Gaborone As a Tourist Destination

Let’s come at it again – the regularly repeated conviction that not only can Gaborone be developed as a tourist centre but that it already boasts an array of features that are bound to interest and even excite both the foreign and local visitor.

The most recent advocate of this line of thought is Dr Thapelo Otlogetswe who, having toured the country during the holiday period, returned to base in Gaborone convinced, as many of us have been for so long, that, in terms of tourism, there could be so much more to this country than wildlife.  Indeed so convinced was he that he listed features in and around Gaborone which, supposedly, have appeal. (Telegraph 13.1.16).

His is a familiar list – can it be otherwise? – which shows that Gaborone, curiously, is not only wildlife dependent but that it has been unwilling to be anything else.

With two game reserves (8 and 3 on the Dr’s list) ) and a National Museum (2) dominated by wildlife dioramas, Gaborone has little or nothing which can compete or offer a contrasting experience.

The optimists may believe otherwise but whereas a visitor may need no assistance when admiring a zebra, he/she may be totally lost when it comes to Seretse’s statue (4) having no idea who he was or indeed anything about this country’s even recent history.  But then why might it be expected that a foreign tourist, let alone a local, would find it fascinating and absorbing to stand outside the decrepit walls of the old village prison (11) and be told that people used to be executed there? Otherwise what does the Dr have on his menu? Take El Negro’s grave (3). When I was last there, the explanatory notice had been stripped by the sun and was illegible.

Even if El Negro had never lived in this country, it should be understood that his is a particular unhappy story which is unlikely to have much appeal for an average foreign tourist. And then there is the morula tree (10) already located disastrously adjacent to the camera tense US Embassy and about to be sandwiched between this and the new Office of the President.  A visit to Parliament. Yes indeed. But hopefully with a really well informed guide because the leaflets, booklets and books that are available for tourists elsewhere, do not exist here.

Gaborone is not a place which you can see for yourself. It has to be interpreted.

But all tourists should be made aware, as indeed should Dr Otlogetswe, that  the photographing of government buildings, by tourists or anybody else, is not permitted – or even, as I discovered, of privately owned buildings which are being partly used by the government.  This is not a joke. Two Chinese who had recently arrived in this country spent a night in jail because, wandering around to see what was of interest to them, they took photos of a house in Phakalane which happened to be owned by the Director of Security and Intelligence.

The lesson for all tourists is clear – don’t take photos of any house or building in Gaborone because, unbeknown to yourself, it might be owned, occupied or rented by someone who happens to be extraordinarily important. Equals a major security issue.   Over the last 50 years, the country’s almost empty historical canvas has been filled in and a great deal of much interest is now known.

No attempt has been made by Gaborone to capitalise on this new found knowledge and to relate capital and country to the countries around it. The Phuthadikobo initiative was an attempt, followed by other NGO museums, to achieve that huge psychological breakthrough. But the government was without interest and the initiative was blunted, perhaps even ended. Not all is doom and gloom, however because there have been some positives.

Hotels, lodges and b&bs have sprung up all over the place – an essential element in any town/city that attempts to attract tourists. But then note has to be taken of those people’s views, dated perhaps, which, in the past, have been uncomfortably uncomplimentary. a) ‘Gaborone is an amorphous kind of place – the kind of town you drive around trying to find only to escape as soon as you can, not precisely because it’s unpleasant but because it is incredibly vague and unsatisfying.Zimbabwe and Botswana.

‘The Rough Guide. 1996 b) Lonely Planet on the National Museum. If you come with expectations reasonably lowered, you may enjoy this small, neglected museum. It’s a good way to kill an hour if you’re into taxidermy; exhibits of stuffed animals sit between those on pre-colonial and colonial history. And my own favourite c) Parliament Grounds -‘As the ground is paved square with a war memorial in memory of the 300 Batswana who died fighting with the aliens against fascism in the second world war, 1939-1945.’Big Foot City Tours 2014

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