Kenson Kgaga is the first Motswana to own a Safari company and to become a professional guide. Kgaga is also revered for founding the Botswana Guides Association, a radical association which pressurise government to promote participation of Batswana in the tourism sector.
Kgaga was born in Shorobe village in 1948, a small village about 30 kilometres north of Maun. This is the village that produced icons such as veteran politician Gilson Saleshando and folklore legend Stiga Sola. At school, the youthful Kgaga only went as far as standard two, quitting in 1972 and travelling to Maun to look for employment in the emerging tourism sector. He worked for various companies as a waiter, chef and mechanical engineer. In 1985, Kgaga was offered shares at Audi Safaris, which traded as Kubu camp where he had risen through the ranks to become a managing director. In 1992 he sold his shares at Audi to fund a new company he had formed; Bush Camp Safaris. By owning Bush Camp, Kgaga became the first Motswana to own a Safari company.
“I was the first Motswana to own a Safari company. The second person to follow me was one Oscar Pusoetsile.”
He explained that in 1999, when government changed the booking systems for Game Reserves and National Parks, he was forced to sell a then established and well-known Bush Camp Safaris as the business atmosphere had become unfavourable. He said this made it difficult for smaller companies to book campsites in the Okavango Delta and Chobe as they were exclusively booked by bigger companies, mostly foreign owned who used this to monopolise and run out small companies. He later formed Naga Safaris that he currently operates.
In 2000, Kgaga formed the BOGA to champion for citizen empowerment in the tourism sector. BOGA was formed to negotiate the tourism policies with government and look after guides’ rights and working conditions. Explaining the origins of the association, Kgaga said in 1998, government wrote a letter to all guides and professional hunters that they should do licence reviews. This did not go down well with a lot of guides who feared that government was harbouring plans to revoke their licences. “At that time, I was well-known for championing citizens rights in the tourism sector. Back then, I wrote letters to newspapers complaining about white dominance of the tourism sector and unfair condition to Batswana workers.”
He said when a lot of guides came to him complaining about the pending guiding licence review he then “told everyone to go for a meeting at Sedie Community secondary school where I addressed a group of concerned tourism workers. I then told them we should call the Director of Department of Wildlife and National Parks to explain. The review was eventually set aside and thence resolved to form an association and BOGA was born”.
According to Kgaga it has not been smooth sailing for BOGA as it was viewed as too militant by government. He explained that for a long time senior officials at the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism chose to stay away from their events even when they were invited. This changed when Tshekedi Khama became a minister, said Kgaga. He said for the first time deputy director, Felix Monggae became a high-ranking official within DWNP to attend their AGM.
Kgaga further explained that BOGA has a 3,7 hectares of land to build an eco-tourism learning centre. He said ideally, the centre would offer Batswana training on eco-tourism. He explained that the association is also growing as new members from all races are joining.