Duba Explorer, a company owned by former president Ian Khama’s business partner Dereck Joubert, has been operating a safari camp inside a lucrative concession in the Okavango Delta without a lease agreement from the community trusts, the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) or Tawana Land Board since 2014, The Business Weekly & Review has established. Duba Explorer is a subsidiary of Great Plains. It is public knowledge that the Jouberts bought Concession NG23 from Wilderness Safaris in 2012.
Concession NG23 is located on the edge of the Okavango Delta, Botswana’s supremely lucrative area for tourism. It emerges that around 2014, Great Plains went and demarcated a portion of land that was not within the NG23 concession area. The National Geographic filmmaker Dereck Joubert appears to have then illegally constructed a safari camp inside that concession ‘liberated’ from the Okavango Community Trust without any agreement with the trust or with Tawana Land Board. The concession in question is NG23A, which is situated just at the beginning of the Okavango Delta and was supposed to be administered by Okavango Community Trust (OCT).
The Business Weekly & Review has established that Concession NG23A was non-existent a few years before then. However, both the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism and BTO, which were then under the leadership of former president Khama’s younger brother Tshekedi as minister, decided to cut a portion of land from Concession NG12, which was then styled NG23A. Khama owns an effective 5 percent in Linyanti Explorations, and he is known to be close to the Jouberts.
According to members of OCT, no company ever sought permission to partner with them to operate a safari camp in the area named NG23A. It emerges that a company called Nakwa Safaris, 100 percent owned by Batswana citizens, wrote a proposal to the then Tshekedi-run ministry on 24 January 2017 asking for permission for it to set up a temporary mobile safari camping site at Concession NG23A, which is the portion that was taken from NG12.
In response, the ministry’s Deputy Permanent Secretary (DPS) at the time, Felix Monggae, wrote back to Nakwa Safaris that on 23 February 2017 that four other companies had written to the ministry about similar setting up safari camps there. Monggae added that the ministry intended to recommend optimal use of the land in question. According to Nakwa Safaris, the company was advised to approach existing community trusts for partnerships and it subsequently sought the blessing of all five villages that make up the Okavango Community Trust.
This publication has seen an affidavit dated 15 March 2017 signed by the Chairperson of Seronga Village Development Committee (VDC), Modimooteng Ndobano, authorising lease of Concession NG23A to Nakwa Safaris. Another affidavit was signed by Chairperson of the youth committee of Gudigwa Village on 30 June 2017. The Village Chief at Beetsha Village, Bonang Karondo, signed a similar affidavit on 15 March 2017. The Chairperson of Gunotsoga VDC also signed an affidavit on 13 March 2017.
The General Manager of Nakwa Safaris, Cameroon Dina, has told this publication that he went back to the ministry to show that his company had approval from the communities surrounding Concession NG23A to run it. However, the ministry never gave his company the lease it sought. “When we got there, they changed their story,” Dina told The Business Weekly & Review. “They said they had decided to float a tender for which all interested companies could bid for lease of that concession.”
Curiously, it emerged that while the government was yet to float the tender, a certain company was operating a camp inside Concession NG23A. As it turned out, the company was Great Plains through a subsidiary called Duba Explorer, which is partly owned by former president Khama’s friend, Derek Joubert. Duba Explorer is still operating the safari camp there.
Even so, in a previous engagement with Monggae seeking to establish whether or not Great Plains was operating inside Concession NG23A, the answer came that as far as the tourism ministry’s deputy PS knew, the place was still vacant and no structure had been set up there.
In a previous emailed communication regarding the matter, Joubert also dismissed as untruths reports that his company was operating a safari camp at Concession NG23A.
“This is untrue,” Joubert said. “Great Plains does not operate in NG23A. It received an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) which clearly defines the co-ordinates for Duba Explorer, and this is within NG23 concession. This has been agreed by BTO.”
But what this publication has firmly established is that at that time, the ministry developed a different map that on paper looks as if Joubert’s safari camp is outside Concession NG23A whereas Joubert’s safari camp is squarely inside the concession area. OCT has been trying to get Tawana Land Board to confirm the boundaries and make a decision on the matter. This publication can confirm that under the pressure from the OCT and other stakeholders, a site visit was undertaken by Tawana Land Board approximately three months ago and that officials of the land board actually stayed at Joubert’s safari camp at the time.
It was confirmed that Duba Explorer indeed operates within Concession NG23A, which is outside NG23. However, this seems to have prompted plans to alter the facts. The Business Weekly & Review has it on authority that Tawana Land Board has decided to re-align the concession in order to accommodate Joubert’s Duba Explorer inside NG23A where it has been operating a safari camp for over six years now. On 2 June 2021, Tawana Land Board wrote to the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services about its decision to re-align the concessions to accommodate Great Plains’ Duba Explorer.
However, the ministry asked the land board if that decision was the best and advised it to make a decision that was in the best interests of all interested parties. The ministry was also of the view that re-aligning concessions could take a long time.
It turns out that after OCT and other stakeholders learnt of Tawana Land Board’s decision, they questioned the land board about how it had arrived at that decision and why they were never consulted as major stakeholders. Tawana Land Board is said to have cited only loss of jobs for people employed by Duba Explorer as the reason.
On Tuesday this week, this publication contacted the Secretary of Tawana Land Board, Neo Mothobi, by email seeking to establish whether Concession NG23A was in existence and which company has been leased to operate in that area. The inquiry also sought Mothobi to clarify whether Joubert’s Duba Explorer has been operating the area illegally and whether the land board has now resolved to re-align the concessions in order to cover the territory in which Duba Explorer has been running an illegal operation for over six years.
Mothobi had not responded by Thursday afternoon when this publication went to press.Concessions in the Okavango Delta are usually operated in partnership with community trusts to ensure that local people get some benefit. Great Plains’ questionable operation at NG23A is without any partnership with the community or BTO, which means that while the company profits from the lucrative concession, the community benefits nothing.
Unlike the Great Plains operation, OCT is partners with Wilderness Safaris in three camps in OCT’s concessions, namely Duba Plains, Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura. In addition to employment, the partnership promotes training of members of the local community in all aspects of lodge management.
The community based organisation administers the Duba and Vumbura land concessions that total over 89 000 hectares (220 000 acres) that have been ceded by the Botswana Government to five villages just outside of the Okavango Delta. OCT represents the 5 000 people residing in the villages of Seronga, Gunitsoga, Eretsha, Betsha and Gudigwa, oversees the project and directs flow of funds.