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June 13, 2010

Namibian community resists irrigation scheme that may displace them

by Toivo Ndjebela

More than 1 000 Khwe-San people currently living in the Bwabwata National Park in eastern Namibia are fighting tooth and nail against the controversial application to set up a multi-million-dollar irrigation project in the park that may result in the relocation of the group elsewhere.

A group of concerned Khwe students studying in Windhoek wrote a letter of concern in March to Environment and Tourism Permanent Secretary, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, criticising the envisaged project and its architects.

This after the Labour Investment Holdings (LIH), a company with links to the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) negotiated with Demeter International of Russia to form a joint venture called LIH Demeter Agribusiness (LDA), that wants to develop a 10 000-hectare agricultural project, the Katondo Farming Project, in the Hambukushu District of the Kavango Region.

News of the proposed project, whose application for approval is currently at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, met with great discontent from the Khwe-San inhabitants of Bwabwata, who, according to a preliminary study, may have to be moved elsewhere to pave way for the project.

The concerned group, in their letter to Shangula, charged that they were “astonished” to learn that the land they have “lived on for time immemorial” could be transformed into a crop production project, without their knowledge.

“It is a common practice that prior consultation should have been considered and consensus must be reached with all concerned stakeholders before any project of that magnitude could be carried, more especially with the communities that reside in the area,” the students wrote in the letter to Shangula.

The Bwabwata National Park forms part of both the Kavango and Caprivi regions, but the Katondo farming project in particular could affect the Khwe community of western Caprivi, the students argued.

“Western Caprivi is our land, our ancestral home, we have been living in prior to our land being proclaimed as Caprivi game Reserve by the colonial regime and recently proclaimed as Bwabwata National Park by the Namibian government,” the students further say.

Western Caprivi is already home to controversy between the Khwe and Hambukushu people, with the former group fighting to have a Khwe chief than resorting under Hambukushu Chief Erwin Munika Mbambo, who is Kavango.

Shangula, in a letter dated 12 April, told the concerned students that no decision has been taken yet by his ministry on the application received from LDA consortium.

“Please take note that the Minister of Environment and Tourism has not yet considered and given permission for the proposed agricultural activities at Katondo inside the Bwabwata National Park,” Shangula’s letter reads in part.

When approached for comment , Shangula said that his ministry is still sitting with the application and no decision has been taken yet. Shangula could not tell the period within which any decision would be taken on the application.

New Era

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