Representing a constituency that houses the heartbeat of the economy - tourism, and the most lucrative soils in the Chobe Enclave - has stacked the odds against youthful MP Machana Ronald Shamukuni. But the soft-spoken Kasane native, who entered Parliament in October 2014 under a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ticket, is not shaken by the mammoth task ahead and a plethora of challenges facing his people. He is quick to reveal that his constituency is among the least developed, ravaged by poverty, lack of opportunities, shortage of serviced land and a human-wildlife conflict that is degenerating into a crisis. At the 2014 polls Shamukuni garnered 4, 114 votes to defeat the then MP Gibson Nshimwe of Botswana Congress Party (BCP) who only managed 3, 166, a win margin of 948 from a percentage poll of 82.03%. With only seven wards the Chobe District Council is by far the smallest, alongside Jwaneng township. It is made up of Kasane Plateau, Kasane Central, Chobe Enclave East and West, Pandamatenga, Old Kazungula-Lesoma and Kazungula New Stance - won by Abraham Sitali of BCP. On his way to victory Shamukuni could have been aided by the absence of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in all but two wards in 2014 due to a MoU entered into between the opposition parties. But even then, the win margin in local elections was from as low as 46 in Plateau to as high as 251 in Kasane central. With the birth of UDC+ the political landscape has changed, but Shamukuni is unperturbed. "I will seek re-election in 2019," he said, confidently.
Shamukuni’s problems are compounded by negativity media reports, which in some cases have bundled him with a bunch that come to the august house to warm the seats and earn a sitting allowance. A graduate of the University of Botswana, with a single major Biology, Shamukuni is the former president of the Wildlife club and served in the BDP central committee. Often blamed for failing to dominate proceedings in Parliament despite his valuable experience and expertise on environmental issues, Shamukuni stops short of blaming the media for being obsessed with trivia at the expense of meaningful contribution. He said his perceived no-show in the backbench is because he focuses on pertinent issues in his debates rather than dwelling on controversies or even being confrontational like some of his peers. "I have asked a lot of questions, tabled motions and contributed to general debates and the committee of supply. The records are there in the Hansard, it is unfair that when journalists fail to follow proceedings in the house they start accusing some of us of being failures," said Shamukuni. Through a motion in Parliament last year, he successfully blocked Minister for Environment, Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama from introducing new blanket fishing regulations without consultation. The regulation would have caused reduction of fishnet length from 150m to 25m, increase licence fee from P100 to P500, and renewal of licence increase to P500. "People in my constituency survive on fishing for subsistence purposes. These regulations will disadvantage them as they were set for commercial fishing. We were never consulted during their formulation," he said.
He, however, said his constituents do not have a problem with the ongoing suspension of fishing to allow for breeding to replenish fish stock, which was first introduced in 2009.
The Tourism hub
Like many locals Shamukuni is concerned about the dominance of foreigners in the high end tourism. He said it would be misleading to think there are enough locals just looking at statistics, which show many Batswana operating low end tourism related businesses like Bed and Breakfast facilities and Guest houses. "But we do appreciate that tourism ventures have created a lot of jobs in my constituency. This is not enough, I would like to see Batswana as owners of the operations and lead tourism development instead of restricted to workers. Shamukuni said Batswana should be empowered to own concession areas and operate hotels in high end tourism spots, which are in prime areas. He vowed to push for such consideration in the planned Kasane/Kazungula Redevelopment, which will see some existing businesses and residential properties relocated from the prestigious water front. Investment done here should capacitate Batswana in general and the local communities in particular. The project, earmarked to start in the current financial year, was allocated P600 million in NDP 11. "There has been a lot of skills development in the tourism sector. My constituency extends to Linyanti concession which includes world class spots like Kings Pool, Duma Tau, Linyanti Tented camp-premier camps on the fringes of the Okavango Delta. I was impressed to discover that some of them are now managed by young Batswana. This is a clear demonstration that Batswana should be considered for opportunities to own and manage large concessions," he said, adding that such a move would prevent revenue leakages common in the tourism sector. He said having locals dominate the sector will prevent repatriation of profits, as they would reinvest their profits in the economy.
Numerous complaints about racism have reached Shamukuni's office. He said his office has been transformed into a labour office, where workers complain about low wages and poor conditions of service e.g. accommodation in the camps, issues of abuse and racist language from their bosses who are mostly white foreigners. Even more startling, he said, is that there is a difference in terms of reception afforded local tourists between hotels managed by locals and those by foreigners. "Recently I was in a camp managed by a local where reception was fantastic. The next day I visited another run by a South African couple, and it was as if I was not there. Two things I have done. I have personally visited the owners to discuss grievances raised by their workers. I am meeting management in Linyanti soon. I also regularly engage Western Operators Committee for hotel operators in Chobe enclave, and encourage them to form partnerships with communities where they operate as Corporate social responsibility to re-invest in the community. All villages in the Chobe now have formed cultural groups which regularly make presentations for a fee at these resorts," he said. Shamukuni recently used an opportunity while attending Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in London to meet some of the owners of tourism lodges and registered concerns. They have committed to address the grievances, he said.
Human Wildlife conflict
Since the hunting ban took off, there have a lot of wild animals roaming through villages in the Chobe enclave, Shamukuni revealed. He said wildlife induced deaths are on the increase, with elephants killing people even 600m away from their homes. He said the geography of the Chobe enclave is such that wildlife areas encroach into land reserved for agriculture and this has resulted in elephants taking over wells and boreholes from farmers. "People are impoverished by elephants, they cannot plough their fields. Compensation is a non-starter. Claims dating as far back as 3-4 years are still outstanding. The Problem Animal Control Unit (which has an office in Kachikau) should have developed a robust programme that capacitates the unit to address problem animals. Currently they are understaffed, ill-equipment, under resourced like 10 years ago," he said. Shamukuni said a lot of poverty in his constituency is induced. He said there are very rich soils in the Chobe enclave suitable for agriculture but subsistence on natural resources is impossible due to problem animals. He said a family that used to survive on subsistence farming has been reduced to poor people depending on government handouts. He said poor project implementation will defeat plans to by government to develop Pandamatenga as a Special Economic Zone for Agriculture because the servicing of land is very slow. He said to date nothing has happened to land allocated a long time ago for Agro-industries, despite that the demand for agro industries is huge in Pandamatenga. The opportunity cost due to failure to service the land is very high.
Shamukuni says the list of people awaiting allocation runs into thousands, even though the whole district has a population of approximately 24-26 000 people. "Availability of serviced land is Zero. There is no land. For Lesoma and Kazungula to get land the nearby forest reserve has to be de-gazetted for expansion. We are negotiating with the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism because layouts for those areas have been exhausted. There is also no land for businesses. The youth are suffering from such unavailability, which compromises development," he said. Once again Shamukuni said the Kasane/Kazungula Redevelopment project will have to make Kasane a functional town that addresses and accommodates interests of locals. There has to be provision for open spaces integrated for leisure. It has to provide a platform for the youth to be active in the tourism industry by creating space for office or business parks to accommodate small businesses. He said currently the youth are fighting for open spaces and operating in non-conducive spaces because rentals and property rates are very high.