Safaris, a multinational tourism company dominating Botswana’s booming tourism industry was also allocated tourism sites within the CKGR. In this regard, the CKGR became a potent symbol of the Basarwa’s territorial claims to wildlife areas and is often a focal point in the deployment of historical memories when land ownership is contested.
Maintaining central government control over wildlife resources in Botswana at Moremi Game Reserve and the CKGR has enabled the elites to promote their business interests in these areas and keeping indigenous communities who are ancestral owners of these lands away from these territories. The ideals of Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) simple note that no one should be left behind in the development process. The Basarwa should not be left behind are time has come that research should establish whether they were compensated for having been relocated or removed from their ancestral lands which have become areas of big wildlife-based tourism as is the case with MGR or mining as is the case with CKGR.