About Africa.Co clarifies concession award amidst dispute

Niël Terblanché

Grow Namibia CC trading as About Africa.Co has clarified the circumstances surrounding its recent acquisition of a lucrative tourism concession in Namibia amidst a wave of public scrutiny and media coverage.

This is because the company has been awarded a 25-year contract to manage transportation, campsite operations, and guided trails in the iconic Sossusvlei area of the Namib Desert.

The company founder, Heiko Dörgeloh, said that their adherence to fairness, transparency, and ethical practices throughout the bidding process is above suspicion.

“The process, conducted by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism (MEFT), involved a thorough and transparent procedure, beginning with public announcements and culminating in a meticulous preparation for the bid,” he said.

According to Dörgeloh, the involvement of Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) in the bidding process has been a focal point of contention.

He said that NWR was disqualified for the late submission of their bid, despite their participation in the required registration, briefing, and site visit.

According to Dörgeloh, this development points to the strict enforcement of rules and deadlines by MEFT.

The minister of environment, forestry and tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, in an article in a local daily newspaper, came under fire for his decision to award the concession to About Africa.Co.

The newspaper reported that some community members expressed concerns about a lack of consultation while calling for the cancellation of the contract.

This criticism is juxtaposed against About Africa.Co’s assertion of the significant benefits – a figure exceeding N$100 million – is projected to flow into local communities as part of the company’s Corporate Social Plan.

Dörgeloh criticised what he called ignorance and knee-jerk reactions to the acquisition of concessions, stressing that the benefits to local communities and transparent processes have been overlooked.

“At a signing ceremony held in Mariental, the company had outlined these community benefits, contrary to claims that communities were unaware of what they might get out of the deal,” he said.

According to the article, the NWR bemoaned the financial impact of losing the concession.

The state-owned company indicated that its losses could amount to N$175 million.

The newspaper also reported that Matthias Ngwangwama, the NWR’s managing director, expressed discontent, stating that the state-owned company was not officially informed of the ministry’s decision, instead learning of it through social media.

“The concession was previously a substantial revenue stream for NWR, especially before the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact,” he said.

The daily reported that the latest concession award followed on the heels of another controversial decision By the minister two years prior which involved a prominent Swapo-aligned businessman.

Dörgeloh stated that About Africa.Co is determined to honour its commitment to implementing sustainable tourism practices and he urged media partners and stakeholders to engage in open dialogue regarding the company’s future plans.

He also provided documented proof of his claims that outlines the steps taken to secure the concession, which once again reaffirmed the company’s dedication to transparent processes and community engagement.

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