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Joubert’s grip on Botswana tourism wanes

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  • TLB seizes NG23A Concession operated by Great Plains
  • NG32 Concession, operated by Great Plains, also given back to TLB
  • Masisi reverses Khama’s decision to have tourism ministry manage and allocate concessions
  • Great Plains’ NG23 expired in 2014 but has been operating without lease

KEABETSWE NEWEL

As President Mokgweetsi Masisi purges the tourism sector, government has begun taking back lucrative concessions in the Okavango Delta that former president Ian Khama’s friend and business partner Derek Joubert (through his company Great Plains) allegedly profited from illegally, by operating without lease agreements and direct allocations without any tendering. As a result, the grip of the Khamas and their friends on the money-spinning sector is dwindling by the day, The Botswana Gazette can reveal.

On 4 October 2019, Tawana Land Board (TLB) wrote to Makgobokgobo Youth Trust (a letter which this publication has seen) to inform its Chairperson that during a meeting held on 27 September 2019, the landboard resolved to allocate NG23A Concession (a portion of NG12) to Makgobokgobo Youth Trust on condition that they submit the application.

What is interesting is that all this time Concession NG23A has been occupied by Great Plains, albeit without permission from TLB, Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) or the ministry. Previously, The Botswana Gazette reported that during Ian Khama’s presidency, and when his younger brother Tshekedi was tourism minister, the National Geographic filmmaker is alleged to have illegally constructed a safari camp in a concession ‘liberated’ from Okavango Community Trust (OCT), albeit without any agreement with the community or BTO.

Former president Khama owns significant shares in Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd which trades as Great Plains, together with the Jouberts.

The concession named NG23A is situated at the end of the lush panhandle of the Okavango Delta and was supposed to have been administered by OCT all these years. However, under the Khamas (Ian as president and Tshekedi as tourism minister), Great Plains operated the concession without even so much as a lease agreement with the native community.

This publication has established that NG23A Concession was non-existent a few years ago. However, under the leadership of Tshekedi then at the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism and BTO decided to cut a portion of land from NG12 concession and christened the portion NG23A. According to members of OCT, no company had sought permission to partner with it to operate a safari camp in the area styled NG23A Concession. But in previous engagements with Felix Monggae, the Deputy Permanent Secretary (PS) at the tourism ministry answered that as far as he knew the NG23A Concession was still vacant and no structure had been set up there. Inspite of that, what this publication long established is that the ministry developed and drew a new map to fudge and befuddle things in order to hide the Joubert’s self-allocation. Even so, a visit to the place clearly showed that the Joubert’s safari camp to be squatting right inside the controversial area ceded from Concession NG12.

After The Botswana Gazette reported in July this year that Great Plains operated NG23A Concession without a lease, Joubert responded thus: “We do have the relevant permission for this. In addition, our permits are in order and up to date.”

 

CONCESSIONS TRANSFERRED BACK TO LAND BOARD

In January 2014, former president Ian Khama, through the then Minister of Lands Lebonaamang Mokalake, issued a directive in which the Ministry of Tourism, then under the captaincy of his younger brother Tshekedi as minister, assumed the mandate to manage, allocate and deal with parcels of land specified in the directive. The land parcels included lucrative tourism concessions. The decision was believed to have been aimed at ensuring that the Khamas gained direct control of concessions so as to themselves influence and allocate the concessions without referring to anyone.
When he assumed the presidency, Masisi reversed the Khamas’ decision by means of a presidential a directive of his own, CAB 3(A)/2019. Subsequently, a savingram from the Ministry of Lands Water and Sanitation written to all land boards dated 14 May 2019 states that Mokalake’s 2014 decision had been rescinded with the consequent effect of bestowing on the land boards the responsibility of land management and ancillary matters in accordance with policy and law.
In Ngamiland, a total of 29 concessions have thus been handed back to the land authorities as tribal land. This includes Concession NG23A from which the Jouberts have allegedly profited from without a lease. Under the revised system, Concession NG23A was subsequently awarded to Makgobokgobo Youth Trust by Tawana Land Board. Great Plains also operated NG32 which has also been transferred to TLB. Further, Banoxi (Pty), trading as Great Plains, has since 2014 operated NG23 without a lease from BTO or the Okavango Community Trust. The Jouberts bought NG23 from Wilderness safaris in 2012. NG23 Concession is located on the edge of the Okavango Delta, a lucrative area in Botswana’s tourism destinations. Joubert however told this publication that he has permission from BTO to operate.

 

CONCESSIONS THAT GOVERNMENT WILL NOT RENEW

When President Masisi took a decision to lift a controversial ban on hunting last year, Joubert and his business partner in former president Khama were the first to the frontline of vitriolic criticism of Masisi whom they accused of introducing “blood law.” Masisi responded by pointing out that his critics were the very people benefiting from the hunting ban much to the detriment of Batswana. He swore that government would not renew their lease agreements and would instead ensure that Batswana also benefited from tourism. In the archives of Safari Club International (SCI), a document authored in 1996 reveals how Botswana’s ex-president Ian Khama, in cahoots with personal friend Derek Joubert and Conservation International (CI), had deliberately introduced the hunting ban to benefit filmmakers, especially Joubert, and safari photojournalists to the exclusion of native Batswana.
Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd, trading as Great Plains, operates NG16, which Joubert co-owns with the former president. NG16 is among concessions that will not expire until 2025. Inside NG16, Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd has four tourist camps – Selinda, Zarafa, Motswiri and Explorer. The current lease is from 2010 and will expire at the end of 2025. The company was given the lease during Ian Khama’s presidency.

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