Batswana operating tourism business in Ngamiland (North West District) have expressed grave concern about the short leases they are given to operate camp sites in national parks while their foreign counterparts enjoy longer leases.
In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday, Chief Executive Officer of Khwai , Lenyanti, Savuti and Kumaga Group of Camps, Reaboka Mbulawa said such a move hampers their growth in the lucrative industry because they are unable to access loans from commercial banks due to short leases they are given. "In Botswana especially in North West we have what I normally call tourism politics where by whites are against blacks in this industry. There is too much networking which segregates as to whether you are a citizen or non-citizen and it is quite difficult to penetrate such kind of network," revealed Mbulawa.
Mbulawa also revealed that they have been pursuing government for a very long time to ease some of the conditions in the leases but their pleas have been falling on deaf ears. "If you are given a five year lease you cannot do anything because for such a period of time you cannot go to the bank and get a loan and on top of that you cannot have a tittle deed. Without a tittle deed, you cannot borrow money from any bank," he explained.
Furthermore, Mbulawa said for the past ten years the local camp operators have been operating on cash basis since they are unable to access loans from banks. Running on cash basis, Mbulawa argued that it can even kill the business at its infancy stages because they are competing with foreigners who hold leases of 15 up to 30 years backed by tittle deeds. "In the previous administration, I went to the office of the President three times and I even wrote letters raising concerns about the issue of leases but unfortunately my grievances were not addressed," he said.
The BDP activist, who just lost the Maun West Parliamentary elections to Dumelang Saleshando of the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), expressed optimism that President Mokgweetsi Masisi's administration will look into the matter and draft a policy that will specifically address such challenges. Mbulawa decried that the problem has been persisting for a very long time because the country has never had a minister responsible for tourism who really knows what tourism is. "We have never had a minister who has been in the industry and knowing what has to be done. Some of the former tourism ministers were compromised as they had shares in some of the foreign companies that we are competing with," the former wildlife officer said.
Mbulawa explained that as Batswana in the business of operating camping sites, they play a major role in the economy of the country by creating job opportunities for their fellow countrymen. He articulated that currently he has 200 employees with a wage bill of over P600 000 every month and as such making a difference in the society.