Monday, 30 May 2011

Botswana Chobe National Park – security risk – April 2011

Botswana is a favourite travel destination of mine. The political stability is uniquely refreshing. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that the gloss is wearing a little thin. Evidence of decline, however temporary, is subtle but altogether obvious if you look closely enough in the right places.

Botswana’s policy of low-impact tourism, ( low volume – high revenue) is noteworthy and a lesson to other countries. Fly-in safaris notwithstanding, many of the lodges, hotels and camps are reached by road. Self-drive tourism to Botswana’s northern parks and sites is, as always, bustling . Sadly though the ‘surfaced’ road between Nata and Kasane has decayed to such an extent that travelling the 300 odd kilometers to Kasane from Nata or vise-versa, particularly at this time of the year, is for long stretches at least, a quagmire of mud, stray animals and deep potholes. I concede that some of Botswana’s charm comes from the remoteness of its parks and the ‘romance’ of its natural wilderness. Getting there is usually half the fun. Nevertheless, if Botswana continues to allow international, industrial heavy-rig transit en-route to Zambia via this route for very little revenue / benefit, then its current attempts at rebuilding this road, aptly named the ‘Nata-Kazangula Project’ is naive at best. An aggressive tolling system on the new road might address the issue; time will tell.
However, its not the state of the roads I want to highlight here. The burgeoning security risk for tourists to Chobe NP and neighbouring Kasane is concerning. An international territorial dispute between Botswana and its immediate neighbour, Namibia, over a tiny, inconsequential island in the middle of the Chobe floodplain seems to have upset the local people on both sides of the river. Planting a large conspicuous Botswana flag in the middle of the island ‘farmed by generations of Namibians‘ seems, as a neutral, to be adding insult to injury. The lodges and hotels in Kasane on the Chobe river employ both Namibians and locals. The Namibian employees, who have to travel through immigration each day, make it patently obvious in conversation that they feel exploited. The local Botswana people will tell you that the rising levels of serious crime in Kasane emanate from Namibia. Either way, it’s indisputable that Kasane / Chobe poses a serious security risk for travellers.

By way of example one of my hitherto favourite sites in all of Botswana is the Ihaha camp site located some 25 odd kilometers west of Kasane on the banks of the Chobe river in the Chobe National Park. The site is scenically spectacular. March / April is generally considered to be low season. Consequently, besides the small staff compliment some distance away we were the only people in camp. One hour post sunset an unmarked vehicle arrived unannounced in our camp. We were informed by the two occupants of the vehicle that they were Botswana police. Furthermore, since we ‘were to be attacked tonight by people from Namibia’ they would stand watch. Evidently, the Namibians, as the story goes, would row across the Chobe expanse from Namibia to the shoreline in Botswana in makoros when camping lights in the darkness, across the water confirmed that the camp site was occupied. Having robbed the occupants of their valuables at knife-point they evidently make good their escape by retracing their route across international waters safely back into Namibia. You can imagine our consternation.

Unsurprisingly the Namibians will tell you differently. Having cancelled the rest of our pre-booked stay at Ihaha in favour of Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane we were told by Namibian employees that it was Botswana residents who were supplying Namibians with information on tourists who would then be robbed, sometimes killed and the spoils shared. Either way, an unpleasant and obviously sad eventuality if taken at face value. Chobe Safari Lodge themselves had a very large security contingent working the night-shift which, if nothing else, adds credence to the threat. 

If Botswana wants to preserve its reputation as a safe destination then decisive steps need to be taken, immediately, to dispel the security risks in northern Chobe.

1 comment:

  1. Spending vacation in Botswana & stay at hotels to observe the well defined accommodations. If people wants to with their friends & want to see stay some days at Chobe hotels & feel the luxury which you are looking for. Watch to get more at: tour is really good place to visit.