29 April 2010

Botswana: Eco-Tourism Impedes Indigenous Rights of the Bushmen

The United Nations and human rights organizations are pushing for issues concerning indigenous peoples to be taken seriously this week during the indigenous peoples' conference, and one organization, Survival International, is speaking out on behalf of the Botswana Bushmen who are being forced out of their ancestral lands by the government and the eco-tourism company Wilderness Safaris.

On 8 April, sports giant PUMA announced its purchase of a 20 percent stake in Wilderness Safaris, a tourism company that built a lodge on land previously owned by the Bushmen of Botswana. While the violation of indigenous rights has been an issue for centuries, only in recent years have the Botswana Bushmen pursued legal action against the government for the rightful return of their land.

In 2002, the Bushmen were forcibly expelled from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), but were reinstated their land in 2006. Despite the court ruling, the government has since banned them from accessing a borehole, which they rely on for water.

Survival International's Field and Research Director Fiona Watson told MediaGlobal, "The Bushmen who live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve do not have access to the water borehole on their land as the government has taken away the pump and disabled the borehole, which the Bushmen used before they were evicted. Now they have to make a round of trip of 300 miles to fetch water outside the reserve."

The government has also leased land to Wilderness Safaris, allowing them to build a lodge on Bushmen land, based on an agreement signed in 2008. Bushman spokesperson, Jumanda Gakelebone, said, "We, the Bushmen, ask companies not to buy shares in the lodge until we have our rights and our freedom. There is nothing more painful than to see a swimming pool near us in the desert where people can swim while we ourselves don't have any water."

According to their website, Wildlife Safaris claim to be "a conservation organization and ecotourism company dedicated to responsible tourism, helping to ensure the future protection of Africa's spectacular wildlife heritage and sharing the benefits of tourism with local communities." However, Survival International is criticizing both PUMA and Wilderness Safaris for failing to comply with corporate responsibility.

Watson also told MediaGlobal, "PUMA prides itself on its commitment to corporate social responsibility, but there is nothing responsible about supporting luxury tourism projects in the CKGR at the expense of the Bushmen."

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