President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s latest Cabinet reshuffle brought with it changes which some observers say were inevitable. One such is the deployment of Serowe North Member of Parliament Tshekedi Khama from the Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism to the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development.
Khama has since been replaced by specially elected MP Kitso Mokaila who has been transferred from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. While the move has been received with pomp and ceremony from some quarters, especially because there has been debate that Khama and his elder brother, the former president Ian Khama have big tourism business interests and were running the ministry’s operations to favour their interests some observers feel the latest reshuffle is in fact insignificant, that Mokaila and Khama are birds of the same feather whose modus operandi is almost similar.
In fact Mokaila is not a stranger to the position. He was in the former president's inner circle and was appointed the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism by the former, a move which some observers says showed the amount of trust he had in him as this was one of his key ministries. He served in the position for about eight years.
How he fared?
Mention the name Mokaila, especially in the northern parts of the country where tourism is big business then you are bound to hear it all.
The Chairman of Botswana Guides Association (BOGA), Kenson Kgaga, described Masisi’s move to appoint back Mokaila to the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism as a big failure and disappointment. “Masisi knows very well that Mokaila was removed from the ministry because he was killing the industry and we as the communities residing in the tourism areas were not happy of how he was running the ministry and how he continuous disregarded and disrespected us on daily basis,” said Kgaga.
He added that during his tenure as the Minister, Mokaila made it clear that he was not going to take heed of any advice and recommendations from locals and ran the ministry with an iron fist, making uninformed decisions that largely disadvantaged operators especially small scale operators into mobile safari business who are mostly Batswana. “At some point mobile safaris were banned from conducting game drives in the morning, we fought against such a policy but our complaints were ignored by the minister. He also failed to attend to roads in the Moremi Game Reserve,” Kgaga said.
He explained that in fact Mokaila’s working relationships with operators in the tourism industry and local communities suffered so bad that the parliamentary portfolio committee on Tourism had to be called to Maun about three times to intervene and in all this cases Mokaila’s indifference to grievances raised was evident.
According to Kgaga in days leading to Mokaila’s removal from the ministry, he was personally summoned to brief the parliamentary portfolio committee in Gaborone about what Mokaila was doing to the industry and it became apparent then that he had to go. He said some of Mokaila’s bad policies had to be reversed by his successor Tshekedi Khama. “Even Tshekedi couldn’t understand the logic behind some of the decisions taken by Mokaila,” claimed Kgaga.
Although he acknowledged that Khama just as Mokaila was in his view of no difference, and that the decision to boot him out of the ministry was long overdue, Kgaga was of the view that Masisi could have replaced the latter with somebody else. Chobe MP Machana Shamukuni and Okavango MP Bagalatia Arone are some of the names he said would have been more suitable. “Mokaila has been tried and tested and he failed dismally, we really don’t expect much of a difference from him,” he said.
Mokaila vs Tshekedi
While Khama has had to bear the brunt of implementing some of the most unpopular tourism policies, the fact of the matter is most of the changes were in fact initiated under Mokaila’s tenure in office. They include; the controversial hunting ban, the tourism land bank, centralization of CBNRM to mention but a few.
Government introduced the Tourism Land Bank, whereby all prime tourism concession areas in Botswana including the Okavango Delta were transferred from Tawana Land Board (TLB) to MLH through a ministerial directive to create what came to be known as the tourism land bank.
In his academic paper titled: “Tourism in a Shadow State Environment: the case of the Okavango Delta” Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute has described the setup of the tourism land bank as a ploy by politicians and their business cronies to control prime tourism land in the Okavango Delta
Although it was initiated under Mokaila’s time in office, the Tourism Land Bank was finally implemented by Khama, following a government directive of 2014 which transferred the lands to MLH and BTO.
He however can be credited for playing a critical role in advancing Botswana’s tourism interests especially regionally. It is under Mokaila’s tenure that the cornerstone of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) was finally put on paper and all five partner countries being the governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to negotiate and work towards its establishment.
The goal of the KAZA TFCA is “To sustainably manage the Kavango Zambezi ecosystem, its heritage and cultural resources based on best conservation and tourism models for the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities and other stakeholders in and around the eco-region through harmonization of policies, strategies and practices.
The KAZA TFCA process evolved from two initiatives namely, the Okavango Upper Zambezi International Tourism Initiative (OUZIT) and the “Four Corners” Trans boundary Natural Resource Management initiative. However, unlike its predecessors, the KAZA TFCA initiative is owned and led by the governments of the five partner countries, with a clear focus on conservation as the primary form of land use and tourism being a by-product thereof.
Botswana hosts KAZA TFCA secretariat and as the Minister of Wildlife, natural resources and tourism, Mokaila was at the fore front of all activities to do with the regional agreement .