Hungry and broke, fish traders, some of them Malawians have been stuck for four months in the tourism town of Maun in northern Botswana after Botswana government banned the exportation of dried fish.
At least 60 traders mostly from Zambia and Malawi make a living from buying dried fish from fishermen at Lake Ngami near Maun and sell it in the DRC. But this year government caught them off guard when the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism moved to ban the export of dried fish.
A statutory notice published in March this year prohibits the export of dried fish for the next 12 months. Government said the decision comes after realising that foreign fishermen are fishing. Fish export is a big business in northern Botswana, a semi-arid country of two million people bordering Zambia, Zimbabwe South Africa and Namibia.
The ban has caused a severe blow to traders who said they only knew about it after buying the dry fish.
When Business News visited Boseja ward in Maun where the traders had been holed for four months, there was a feeling of anxiety and panic from traders who say they are afraid of the police.
Patricia Mboma from Blantyre said she makes profit by selling her dry fish to Zambian traders, a routine she developed since 2014.
“When the government announced the ban, it was a shock to us. We never expected that, we have been talking to the government to allow us go and sell the fish we have loaded but since March we been told nothing,” she said.
Being stranded in a foreign country for four months has presented challenges for Mboma and other traders. The traders frequently cross the border to Zambia and Malawi only to renew their stay in Botswana. The quality of the fish has been affected. Mboma has spent P30 000 [K2.2 million] on her three bails of dry fish and is hoping for a miracle to get her money back.
“It is difficult how we will make money. This is why we are still pleading with the government to allow us to go.”
Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, the younger brother to Botswana president, Ian Khama told a local Sunday broadsheet, the Sunday Standard that the ministry is alarmed over the size of dried fish leaving Botswana destined for Kasumbalesa in Zambia.
He stated that they took the decision to ban dried fish export after noticing that his government is not benefitting from the trade.
—*This story has been supported by the Center for Investigative Journalism Malawi, the Integrity Platform (Malawi) and INK Centre for investigative Journalism, Botswana.