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Tarnishing Botswana’s Brand


Nov 8, 2013 4:00 AM   By Avi Krawitz
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RAPAPORT... Survival International may or may not be aware of it, but its campaign to boycott Botswana tourism is well timed to put a dampener on the country’s diamond celebrations. After all, next week’s De Beers sight in Gaborone and the concurrent auction held by the state-owned Okavango Diamond Company signal a new dawn for the country. The government would be wise to take note of the criticism regarding its handling of the Kalahari Bushmen if it is to maintain its clean image and strong Botswana diamond brand.

Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of tribal peoples, this week targeted the World Travel Market exhibition in London to convince visitors to boycott travel to Botswana “over its persecution of Africa’s last hunting Bushmen.” The group claims that the government is denying the Bushmen their right to hunt and access to water, as well as the right to live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

The campaign has its roots in the evictions of the Bushmen from the reserve in 1997, 2002 and 2005. Survival International claims that these evictions were carried out to make way for the development of the Gope diamond mine, which was owned by De Beers at the time. While both De Beers and the government denied the claim, Survival International succeeded in garnering international and high-profile support. The Gope development was delayed and the asset eventually sold to Gem Diamonds, which renamed the mine ‘Ghaghoo.’ Production is now expected to launch in the second half of 2014.

Rachel Stenham, a campaigner for Survival International, stressed to Rapaport News that the group is not against the mine development. If anything, she noted that the Bushmen are in favor of it, as many hope to find employment at Ghaghoo. Rather, she explained that it’s the government’s treatment of the issue and its refusal to adhere to various court rulings passed in favor of the Bushmen that the group is hoping to change.

A 2006 decision restored the Bushmen’s right to live and hunt in the reserve, while a January 2011 decision gave them the right to reopen blocked-up boreholes. Survival International claims the government has only opened up one borehole, thus restricting water access to the wider community, and has refused to issue hunting licenses. In addition, the government has positioned the paramilitary Special Support Group in the reserve to prevent the Bushmen from hunting, according to Survival International.

Jeff Ramsay, a government spokesperson, dismissed the campaign as reactionary and as an attempt to force the government to give up its policy stating that the country’s natural resources belong to Botswana for the benefit of the whole nation. Ramsay added that the government has adhered to the 2006 court judgments restoring the Bushmen’s rights to unfettered access and residence rights to the reserve. 
Sometimes it does seem that Survival International is clutching at straws on this issue. Nevertheless, the group’s travel boycott has gained some traction since its September launch. The campaign has garnered a fair bit of press coverage and political support, and since the start of the campaign a trickle of tour operators have pulled out of the country. In order to up the ante, Stenham said the group is well prepared to call for a boycott of Botswana diamonds if the government doesn’t budge.

That should certainly raise some eyebrows in Gaborone. Well ahead of tourism, diamonds are Botswana’s number 1 moneymaker and the country is a poster child for the good that the industry can do.

That good has culminated in the events planned for next week. After more than 100 years selling its diamonds from its London base, De Beers has moved its sales operations to Gaborone with the first Botswana sight starting on November 11. Already, a number of diamond manufacturing units have been set up in the country and ancillary services such as banks, brokers and shipping services have opened in anticipation of the De Beers move. Many are housed in the Diamond Technology Park, which has become a hub of diamond activity in its own right.

The relocation is therefore a triumph for Botswana, which owns 15 percent of De Beers, and results from the government’s long-term supply deal with the company. That deal also enabled the establishment of Okavango Diamond Corporation, which now receives an off-take of Debswana production – De Beers Botswana mining operations – and will hold its second full-scale auction on November 14 after its September launch.

The combination of the two has already drawn significant diamond-related traffic to Botswana on a regular basis and will eventually enable Gaborone to emerge as a dynamic rough and polished diamond-trading center. The country’s retail, tourism, food and construction industries will all benefit in the footsteps of the diamond trade.

These developments are all a part of the government’s attempts to diversify the economy away from its reliance on diamond mining, which still accounts for about 80 percent of export earnings. But as a result, the Botswana government suddenly finds itself in a strong position within the industry. It has better price discovery through the Okavango auctions, and a more hands-on approach with De Beers on its doorstep.

Significantly, these changes create a tremendous branding opportunity for Botswana that it didn’t necessarily have before. The country can now trace its diamonds throughout the pipeline. About 12 percent of Debswana production is being supplied to Okavango and not being mixed with De Beers production from other countries. Those goods can be manufactured in the country, set into jewelry and sold as a purely Botswana diamond product.

With continued concerns about ethical and human rights issues associated with the diamond industry, and undisclosed synthetics entering the market, Botswana has a powerful story to tell about its own product. A pitch such as this would widely sell because the Botswana story is a positive one highlighted by the events of the coming week.

A call to boycott the brand would certainly tarnish Botswana’s account and should be averted at all costs. The prolonged and nudging campaign by Survival International is evidence enough that the government needs to be more proactive in its own narrative, regardless of whether the accusations against it are true or not. Even though the plight of the Kalahari Bushmen is no longer a diamond-related issue, it could yet have its impact. That would be a great shame for the government, and its burgeoning diamond hub, having already come so far.

The writer can be contacted at
Follow Avi on Twitter: @AviKrawitz

This article is an excerpt from a market report that is sent to Rapaport members on a weekly basis. To subscribe, go to or contact your local Rapaport office.

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Tags: Avi Krawitz, Botswana, Bushmen, De Beers, diamonds, Gem Diamonds, Ghaghoo, gope, Rapaport, Survival International
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