Not only are Indians and Chinese being kicked out of Botswana, they are also being denied visas to enter the country as tourists. This revelation is contained in a Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) report that analyses Botswana’s tourism value chain. As part of the leg work, the consultants interviewed tourist operators in both Gaborone and Kasane and they write in the report: “Over half the Kasane sample, and a third of the Gaborone sample, indicated that they were difficulties with tourist visas, including that they were hard and time consuming to obtain, expensive, that they could not be obtained at the point of entry, and that sometimes they were denied to people who had booked trips. Specifically it was noted that Indian and Chinese visitors had been denied visas.”
The respondents don’t go as far as to state reasons for which such visas are denied. The revelation about the denial of visas will be dumbfounding for at least three reasons. Firstly, with diamonds being mined out, Botswana wants to diversify its economic base to other sectors, tourism being one of them. Secondly, while tourism has shown great potential, the country doesn’t make as much money from it. In one respect, the latter is a result of the sector being dominated by foreigners who repatriate profits back home. There are contradictory accounts of how much tourism revenue leaks out but it is quite a lot of money. While Parliament was earlier this year told that “about 30 to 40 per cent” of revenue remains in the source countries in instances where a holiday is booked through foreign operators, the African Natural Resources Centre quotes a much higher figure.
The Centre, which is an arm of the African Development Bank and is headed by Sheila Khama, the former Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Botswana, says that leakages of foreign revenues from Botswana tourism amount to over 70 percent. Thirdly, it is unclear why Indians and Chinese have been singled out for tourist visa denial. What is clear is that this development has caused severe strain to diplomatic relations between Botswana and the two nations. China is a special case because as an emerging economic giant, it is the second largest buyer of Botswana diamonds in the world. Answering a parliamentary question on this issue last year, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu, said that his ministry had rejected the same and highest number of tourist visa applications (54) from both India and China. Second on the rejection list was Nigeria with 44 applications.
Aside from these nationalities not being able to visit Botswana as tourists, concern has also been raised about them being deported from the country. Among the concerned is former president, Festus Mogae, who, two years ago, told an American news channel in Tanzania that the “current regime” is regressive. “We were a small country that ran an open economy and open society but our present government has expelled over 2000 foreign professionals over the last six years,” he said during an African Leadership Panel hosted by CNBC in Dar es Salam.