In the Diplomat’s Corner this week, Namibia’s High Commissioner to Botswana Mbapuea Muvangua talks to The Patriot on the need for Botswana and Namibia to do more in the area of beneficiation and adding value to their rough mineral products to contribute to employment creation.
What is the current state of Namibia and Botswana’s bilateral relations in the political, economic and bilateral trade spheres?
MM: Politically the two countries enjoy cordial relations since Namibia’s Independence. The relationship is further cemented through existing bilateral commissions of cooperation in the areas of economics and trade, defence and security. On the economic and trade spheres as you might be aware the two countries are both endowed with diamonds and are both leaders in beef production exporting beef to the EU and other markets regionally.
What, according to you, are the challenges that are hindering the prospects of the two countries maximizing their cooperation?
MM: As I alluded to earlier, the major challenge is our trade in similar commodities as beef and diamonds, which may hamper trade in these two commodities which we all have in abundance.
Are there any key areas of cooperation in this relationship – Namibia and Botswana – that you are looking to strengthen during your tenure in Botswana?
MM: The two countries are already cooperating in the areas of education, health and animal health. These are areas I wish to strengthen as well as cultural exchanges between our people to strengthen people to people contacts. As you may be aware during the Food and Mouth Pandemic last year that affected the northern areas of Namibia all the livestock vaccine where acquired from the Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) here in Gaborone.
Are the trade relations between Namibia and Botswana at satisfactory levels?
MM: I should think so, though I do not have the trade Statistics at my disposal. However more can be done.
What do the two countries trade mostly and which avenues do you think can still be exhausted to enhance trade between the two nations?
MM: Our fish products, tinned beef, beers are available in most retail shops here in Botswana. Windhoek lager is very popular among Batswana. We also have a number of Namibians coming to purchase second hand import vehicles on regular basis
In which areas are Namibians mostly interested to engage their Botswana counterparts on the business front?
MM: I have not seen much, but I believe there is tremendous potential in the mining and energy sectors as both countries are endowed with mineral resources and face similar challenges of shortage of electricity.
Botswana is the largest producer of diamonds across the world and yields huge revenue from that. What can we learn from our neighbours when it comes to putting systems in place to maximise revenue generation from our minerals?
MM: I think both countries need to do more in the area of beneficiation and value addition to our rough mineral products to contribute to employment creation in our quest to eradicate abject poverty.
Government last year condemned Botswana for the random shooting of Namibian citizens suspected of being poachers at the Botswana border where two Namibians were shot dead, saying the authorities in that country are too quick to pull the trigger. What do you make of this long-standing border dispute?
MM: I don’t call those incidents “border dispute”. It is rather a matter of lack of proper coordination between the forces entrusted with the responsibility of fighting the escalating incidents of poaching along our common borders. However, the Ministers of the two countries responsible for Foreign Affairs and International Relations have discussed this matter already and have agreed to advise relevant authorities entrusted with the responsibility of curbing poaching to exercise restraint when dealing with these suspected poachers to prevent lost of lives.
Apart from statements now and then, many Namibians have accused the Namibian government of showing any willingness to engage with its Botswana counterparts over habitual borderline confrontations. What is your take on this accusation?
MM: The Namibian Government is very much concerned, especially when people have to lose lives. It is because of that, that the two Governments have been consulting on the issue to find an amicable solution and prevent future occurrences of similar incidents.
Do you see the sporadic border disputes causing problems in diplomacy between our country and Botswana?
MM: No, not at all. We have structures in place such as the Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security Cooperation to discuss and resolve issues and misunderstandings that might arise peacefully.
What is the current status of the Trans-Kalahari Railway?
MM: As you may be aware the bilateral agreements to guide the implementation of this very important project was signed in 2014 before my arrival here in Gaborone. The project implementation office is in Windhoek at the Trans-Namib Head Offices and I am informed the two Governments will very soon commission this office officially. The opening of that office is a clear testimony of our two countries’ commitment to bringing this project to its logical conclusion. However, a project of that magnitude would require the participation of the private sector.
The SADC protocol on the development of tourism signed in 1998, which makes provision for a UniVisa for its 15-member countries, is yet to be implemented, 14 years after the initial implementation date. What do you think is blocking this process?
MM: I understand, the SADC UniVisa project is underway as a pilot project between a few countries that include Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It seems Botswana was also supposed to be a part of this. I also understand, there are technical concerns of potential loss of revenue to individual countries and security concerns. Revenue sharing formula is also not yet decided on. However, for further details I wish to refer you to our Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration as the line Ministry that has been attending SADC meetings regarding this issue of UniVisa.
In your view, how will this benefit the SADC region as a whole?
MM: UniVisa will in my view ease movement of visitors to our region, especially the tourism sector will benefit greatly from such arrangement. As you might be aware we have in place structures such as the Kavango-Zambezi Conservation Areas (KAZA) covering about five countries, i.e. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe to enable members States to manage our shared wildlife resources in a coordinated and sustainable manner. Unlike human beings, our wild animals do not know borders and as such do not require passports or visas. UniVisa will, in my view, ease the movement of tourists between our respective countries.
How do you keep busy during your spare time in Botswana?
MM: You know before I came here I served as Chief of Protocol for almost 10 years; therefore I never had much free time. However, I am now able to have some free weekends. During weekends I spend most of the time reading books about the history of SADC region, especially about the liberation struggle and also books about Diplomacy. I am also an ardent football fan, so I do watch football games on TV.