Development of cultural tourism in Botswana

Various heritage stakeholders are paving the way for sustainable development and management of Botswana's cultural and natural heritage resources.

Development of cultural tourism in Botswana

Various heritage stakeholders are paving the way for sustainable development and management of Botswana’s cultural and natural heritage resources.

Although efficient heritage management and development started about 45 years ago in Botswana, some concerned groups argue that cultural tourism has been lackluster, haphazard, and often with no tangible benefits to communities living near them. This article seeks to offer a broad view of efforts that have been undertaken in the development of heritage sites for tourism in Botswana.

Although cultural tourism remains a vital way of diversifying Botswana’s tourism industry, there is still a lot of room to cover. Active involvement of the private sector, the public, the media, and individuals interested in cultural and natural heritage of Botswana is required to realize tangible cultural tourism benefits to Botswana.

The Botswana National Museum has made significant efforts to develop Botswana’s heritage sites for public appreciation, income generation, and conservation for posterity.

Research conducted in the last 40 years has helped improve the significance of some of the prime heritage sites. The available information has also been used in marketing some of these heritage sites for tourism. By the year 2008, 12 heritage sites around the country had been opened to the public for tourism purposes. These included the World Heritage Site of Tsodilo Hills, Gcwihaba Caves, Domboshaba Ruins, Lekhubu Island, Moremi Gorge, Lepokole Hills, Majojo Ruins, Matsieng, Three Dikgosi, Livingstone Memorial, Manyana Paintings, and Mogonye Gorges. At these sites visitors were guaranteed professionally-trained guides, camping facilities, and information packages detailing these outstanding heritage sites. When the effects of global economic recession hit the markets sometimes in 2008, several heritage stakeholders saw the need to develop more heritage sites to promote cultural tourism and help diversify Botswana’s economy.

In response to this call, the Botswana National Museum developed and implemented an assortment of strategies aimed at developing cultural and natural heritage sites for tourism purposes. Some of the prominent strategies that continue to bear some fruits include the Adopt a Monument Strategy launched in mid 2008. This plan encourages the private sector and individuals to have a stake in sustainable development and management of Botswana’s shining monuments. When the President launched his roadmap for the development of Botswana on April 1, 2008, the role of heritage sites in development of cultural identity of Botswana was emphasized. Immediately after that, the Botswana National Museum was mandated to undertake sustainable development and management of 100 heritage sites across the country for tourism. The government effort to develop cultural tourism came at a crucial time when the department was faced with many challenges concerning the management of cultural and natural heritage sites.

In order to embark on this ambitious and yet necessary project, the department came up with a strategy aimed at developing 20 national monuments of outstanding national value for educational and ecotourism purposes during the National Development Plan X. Although this plan has been shelved due to lack of funding, I find it worth discussing in this article. The targets of this project was provision of basic facilities such as site museums, ablution blocks, temporary offices, employment of staff, as well as the provision of staff accommodation at some of these monuments.

Mamuno Rock Engravings, Kasane Water Spring, Domboshaba Ruins, Dimawe Battlefield, Modipe, Gcwihaba Caves, Mothudi Ruins, Kolobeng, Old Palapye, and Lepokole were to serve as regional centers. Basic facilities such as ablution blocks, offices, and possibly exhibition rooms were to be developed near Chapmans Baobab, Pelotshetlha Lithops, Baratani Hill, Mogonye Gorge, Ngxhaishini Pan near Gweta, Majojo Ruins, Moremi, and Magagarape near Molepolole, Manyana Rock Paintings, and at Matsieng Rock Engravings.

Although none of the aforementioned projects has taken place, a lot of development has been achieved through the ongoing 100 Monuments Project. Design of access roads, installation of signage, and employment of guides has been completed at over 50 heritage sites so far. At the current moment, it is possible to visit a total of about 200 prominent heritage sites of Botswana. This has been made possible by development of what is termed Botswana’s Master Heritage Trails. Through this plan, the Botswana National Museum has divided Botswana’s unique heritage sites into about 9 heritage trails. These trails have been developed around significant landmarks of the country and aim to provide linkages of outstanding heritage sites with traditional tourist destinations. The Southern Region Heritage Trail forms part of the Greater Gaborone Heritage Trail, which is being revised. The Greater Francistown Heritage Trail, on the other hand, has provoked public interest in development of heritage sites for tourism in Bukalanga region. One of the best examples of these efforts includes the Manshamakose Heritage Project.

While implementing this huge task of ensuring sustainable development of heritage sites for tourism, the Botswana National Museum is actively engaged in developing heritage management partnerships with local communities. This noble idea forms part of the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) policy, which encourages local communities to utilize natural resources such as heritage sites for economic empowerment. Through these partnerships, local people living near monuments are encouraged and helped to form trusts, which generate income utilizing heritage resources found in their areas. By 2008, collection of entrance fees and camping fees, as well as selling of curios had been started by community trusts at Gcwihaba Caves, Lekhubu, Lepokole, Majojo Ruins, Manyana Rock Paintings, Matsieng, Mogonye Gorges, Moremi Gorge, Old Palapye, and Tsodilo Hills World Heritage Site.

The establishment of Gaing-O Trust in Mmatshumo Village in the 1990s best gives a classical example of the benefits of these sustainable heritage management ventures. This trust is tasked with management of Lekhubu National Monument, which is located in the Makgadikgadi Pans Heritage Trail. The trust was founded in the 1990s and by 1997 it had managed to attract various donor agencies. In the same year, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS) offered the trust P68,000.00 for the establishment of the trust and formulation of a management plan. In 2001, the trust acquired P92,000.00 from the European Development Fund, for the procurement of tents for accommodating the staff. A few years later in 2003, the Action for Economic Empowerment Trust funded the construction of offices and radio room, storerooms and a conference room to the tune of P1, 156, 596.

Ever since its establishment, The Gaing-O Trust has been effective with regard to generating income through camping and entry fees. For instance, between April and December 2007, the trust generated P318,511.20. Part of this income is used for the daily administration of the monument, payment of staff salaries, as well as funding village development projects.

The management of Lekhubu Island has inspired several projects around the country. The community of Lepokole through Mapanda Trust has plans to develop a game park in the Lepokole Hills to improve tourism to the well-known Lepokole Rock Paintings Cave. An ambitious ecotourism project offering accommodation chalets, development of nature trails, access roads, and a bridge is being undertaken at Moremi to help improve cultural heritage tourism to the Tswapong Hills. At Gcwihaba Caves, the Xai Xai Tlhabologo Trust and the Botswana National Museum have completed a gatehouse, camping sites and ablution blocks as a means of luring more tourists to the site. Further south at Mogonye, another ecotourism partnership project is nearing completion. A gatehouse, ablution blocks, dry camping sites, rest areas, and nature trails are being developed to promote tourism at Mmamotshwane Gorge and the picturesque landscape of Mogonye.

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