Still waiting on the Japanese tourist


Former President Festus Mogae’s Japanese investor attraction mission close to 10 years ago is still to bear fruit. Staff Writer BAME PIET looks into that sojourn and its impact

When former President Festus Mogae visited Japan in July 2006, with an entourage of not less than five ministers and countless senior government officials, hopes were high that the visit would change Botswana’s fortunes. In fact, the main objective of the visit was to sell the country to the Japanese population of over 120 million. Botswana Tourism industry players were on board the mission to try and lure the moneyed Asians to come check out the rich tourism sites.

Many activities were arranged, during what was dubbed ‘Botswana Week in Japan’, among them traditional dances in strategic locations in Tokyo, display of Botswana diamonds, and high level meetings between Botswana tour operators and their host counterparts. This was something new to the nation that knew very little about Africa, let alone, about this desert landlocked country.

Eight years later, it doesn’t seem the Japanese tourists are convinced that Botswana is their preferred tourist destination. So far, only 8,000 tourists have visited Botswana annually since 2010 and the figure is too small, in comparison to the Japanese love for tourism – locally and abroad. 

“They come here, and spend a few hours at Chobe and Okavango, leave for Victoria Falls and then Cape Town. Botswana should do more to broaden tourist attractions to make them spend days and nights here. One of the possibilities is to explore diamond tourism. If you establish attractive spots about diamonds, Japanese people will come here to see diamonds and even buy them,” said the Japanese Ambassador to Botswana, Masahiro Onishi in an exclusive interview with Mmegi.

“Botswana can also establish diamond tourist attractions. Japanese like diamonds and they would love to see them physically, and maybe touch them, and buy them,” he said about the nation that was the number two biggest economy until neighbouring China overtook it recently. Japan was also the second highest consumer of Botswana diamonds.  Last year alone Japan imported $18 million worth of minerals from Botswana, diamonds dominating the volume.

The small population of Botswana continues to hamper growth of manufacturing and the same problem has turned off technology giants from Japan. Very few companies from that country have established operations here. However, it is not all gloom and doom, as the two countries continue to benefit from each other. The Japanese Ambassador, however, sees an opportunity in Botswana’s geographical location in the SADC region, and his view is that the country could be a centre for distribution of technology products for other SADC countries.

So far the Phakalane 1MW solar power station that was built two years ago by the Japanese government is now connected to the national grid.

The construction of the Kazungula Bridge, which will connect southern Africa to the northern part of the continent, has commenced. The Japanese have contributed significantly to the project through a soft loan to top up what the governments of Botswana and Zambia have put in. The project has been in the pipeline for close to a decade and many delays were caused partly by the political instability in Zimbabwe, the country, which was initially scheduled to contribute to the funding of the project. Zimbabwe subsequently pulled out.

The Japanese are also assisting in the much-anticipated digital migration, which is scheduled for June this year. “Botswana adopted the Japanese style of digital broadcasting, and we are assisting in putting in place 200 transmission terminals from analogue to digital, and 10 experts from Japan are working here to assist in that regard,” he said.

Another programme supported by the Asian superpower is the Grassroots Human Grant scheme, which assists local government establish a pre primary school for disabled children.

Japanese volunteers are also working with stakeholders to improve the work ethic in the country, which has been rated very low. Numerous reports by the Botswana National Productivity Centre have cited poor work ethic as one of the hindrances to attracting Foreign Direct Investment.

“Other volunteers are working in other fields, such as public administration, computer technology, rural development, dress making and graphic design,” the Ambassador said.

The death of a Botswana-based Japanese judo instructor after falling at Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa last year left the local fanatics of the sport devastated. Onishi said that they are going to find a replacement in the near future.

A number of Batswana students are currently studying in Japan on different fields, through the annual sponsorship of three Batswana to study in Japanese universities of their choice. “Some universities have exchange programme with University of Botswana, there is Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which has volunteers in Botswana,” the Ambassador said.

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