Outrage as Botswana Tourism Board wins prestigious award

May 27, 2010

The Botswana Tourism Board has won the Destination Stewardship award despite the government’s treatment of the Bushmen. © Survival International

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There was outrage yesterday as the World Travel and Tourism Council announced the Botswana Tourism Board as winner of a Tourism for Tomorrow award, despite Survival’s condemnation of the government’s treatment of the Kalahari Bushmen.

The Botswana Tourism Board, a government body, won the ‘Destination Stewardship’ award, which recognizes ‘dedication to and success in maintaining a programme of sustainable tourism management’.

The Botswana government has banned the Bushmen from using a borehole which they rely on for water, despite a 2006 High Court ruling that said they have the right to live on their ancestral lands inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The US State Department’s latest human rights report criticized the government for its ‘continued narrow interpretation’ of the ruling.

The UN’s top official on Indigenous rights, Professor James Anaya, has also condemned the government for its treatment of the Bushmen, arguing that it falls short of the ‘relevant international human rights standards’. He found that Bushmen in the reserve ‘face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water’, and called on the government to reactivate the borehole ‘as a matter of urgent priority’.

At the same time as denying Bushmen water, the government has drilled new boreholes for wildlife and allowed the opening of a Wilderness Safaris tourist lodge in the reserve, complete with bar and swimming pool for tourists. Survival had called for the withdrawal of Wilderness Safaris, nominated for the ‘Global Tourism Business’ award, which it did not win.

The Bushmen are taking the government to court to gain permission to access their borehole and a hearing date has been set for 9th June. In the meantime, the Botswana government is promoting its game reserves as a tourism venue in the run up to the World Cup.

Survival director, Stephen Corry, yesterday said, ‘The Botswana Tourism Board is violating UN norms on Indigenous peoples. If this is prize-winning ‘sustainable tourism’, it highlights the emerging conflict between tribal peoples and the way their lands are used to benefit rich tourists and the companies which service them. Tourists might think about whether they really want to pay for this before visiting Botswana’.