Former Botswana Television(BTV) reporter Archibald Ngakayagae is in a fierce brawl with a Sese youngster Refilwe Kewagamang who accuses him of hijacking his Bush Walking concept which was intended to raise money for charity.
Attracting almost 1 500 participants and getting support from many sponsors annually, the Desert Bush Walk was first a concept introduced by Kewagamang to former US Peace Corp Amy Benson for raising funds to build a centre for creative learning to teach the Sese Primary School students carpentry. According to Kewagamang, Benson who was on attachment at Sese Primary School wanted the learning centre to be built and he (Kewagamang) suggested the idea of walking in the bush for charity. That is why Desert Bush Walk was started in 2014.
“In 2013, I was a Peace Corps volunteer stationed at the primary school in Sese and, after conversations that I had privately with the school leadership (before ever meeting Refilwe), it became clear that both a library and a creative learning center were things they wanted to see happen at the school. I was then faced with the problem of figuring out how to fund these two initiatives, at which point I was introduced to Refilwe and he came up with the idea to host a walk as a fund-raiser,” Benson said in an interview with The Botswana Gazette last week. Her comment corroborates a proposal seen by this publication written by her and Kewagamang to potential sponsors.
Ngakayagae was then introduced to help in sponsorship and publicity according to a list of “to do things” seen by this publication compiled by Kewagamang and Benson. Kewagamang said they approached Ngakayagae to help them get sponsorship from Majwe Mining company as he is the contact person being a public relations officer. In an interview, Benson said she worked with Kewagamang for the first several weeks to organize the fundraiser and had meetings with Ngakayagae who was working for a mining subcontractor. A centre for learning was built and Minister of Basic Education Unity Dow officiated its launch.
However, according to Kewagamang, the concept he made initially for the benefit of his community, to empower it with carpentry skills through Sese Primary School was tactically hijacked and made into a national event with much fanfare and all the media attention going to Ngakayagae. All the media reports seen by this publication, made no mention of Kewagamang while saying Ngakayagae is the “one who came with the idea” or the walk being his “brainchild.” Despite records showing that Benson and Kewagamang were the ones who teamed up for the concept, the media and Desert Bush Walk Facebook page only acknowledges the idea as that of Benson and Ngakayagae who are said to be the authors of this concept. This made Kewagamang incensed as he believes his charitable concept is now being used for selfish gains and media attention. He is unhappy that Ngakayagae took the idea away from his community and derailed it for his personal gain.
The learning centre which was built from the Desert Walk proceeds and launched by Minister Dow in 2015 is reportedly a white elephant. Photographic evidence turned up by this publication shows that the centre is now used as classrooms and is not serving the intended purpose. Former Sese Primary School Parents Teachers Association (PTA) chairman Edward Khupe told this publication that he does not know who runs the charity work but used to work with Kewagamang when the project started. He was also not sure why the walk was not helping the school as first promised.
However, Benson denied ‘hijacking’ Kewagamang’s idea. She said the walk was a collaboration of the two men and herself. Benson also accused Kewagamang of abandoning the project and leaving it with her and Ngakayagae. She said Kewagamang came up with the idea while Ngakayagae and herself gave it completion because he left, before returning again to help.
“I didn’t hear a word from Refilwe at all between August 2015 and June 2017. The only person I interacted with from Botswana during that time was Archie. Since Archie and I were the ones who completed the walk together and since Archie was on perfectly good terms with both Refilwe and with the school when I left, why would I have the slightest reason to think anything except the fact that he had continued the walk in my absence, wasn’t that a beautiful and wonderful thing? I only began to hear from Refilwe again in June of this year to tell me that he was upset that Archie was apparently claiming that the walk had been his idea. This is what I believed to be “childish.” This is not a word I would use with you, a reporter, but a word that I used with an old friend of mine (Refilwe) in a moment of frustration,” said Benson in an interview.
Benson added that she believes arguing over whose idea the fundraiser was is totally missing the point. The US based former peace-corps said both Archie and Refilwe want the same things – to help students and those in need in southwestern Botswana, neither of them could have done it without the other one, she argued.
Ngakayagae admitted that the idea of walking for charity at Sese village was brought to his attention by Benson and Kewagamang. He told this publication that before Kewagamang came to him, he already had plans to come up with walk for charity events. He also showed this publication the proposal he made for sponsored walks in Jwaneng and Serowe. Ngakayagae said Kewagamang and Benson approached him as an individual not as Majwe Mining or any company and he decided to partner with them. He denies that there has ever been a letter addressed to his employer contrary to what Kewagamang claimed.
“Once I had been approached by these two individuals it was apparent that we all were passionate about giving back to communities, particularly those underprivileged or needy. We began brainstorming towards a course that would assist Amy’s endeavors for Sese Primary School and this emanated in a once off event which was to be known as the Jwaneng-Sese Bush Walk for Sese Primary School’s “Creative Learning Center & Library” ONLY (check initial proposal and the final proposal as proof). Unfortunately, a few weeks into our agreement on working together Refilwe Kewagamang, abandoned our project explaining that he was moving to the Boteti region to pursue other opportunities. Myself and Amy however continued to work together and partnered with a team of other volunteers with the same agenda who to date now serve as volunteers for the Annual Jwaneng Desert Winter Bush Walk,” said Ngakayagae.
Ngakayagae who referred to Kewagamang as a “self-proclaimed youth activist” said the idea of building a learning centre from the proceeds of a sponsored walk was supposed to be a once off thing. He suggested that he then developed the idea and made it to a regional event that it is today. The Desert Bush Walk event is now thronged by participants from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Namibia according to its organizers.
Asked why Kewagamang was missed by many media reports and any recognition, Ngakayagae suggested Kewagamang was not being mentioned as a reprisal for abandoning the project. Kewagamang however denied abandoning the project saying he was tactically pushed away or sidelined. Ngakayagae argued that Kewagamang did not contribute anything to the walk and had abandoned it. He said after vanishing into thin air, Kewagamang came back and demanded to be hired as the project manager for the learning centre. He said he was shocked that Kewagamang even demanded payment from them and did not want to offer his services voluntarily.
Both Benson and Kewagamang said they have not benefited any penny from the Desert Bush Walk but the event has so far funded many charity projects.