Postcard From Botswana

In case a journalist is intending to write another article about the “Botswana variant” please could they note the four reported cases in Botswana were visiting diplomats.

Our population is only two-and-a-half million in a country the size of France so we have plenty of social distancing. Lumbering Botswana with responsibility for a new, vaccine-evading Covid variant is attention grabbing and thoughtless and will cause a huge increase in poverty and poaching, particularly elephant and rhino.

Failing to do their homework, journalists have prompted many safari tourists who’d booked for Botswana this year and next year to cancel those bookings. Southern Africa and the rest of the world has registered ten cases of this new variant, but by unfairly naming it “The Botswana Variant” journalists have made sure the stigma will remain long after the danger has passed and tourists will unnecessarily avoid the country for the next two seasons. Of course, any new variant should be treated with extreme caution, but the world has suddenly cut Southern Africa off causing a new variant of poverty.

The game lodges in northern Botswana employ hundreds of local people and most have managed to scrabble through the last two years. This season they have started to get business again, but this will now be cut off overnight. The lodges are very remote so although they only cater for few guests at a time, they each employ dozens of local people. Game guides, trackers, drivers, maintenance men, chefs and all the kitchen staff, waiters, cleaning staff, grounds men, support staff back at base, aviation, transport getting food and supplies and staff to and from the camps – everyone will again be without work which impacts conservation and communities. The presence of tourists in Botswana effectively assists the anti-poaching units patrolling the game areas on remote bush tracks and roads.

Wearing masks here is compulsory and all shops/offices/banks have sanitising spray at the door and a guard to remind forgetful patrons. It is important, once it’s been proved that the vaccinations are as effective against the new variant as they are against all the others, that governments move just as quickly and lift the travel restrictions to allow the tourists back in and not make these countries linger on the red lists just because they are not big trading partners, i.e., India was quickly on and off.

As soon as it’s appropriate to come off they must get us off. Meanwhile the effect out here is devastating.

Felicity FitzGerald is a resident in Botswana.

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February 2024
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