Okavango Delta’s Economic Boost As New Mohembo Bridge Opens

By Boniface Keakabetse

Rejuvenated by the opening of the new iconic Mohembo Bridge Okavango Community Trust (OCT) has announced plans to build a new hotel in Seronga Village.

OCT is a community trust covering the villages of Seronga, Gunotsoga, Eretsha and Gudigwa located in the Okavango Delta’s eastern panhandle.  

The villages have a combined population of about 100,000 people boosting several animal and plant species, some of which is considered vulnerable and needing conservation.  

Communities of the panhandle have since Botswana’s independence in 1966 depended on a ferry to cross the Okavango River to the rest of the country something that is now history after the P1Billion Mohembo Bridge opened to traffic in June this year.

The 1.2-km- cable-stayed bridge construction project started in 2016 built over the Okavango River to connect the villages east of the river. Minister of Transport and Public Works, Eric Molale in June flew from Gaborone to Mohembo to witness the bridge opening to the public for the first time.

 Speaking, Molale noted that the project will simplify the access to villages, unlock tourist opportunities in the area and facilitate the transfer of basic economic necessities for the impoverished communities.

Okavango Sub district chairman Lesedi Boy government for the decision to undertake the project citing decades old inconvenience that the communities had suffered.

Boy said:  “As the council we experienced challenges that negatively affected service delivery as the ferry sometimes experienced breakdowns rendering movement impossible across the Okavango River.”

The air of jubilation settled as more good news arrive with OCT revelations of big plans  to construct the first ever 25 beds hotel in Seronga village, one of the villages in the eastern panhandle whose development has been curtailed by decades old poor accessibility challenges.

Artistic impression of the OCT Hotel

OCT holds two rights on two tourism concessions: NG 22 and 23. The lucrative tourism concessions were leased to OCT under Botswana’s Community based natural resources programme (CBNRM). CBNRM is a conservation and rural development initiative aimed at empowering local communities living with the natural resources so they see a need to conserve the resources.

Botshelo Sesinyi is one of university educated rising community leaders, born and raised in Eretsha and is now tasked with developing OCT where he is employed as the trust manager.

Sesinyi  stated: ‘’ As a trust we are tasked with developing livelihoods in all the villages of our coverage by utilising natural resources in our area for rural development.   Our mandate is often curtailed by the undevelopment of this area due to lack of roads and bridge which for a long time posed a challenge for us as the trust and communities. ‘’

He further lamented: ‘’Now with the new bridge our work is going to be easier. It means transportation of materials and other goods and services is easy. As a conservation organization this will make it easy to start developmental projects that could empower our communities and jobs creation and that way promote conservation of the resources and stop conservation problems such as poaching and unsustainable use of natural resources.’’

Sesinyi revealed that OCT has already floated a tender for the construction of a 22-bed hotel in Seronga whose design is inspired by the sustainable designs of the luxurious tourism bush camps in the Okavango Delta. construction anticipated to start end of this year.

Sesinyi revealed that they have a plan to diversify their income revenue from reliance on lease rentals through diversification in to other emerging sectors such as the property market in the eastern panhandle. ‘’ the undevelopment of this area presents some opportunities which are ready to maximize. With the new bridge more tourists will come to our area and therefore we need to set-up requisite infrastructure like accommodation facilities. From this developments we could grow the revenue of the trust to empower it to participate effectively on conservation and rural development.’’

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