Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) chief executive officer, Myra Sekgororwane is over the moon about the new airstrip that is currently being built outside Mosu village in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
She told The Monitor that the airstrip is a dream come true for Botswana's tourism aspirations. She said the need for an airstrip in the area had long been identified by tourism stakeholders.
She praised President Ian Khama for supporting the project. She said Khama played a big part in convincing the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) to construct the facility. "We have supportive elders (referring to the President) that we report to about our projects from time to time, and we are fortunate that we have a supportive President who shares our vision for tourism," she said.
She showed The Monitor three volumes of what she calls the Makgadikgadi Management Framework, all reinforcing the idea that the vast pan is the new Okavango that needs to be harnessed, exploited and marketed to international tourists. Sekgororwane said her team, made up of stakeholders from other government departments twice visited Mosu last month in a bid to fast track tourism development there.
"Next week, my team will be in Mosu again, for the third time. It shows how serious we take this project," she explained.
In fact it is not only the airstrip that is being developed in the area. Sekgororwane said they are on the verge of building accessible roads targeting certain picturesque areas of Makgadikgadi, especially around Mosu. The roads will not be tarred though, according to the tourism boss, but they will open up Makgadikgadi for self drives by tourists.
She said the Department of Forestry has identified indigenous plants that can be re-introduced into the locality as part of giving the largely flat and no plants area, some vegetation around the unique Unikae Spring in Mosu.
She said the keyword as they aspire to open up Makgadikgadi for international tourists is ACCESS, ACCESS, ACCESS, in a virgin territory where the terrain is difficult to traverse with no airstrip to bring in international tourists as quickly as possible.
With the new airstrip, BTO hopes to keep the international tourist longer at the Makgadikgadi because of easy reach via flights just like the Okavango and the Chobe. Sekgororwane said the BDF; the Department of Wildlife, Forestry and Range Resources Management; Department of Tourism and Museums and Monuments are the usual and immediate stakeholders with BTO.
Sekgororwane said that her organisation invested in another airstrip at the famous Cwhihaba Cave, a facility that was eventually developed by another stakeholder, the Civil Aviation of Botswana (CAB) on behalf
She said BTO continues to manage the airstrip which is used by international tourists to explore the wonders of the caves located deep in the desert.
Sekgororwane said that BTO will ensure that the Mosu airstrip is licenced and well marketed. She said the facility is being built at a time when investors' appetite for the Makgadikgadi, especially along the Boteti River is showing tremendous growth, thanks to the river's new inflows.
"We now have a lot of interest along the Boteti River, for lodges, chalets, campsites, and other tourism activities; because the Makgadikgadi offers something unique that the Okavango does not have," she explained.
Near Mosu, BTO has decided to market at least four beauties. One is the Mosu Escarpment, a picturesque hilltop iron age village believed to have been inhabited between 800AD-1300AD.
The second is the wonder of the Unikae, hailed as one of the few perennial springs located in a scenic valley. Sekgororwane said they plan to build a scenic park at the spring and ensure that livestock are found alternative source of water as they open up the scenic view to tourists.
The third attraction is the Kaitshe Escarpment, a multi-cultural site located on a promontory escarpment overlooking the southern most edges of Sowa Pan, 15km from Mosu. The fourth is the Mmakgama Ruins, named after the wife of Kgosi Kgama (Khama I). The cultural heritage site located about 7km from Mosu is an ancient stone enclosure built during the 14th century as part of the expansion of the great Zimbabwe empire into the Makgadikgadi pans region. Sekgororwane said these are components of the Makgadikgadi management framework. She said while there are airstrips in some edges of the Makgadikgadi such as Orapa and Gweta, there is a need for one in Boteti to open up the Mosu components of tourism to the international market. She denied recent press reports that the Mosu airstrip is built on private property.
She said the facility is located in an ideal area that will cushion it from flooding. "It is located on a higher ground, in the edge of Makgadikgadi to cushion it during times of flooding. As you know Makgadikgadi is generally very flat, so the airstrip had to be situated at a higher place.
"I know the President has a private land there, but his land is not that huge. I have seen it before. I know it," she said.