Botswana means business

Who cares about borders? When a veterinary fence was erected to separate ‘Bushmanland ’, as it was known in Namibia, from Botswana in the last century, it was necessary to put up ladders so that the Ju’hoansi San could hunt and gather bush foods on both sides, as they had always done in the Kalahari.

Another border line runs between Namibia’s Caprivi strip and Botswana, separating the Khwe speaking San people who live in both countries. The new ladders connecting the states are being provided by KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area. Not wooden ladders, this time, but cross-border fora where people with common interests can learn from each other.

Which was how Frederica Ashikuni, the Treasurer of the Kyaramaçan Trust, found herself travelling from Divundu in Namibia to Shakawe in Botswana, to share experiences with other CBOs - Community Based Organisations.

The Kyaramaçan Trust is a novel organisation based in Caprivi Region’s Bwabwata National Park. When the old Caprivi Game Reserve was proclaimed as a park, there was a problem: Khwe and Mbukushu people lived in the area, as they had done for thousands of years. Parks are usually for animals. The only people in them are game rangers and tourists. So what to do?

Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) decided to go for a new model. The people would stay in the park, and would  have new rights over wildlife, subject to quotas set by the MET, unlike in the past when they hunted for food as they wished. The MET followed the model used by Namibian communal conservancies, where game guards are employed by the community to protect wildlife, but where local communities could also benefit financially from limited trophy hunting, and from tourism with camp sites and lodges.

So the Kyaramaçan Trust was born with the support of IRDNC, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, an NGO that fosters communal conservancies. It was the IRDNC that initiated the cross border exchange – one of many fora that are blossoming now that the Caprivi is at the heart of KAZA, linking the five countries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in a vast trans-frontier conservation area.

In Bwabwata National Park the Trust works together with the MET. Some of its members are Khwe San, and the older ones have taught traditional tracking skills to younger game guards. Income from trophy hunting is available for community projects and, perhaps in the future, for sharing among members. The hope is that increased tourism, based around wildlife, will bring more benefits, and the Trust will start to function along business principles.

What could CBOs on the Botswana side teach the Namibians? For the Kyaramaçan Treasurer, finance is the key issue. The Trust doesn’t have a bank account yet, and its finances are managed by IRDNC and the Namibia Nature Foundation. Frederica was keen to learn how Botswana CBOs handle money. The Khwai Community Trust told her that their income from tourism and hunting is paid to the government, which releases it to the CBO after regular good governance checks have been made.

The IRDNC is also hot on governance, and assists conservancies with financial training, book-keeping and constitutional development. The idea is that organisations will be able to police themselves. One good example is Wuparo Conservancy, where the entire management committee should get an individual SMS when money is placed on the bank account or taken off.

Placing trust in members of your own community is not always easy. The treasurer and the rest of the visiting Namibian group were impressed that another CBO, the Sankuyo Community Trust, had outsourced the management to a foreigner from the UK. As far as they were concerned, he was just an employee, tasked with balancing the books, and as a result the Botswana government allows the Trust to run its own finances without checks from above.

The lesson the Kyaramaçan Trust took home was that it should seek to become business-like, adopt good management techniques, and move away from the traditional NGO approach. As KAZA develops, benefits to local people will only grow if communities are capable of grasping opportunities themselves.

Steve Felton
Find more news stories on these themes: