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Shifeta: Visa reciprocity will threaten tourism

2023-07-28  Aletta Shikololo

Shifeta: Visa reciprocity will threaten tourism

Tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta has issued a warning to both the government and citizens pushing to reciprocate the United Kingdom’s ending of visa-free entry for Namibians.

In an exclusive interview, the minister said such a move could potentially result in significant financial losses amounting to billions for the tourism sector.

Shifeta issued his warning at a moment when the Namibian government is closely examining the British government’s decision to revoke visa-free entry for Namibians because of a sustained and significant increase in the number of UK asylum applications from Namibian nationals at UK borders since 2016. 

“This constitutes an abuse of the provision to visit the UK for a limited period as non-visa nationals,” a statement from the UK government, released last week, reads. 

Nevertheless, discussions about reciprocity resonated from various sources, with Swapo lawmaker Tobie Aupindi emerging as a vocal supporter of this stance.

In a recent interview with New Era, the MP expressed his disappointment with the revocation of the visa-free entry, saying it could undermine the excellent bilateral relations which have existed between the two governments for 33 years.

In fact, he stated that it should be an eye for an eye.

 “For years, citizens of both countries have enjoyed free entry due to the ‘non-visa’ policy employed by both due to
the excellent relationship. However, the unilateral decision by the British government is simply unacceptable, and I call on the Namibian government to offer our British friends reciprocity on the same with immediate effect,” he told this publication recently.

However, Shifeta views these positions as reckless, asserting that if reciprocity were to occur, Namibia, particularly its tourism sector, would bear the brunt of the consequences.

Last week, British High Commissioner Charles Moore told this paper that if Namibia was to impose the same regime on the UK, it will seem “odd” as it doesn’t have such with its strong allies like the United States, Venezuela, Russia and others.

“Every sovereign country has the right to put up laws and policies to protect its own border security, and put up measures that it feels will ensure their borders are strong. Namibia has that right as well,” he reasoned. 

Nonetheless, Shifeta said “the British have nothing to lose”, even if the visa regime was to be imposed on them.

The long-serving tourism minister said the UK is the third-largest tourism market for Namibia after Germany and France.

According to statistics from the ministry, Namibia receives approximately 35 000 tourists annually from the UK.

 “If we impose the visa regime on them, we will lose that market. We can even lose
about N$2 billion, just from that specific market. Apart from monetary benefits, our people will lose jobs,” he cautioned.

“I understand the political stances. However, for economic reasons, we can’t afford to restrict them. They [visitors] will rather go to other countries like South Africa and Botswana because when it comes to tourism, the sectors are quite similar”,
he added.  Although the minister expressed his disappointment with both the British and Canadian governments for imposing
the visa regime on Namibia, he said
instead of reacting, Namibia should
rather introspect and finds ways to better
the relationships with those

“Let us rather look at the root causes of what has caused their complaints, such as what leads Namibians to go seek asylum and also abuse their immigration policies.

Maybe those countries have been tolerant enough, hence their decisions. So, we have to deal with it in-house,” he noted.

He said “although the tourism industry is one of the crucial sectors, it is also very sensitive, and we need to be mindful of our actions. Covid-19 and the limited
movement of tourists has taught us how this can have a dire impact on our economy. The sector is only recovering from that difficult situation, and we cannot afford another problem,” he emphasised. The
sector contributes 15% to the country’s GDP.

Trophy hunting

In the same vein, Shifeta said the Namibian government has been at loggerheads with
the British regarding the UK Trophy
Hunting Imports Ban Bill.

The legislation, currently under consideration in the House of Lords, aims to prohibit hunting tourists from importing animal skins, severed heads, and carcasses obtained from hunts abroad. 

Trophy hunting, a practice in which hunters pay substantial amounts to kill big-game animals like elephants and lions, has been the subject of longstanding controversy.

He is fervently hoping that the UK government will reconsider their decision, emphasising that it could have detrimental effects on the economy.

“They are attempting to persuade us that certain countries will face exclusion, and they have already prohibited trophy imports from other nations. However, now they
are proposing a blanket ban on all trophy imports. They mentioned that there is a possibility of amending the law to allow exceptions for countries with successful conservation efforts, such as Namibia, Botswana and others,” Shifeta continued.
He also believes the UK is singling out countries like Namibia (which previously exported trophies to the UK). 

The minister then expressed concern that if the law is enforced without exceptions, Namibian conservancies will endure significant hardships.

“We currently boast more than 80 conservancies, providing employment to over 5 000 people. If we were to discontinue receiving funds from trophy hunting,
these conservancies would suffer, and so would the livelihoods of the people
dependent on them. 

As countries blessed with diverse wildlife, including elephants, rhinos and lions, we believe that this cessation of funds could significantly impede conservation efforts within our borders,” he stated. 

Shifeta also pointed out that the animal population, particularly elephants, is experiencing rapid growth.

“That’s precisely why conflicts arise between elephants and local communities. The insufficient space and limited food
force them to encroach upon human
habitats, including commercial farms. The proposed solution is to control the elephant population through hunting, compensating affected communities for damages caused, and using this as a form of appeasement. However, the decision is still pending,” he observed.

The politician pointed out that while the UK may not be the largest market for trophy hunting, the implementation of its laws can have significant repercussions. 

Notably, the United States of America, Germany and Belgium are the primary markets for trophy hunting in Namibia.

2023-07-28  Aletta Shikololo

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