Khama dresses down Survival International

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After months of silence, President Ian Khama has finally responded to the campaign by Survival International (SI) to engineer a boycott of Botswana diamonds over the relocation of Basarwa from Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR).

Khama strategically chose Friday's launch of the P24 billion Cut 8 project to hit back at the British-based NGO. He responded with fire, attacking the NGO's motives, attitude and actions, the latest of which is the call to boycott Botswana diamonds. The occasion could not have been bigger. The Cut 8 is the single biggest investment in Botswana and the most important event at Jwaneng mine since it was opened in 1982.

The timing could not have been better. Negotiating teams from government and De Beers had just returned from Kasane from another round of negotiations on a new sales agreement for Debswana's diamonds.

Khama needed to robustly dismiss SI's claims and assure investors of continued smooth diamond production. And robust he was.

"It is only our misguided detractor Survival International who would like to see all the socio-economic benefits from diamonds for all our citizens reversed, by embarking upon a campaign of lies and misinformation that seeks to achieve for a section of our population, a life of backwardness that appeals to their racist mentality of having people in Africa live a primitive life of deprivation co-existing alongside wild animals as was the case in the past," he said.

He added: "No Motswana should exist as a tourist project to satisfy the desires of a few misguided foreigners living relatively well off with all the benefits they enjoy in a developed economy, while wanting to satisfy their fantasies by trying to influence some of our people to live a primeval life of a bye gone era of hardship and indignity".

Turning to diamantaire and Debswana chair, Nicky Oppenheimer, who was seated to his right, Khama said the reason SI was stepping up its campaign was that it had noted government's engagement with the people of the CKGR is bearing fruit.

"Recent results make me confident that we will soon find a solution and that is why their campaign has been stepped up because when we resolve this, their source of funding will be dried up. I'm saying when we find the solution and not if we find it."

Khama said SI's boycott campaign would negatively affect the welfare of Batswana, "thus exposing the myth that they claim to care for people. They really only care for themselves and use these campaigns to appeal to donors' emotions, so that they may benefit from funding".

"Survival International are nothing more than modern day highway robbers, demanding 'your money or your life.' This is how Survival International survives," he stated.

Since World Tourism Day on September 27, SI has been campaigning for a boycott of Botswana's diamonds, roping in celebrities to their cause. Online bloggers have largely slammed the campaign questioning SI's motives and the wisdom of attempting to sabotage Botswana's economy to 'save' a section of the population. While different state organs have responded to some of SI's claims, it is now that Khama is entering the fray.

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