afrol News, 30 November - The government and citizens of Botswana are expressing outrage at a campaign launched by a British group, calling for a world-wide boycott of the country's diamonds and tourism industry, fronted by celebrities.
The radical UK group Survival for years has defended the right of the San ("Bushmen") people to retain their traditional hunter and gathering lives in the Greater Kalahari Game Reserve. While the San people won a court case against government, letting them return to the Reserve, Survival claims Botswana is still violating their human rights by not providing them with water within the park.
As a response, the group in September launched a boycott campaign against Botswana, trying to hit the country's two main revenue earners - diamonds and the tourism industry.
A protest was allegedly staged at the November London World Trade Market (WTM), a major tourism fair. According to Survival, the group had staged a large demonstration at the WTM, targeting the Botswana stand. However, two afrol News journalists present at the WTM at that time did not notice any protesters at all.
Unluckily for Botswana, the UK group however managed to get larger media attention after convincing a group of locally known celebrities - namely Gillian Anderson, Joanna Lumley, Quentin Blake, Sophie Okonedo and Mark Rylance - to front the campaign. The celebrities pledged "not to wear Botswana diamonds in protest" against government's "starving of the Kalahari Bushmen."
The Batswana government has tried to keep a low profile regarding the boycott call in an attempt not to give the UK group further unwanted publicity. However, local independent media, in particular the market leader 'Mmegi', have increasingly reported on the boycott call and questioned government's passivity.
'Mmegi' during November has published several opinion letters from Survival leader Stephen Corry and from a large number of concerned Batswana citizens. The growing public discussion is marked by public outrage over the boycott call coming from the old colonial capital, London.
Now, the Botswana government found it necessary to express its "grave concern" over "insidious media articles by Survival." The government of Botswana in a statement "condemns in the strongest terms Survival's deliberate and shameful lies calculated to tarnish the image of the country."
Survival wanted the San people "to live a life of poverty and disease in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, where there are no social amenities," the government statement says.
"It is unacceptable that Survival International and its sponsors, who enjoy the comfort of life in highly industrialised countries, have the audacity and arrogance to target the economy of a promising developing country that has pulled itself by its bootstraps from poor and least developed status to upper middle income status in just four decades," the statement added.
Government further questioned the motives behind the "misguided campaign" by Survival, saying the UK group would "resort to doing whatever is necessary to mislead unsuspecting donors to continue to support them. We need to bring to the attention of all people of goodwill the unbridled and racist actions of Survival International in its hidden and extremist agenda towards Botswana."
While most Batswana seem to agree with government, seeing the UK actionists as extremists and racists, during the last week also other voices are emerging. Some say Botswana cannot win the war against the world opinion in the way it treats the San people.
Others note that only government "stubbornness" is hindering a solution as it only needs to reconnect a dismantled borehole that would provide water to the San. For the Batswana, the price of a tourism and diamond boycott is too high, it appears from the growing public engagement.
Meanwhile, Survival is happy about the sudden interest about their case in Botswana, as national organisations and the press for years mostly had ignored their loud campaign. Currently, the small UK group is seen as far bigger than it is. Mr Corry's mentioning of "several million [Survival] website visitors" and other attempts to make Survival look like a big and professional organisation are reaching through.
Even government feels it necessary to "reassure all those who buy our diamonds" and to "encourage nature lovers to visit our tourist attractions" despite of the boycott call.
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