Shortly after the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs came under heavy criticism for refusing to open up borders, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has announced the lifting of travel restrictions across borders starting Monday, albeit in a controlled manner.
A week ago, members of the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Gender Affairs came down hard on Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Immigration, Molefi Keaja, urging him to ensure that borders are opened soon. This follows national calls for Botswana to start gradual re-opening of borders to allow for international travel to save the ailing economy. The MPs insist that time has arrived for borders to be opened to allow Batswana to continue with their lives.
At the time Keaja said his ministry has been engaging with other relevant stakeholders being the task force team and Ministry of Health over opening for other travelling. “We as the ministry that is responsible for the management of travel across our borders we are ready because our immigration staff is all over the borders. It is important that the health team lay out protocols for travel. The issue of reopening borders is a hot potato,” Keaja told the parliamentary committee.
Botswana’s number one trading partner in SADC region, South Africa beginning 1st of October opened its borders to allow international travel with restrictions put in to be followed as well. South Africa opened its borders for travelers coming from African countries while those that come from high risk- countries in Europe such as United States of America (USA) are prohibited.
Calls have been growing for government to open the borders on a phased gradual manner that with travel restrictions setup by Presidential Covid-19 task force team to monitor any threats. Ngamiland MP and Chairman of the committee Caterpillar Hikuama argued vehemently that it is important to open up borders to allow for essential business travel and welcoming back international tourists. According to Hikuama, tourism businesses have been hit hard by the restrictive travel measures therefore saying that tourism must be revived before the situation get out of hand.
His counterpart in Maun East, Goretetse Kekgonegile, concurred that international tourist travel based on Covid-19 protocols should be opened up, noting that other countries are already benefitting from opening theirs.
Renowned local tourism industry player Reaoboka Mbulawa said government should bear in mind negative consequences that closure of borders will have especially on the tourism sector.
Mbulawa who owns SKL Group of camps in an interview said tourism industry is in full support for borders to be reopened bolstering that Botswana’s tourism is on the brink of total collapse.
“The market trends for tourism are changing. Our competitive neighbors Namibia and South Africa have resumed economic activity with international tourists visiting the countries. We will lose business to this two countries. Botswana must open borders to avoid collapse,” he complained, adding that small citizen owned tourism safaris and tour guides have been crippled.
Meanwhile, Secretary General of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Thusang Butale, concurred the closure of borders is causing havoc for the tourism sector as workers are laid off. Butale said government should prioritize reopening of borders for international tourists adding that retrenchment fund should be considered by government as huge job cuts loom post SOE.
Business Botswana (BB) president Gobusamang Keebine said as the private sector they have engaged Covid-19 task force team to lay down health protocols that will guide the opening. He indicated that the extension of SOE by a further six months will cause devastation to the private sector economy that on its knees hence opening of borders should be a way forward. “As private sector, we were clearly against the extension of SOE. We proposed to Dr Masupu and Dr Tshipayagae to lay down comprehensive protocols that would advise government to open borders. SOE is debilitating on businesses and borders must open," said the disappointed Keebine.
Furthermore, Keebine said it will be ill advised if Botswana can open up its borders and close them like the Covid-19 task force team closed tourism sector last week. “If borders are open they should be opened up for good without any inconveniences. The way Dr Tshipayagae suddenly limited the movement for people last week spelled dust on domestic tourism. Nobody will come to Botswana if there is no clear protocols on travelling,’’ he added.
Chief Economist at SPECK DYNAMICS Sennye Obuseng said he concurs with private sector calls that government should open borders as early as possible to allow for economy to recover too. He said if borders remain closed for a long time when other strategic economic and trading partners of Botswana being Namibia and South Africa open, local economy will be damaged. “The reopening of Botswana borders should be done swiftly to guard against harsh impending economic disasters for us. Movement should be monitored with health guidelines from the task force team like Business Botswana proposes. It is time to live with the virus,” Obuseng stressed.
Government recently announced that borders will be reopened for farmers to export their live cattle for slaughtering for a period of three (3) months effective 1st October to December 2020.
South Africa joined other countries such as Namibia that opened up its borders on October 01, 2020 to allow for international travel for business with travelers having to produce negative Covid-19 results upon arrival. South African International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor said the country would gradually open borders with only business travelers, diplomats and investors would be allowed into SA.