Local communities are losing out in jobs and businesses and are helplessly watching as their ambitious projects are collapsing. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO warns that one such project – Sankoyo Bush Bucks – is on the verge of total collapse, primarily because the community-based natural resource management business that sustained it is crumbling. What does Sankoyo Bush Bucks Football Club have in common with the hunting ban and the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama? Well, they all have something to do with the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) in the north western region of Botswana. Sankoyo Bush Bucks qualified to play in the elite Botswana Premier League for the first time in 2014, making it the first team from the north western region to make it to such level of stardom. The team won the hearts of many in Ngamiland, especially because it was more of successful a community project than a commercial football club. The team was established in the village of Sankoyo about 50 kilometers from Maun in 1996 the same year Sankoyo Tshwaragano Management Trust was founded. According to the village Chief Gokgathang Moalosi, after realising the team’s potential to move to greater heights, the village trust decided to invest financially into its development until it was promoted to the premier league in 2014. Though things moved smoothly from the start, the team started experiencing financial setbacks soon after its huge promotion. The financial distress though some had thought will fade quickly is worsening and a once promising team might soon find itself relegated.
Hunting ban bites in
The explanation given about the team’s financial troubles by the village chief is that Tshwaragano Trust could no longer sustain its projects, including Sankoyo Bush Bucks, after being hit hard by the hunting ban imposed by government. Tshwaragano Trust is among the first CBNRM model projects to be established in the Okavango Delta. But then the troubles of a football team – it would seem – are just a tip of the iceberg in as far as the effects of the hunting ban by government on CBNRMs are concerned. According to Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute in Maun, since the hunting ban was introduced all community projects in affected villages are near defunct as their revenues have dropped by more than half and locals have been retrenched from jobs.
Professor Mbaiwa said although research has proven that the CBNRM model is a good model which can promote both conservation and improve livelihoods if administered efficiently it was unfortunate that government meddling was slowly destroying it. “Truly speaking recent government actions have messed up the CBNRM model,” he said. Mbaiwa condemned government‘s move to ban trophy hunting, saying it has dealt a serious blow to the model.
Botswana adopted the CBNRM model in the late 1980s. During this period, the management of natural resources, particularly wildlife, by the Central Government was experiencing frequent and chronic declines. Research has shown that the introduction of CBNRMs saw people being more appreciative of their natural resources. One of the pillars of CBNRM is community participation in natural resource management and through local involvement and ability to derive economic benefits from their resources in their local environment. It was assumed that they will develop positive attitude towards natural resources, hence use them sustainably. A research conducted by Professor Mbaiwa and Amanda L. Stronza in 2010 came to the conclusion that livelihoods in villages where the CBNRM model was active had improved as a result. According to the research, basic needs such as shelter, employment and income and social services like water supply systems, transportation, scholarships and payment of funeral expenses were now provided to community members and funded with income from CBNRM. Social capital has been built up in order to agree, manage and develop the CBNRM process. Corroborating this, Sankoyo Chief said that their village trust had among others managed to purchase vehicles which are used as free public transport by Sankoyo residents to the nearby town of Maun as there is no public transport to their village. The vehicle he says also doubles up as an ambulance. Every household he says was also connected portable running water by the trust and in 2009-10 the trust built a toilet for every household. “These results show that tourism development in these villages is achieving its goal of improved livelihoods, contradicting claims that community development projects are failing to achieve rural development,” they wrote in the research paper.
Fast forward 2017, the CBNRM model has been almost been rendered defunct. While some observers accuse the government of moving to centralise the CBNRM programme as a way of reigning control over them and hindering them from posing serious competition to the foreign-based players in the sector, government’s stance has always been that its move is motivated by the urge to protect and conserve wildlife. Currently most CBNRM projects are non-operational. Speaking on behalf of Sankoyo Tshwaragano Management Trust for example, the village chief pointed out that following the government hunting ban, licenses sub leased to operators in their concessions (MG 33 & 34) were revoked and as a result people were left jobless. “As part of terms of our sublease agreement, the operators gave Sankoyo residents preference when hiring, closure of their camps meant joblessness for people,” he said. Moalosi pointed out that the little revenue that the trust currently generates is from a small campsite they had opened with some of the proceeds collected from concessions subleases. One of the major setbacks currently facing CBNRMs, according to Professor Mbaiwa, is that contrary to the basis of the CBNRM model that recognises that local people must have power to decide over their natural resources in order to encourage sustainable development, tables have now turned and communities are now slapped with directive after directive from the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism headquarters telling them how to conduct business. Confirming this, Sankoyo Chief said the new regulations will among others take away the trust’s power to vet and decide who they award the sublease of their concession to, as the agreement will now be between government and the investor. He bemoaned that since the ban many community projects have since been shelved due to lack of revenue.
CBNRM vs. Enclave Tourism
But then while a model which has proven to promote both conservation and people’s livelihoods is dying a slow death, another industry which benefits from natural resources at the exclusion of locals is blooming and raking in millions by the day. The term enclave tourism may sound foreign to many but is packed with the sad reality that most Batswana are living as far as the local tourism industry, especially in the natural resources rich areas of the Okavango and Chobe areas is concerned. Simply put enclave tourism is defined as a predominately foreign-owned tourism industry. It is further defined as tourism that is concentrated in remote areas in which the types of facilities and their physical location fail to take into consideration the needs and wishes of surrounding communities. Enclave tourism in the Okavango – according to research conducted by Professor Mbaiwa almost a decade ago – indicates that tourism in the area is not socio-economic sustainable. While the introduction of the CBNRM programme in the 1980s briefly moved to bridge this anomaly by equipping and mobilising communities to get involved in the management of natural resources in their areas and benefitting in turn, Mbaiwa pointed out that enclave tourism was indeed one of the main challenges facing CBNRM in the Okavango. “CBNRM and enclave tourism in the Okavango Delta compete for the same natural resources such as land, wildlife and scenic beauty of the area,” said Mbaiwa. Mbaiwa noted that Enclave Tourism, on the other hand, especially in the Okavango Delta is characterised by foreign ownership of tourism facilities, employment, repatriation of funds and failure to effectively contribute to poverty alleviation in the district. While naturally one would have thought government will move swiftly to combat all dangers facing the existence of the CBNRM model and ensuring its sustainability, critics argue it’s quite the opposite. The hunting ban for example, which government continues to argue is purely for the benefit of all and was purely for wildlife conservation, is fingered by some as a deliberate move to benefit established safari camps in the delta while CBNRMs are left to die a slow death. Research also indicates that the dominance of the tourism industry by foreign investors can reduce control over local resources and that this loss of local autonomy is the most negative long-term effect of tourism. “The fact that tourism is dominated by expatriates, who also happen to derive better benefits than local people creates resentment, antagonisms, and resource conflicts between the local people and foreign investors. Many local people assume that the delta, which has sustained their livelihoods for centuries, has been usurped from them and has been transferred, at least temporarily to foreign tourism operators,” Mbaiwa wrote in his study.
Government has, however, defended its actions. The Ministry insisted that his ministry has embarked on a programme to assist community trusts formerly engaged in hunting to convert them into non-consumptive tourism through joint venture partnerships with reputable tourism operators. “There are also deliberate efforts to capacitate communities and pilot partnerships, through joint companies with the Botswana Tourism Organisation, as is the case with Moremi Gorge, Seboba Recreational Park, (Kasane), Camel Park (Tsabong), Qhwihaba caves etc,” said the ministry. According to officials, the pilot project has targeted seven community projects to ensure replication and lessons learnt across the country, particularly marginal areas in tourism development. They refuted accusations that government has shifted back to the top-down approach to conservation by taking back authorisation power and control over resources which were previously left to the CBNRMs, saying the community trusts enjoy their legal status and power lies in their constitution. Government has over the time found out that as an evolving model the CBNRM faced challenges including shrinking economies and declines in wildlife numbers has placed more pressure on the concept, resulting in uncertainties and disillusionment in some developmental quarters. Officials pointed out that lack of strategy for projects to graduate into fully viable business enterprises with a capacity to transform CBNRMs into rural industry of feasible success. The withdrawal of donors has not been favorable to the NGO and CBO sectors in the arena of CBNRM.
“CBNRM has largely remained a wildlife biased intervention at the expense of other natural resources,” said the ministry.