Sunday 16 May 2021
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Botswana: The Diamond Neighbour


Briefly tell us about your career and personal life?

I started my Foreign Service career in the Republic of South Africa in February 1990. At a very critical time in politics of our sub region; the month and year Nelson Mandela was released from prison, a month before Namibia’s independence. Ten years later, I moved back to the Ministry headquarters in Gaborone, where I served in different capacities including as Director in the Department of Europe and the Americas. I was then transferred to Brussels as Ambassador to the EU, the ACP with multiple accreditations to the ICC, UNESCO, the BENELUX (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg), France and Germany. It was in this capacity that I was honoured to have your current Speaker of the National Assembly, Professor Katjivivi as a colleague and friend. I returned to Botswana from Brussels in 2012 and was subsequently transferred to Namibia the following year. I presented my credentials on 27 November 2013 to then President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
I was born in Mafikeng to a Motswana father and South African mother and grew up partly in Mafikeng and Francistown. I am married with two adult sons.

Looking back at Botswana at 50 Years of Independence. What are your highlights?
On the 30th September 2016, Botswana will be celebrating 50 years of independence. This is a very important milestone in the history of my country given how far we have come from the day the Union Jack was lowered. The quest for independence was a brave move by our leaders given that, at the time, the socio-economic conditions in the country were unattractive to say the least, we were a Least Developed country with only 12 km of paved roads, 22 University graduates, 100 secondary school graduates and wholly reliant on arable farming.
Formerly one of the poorest countries in the world with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year at independence, Botswana has transformed into one of Africa’s vibrant economies with an upper middle income status, boasting GDP per capita US$18,825 per annum as of 2015.
I will be privileged to celebrate this milestone with Namibians in about three months’ time. How appropriate, because some of Namibian sons and daughters contributed in no small measure to our achievements. Namibians have also greatly contributed to the cultural diversity and vibrancy that my country is so proud of.
Actually, my office kick started the 50th Independence celebrations in October 2015 in Gobabis in partnership with the Governor Uietele, the Omaheke Regional Council and the Ghanzi District Council in Botswana. The GHAN-OMA Festival held under the theme, “celebration of Trans Kalahari Partnerships” was a resounding success. Next month, the High Commission shall be hosting leading jazz artists from Botswana in partnership with Namibian Jazz Artists at the Ware House Theatre in Windhoek. All these initiatives would not have been possible if relations between our two countries were not as cordial as they are.

What is the current State of Namibia and Botswana bilateral relations in the political, economic and bilateral trade spheres?
Botswana and Namibia established diplomatic relations in 1990 following the latter’s independence. The relations remain cordial as evidenced by: High Level exchanges between our two countries, last year, H.E Lt. General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, accompanied by our two former Presidents and some Cabinet Ministers, attended Namibia’s 25th Independence Celebrations and inauguration of H.E President Hage Geingob; prior to this there was a State Visit to Botswana by Former President Pohamba ; President Khama also paid a state visit to Namibia in June 2012; Botswana and Namibian cabinet Ministers, government officials and private businesses visit each other’s country and interact on a daily basis.
Botswana and Namibia have a lot in common than most countries. Not only do we share a long border, we also share many languages and ethnic groups. Both in Botswana and in Namibia we have Tswana people, the Lozi, Nama, Herero, San and Bayei with their respective cultures and languages. Some of these groups have families on either side of the border.
The two countries cooperate under the frameworks of Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation (JPCC) and the Joint Permanent Commission on Justice Peace Defence and Security (JPCDS). These two instruments have been remarkable in enhancing cooperation between the two countries. In their bi-annual meetings a wide range of socio-economic and political issues are discussed covering:

  • Health
  • Cross border movements
  • education
  • tourism,
  • water,
  • energy, mining,
  • Agriculture

From these interactions the two countries have identified areas that require specific cooperation thus entering into memoranda of Understanding (MoU).
To address challenges of Energy shortage, the two countries signed a MoU on Energy in February 2014, designed to, among other things, enhance technical strategic partnerships between the two countries, enhance cooperation in the development of efficient infrastructure for the production, procurement and distribution of petroleum products and electricity.
Faced with a shortage of Setswana teachers in the Omaheke Region, the Ministry of Education looked to Botswana for the supply of Setswana teachers, hence a Memorandum of Understanding on Education which resulted in the deployment of 11 Setswana teachers in schools around Omaheke.
The levels of trade between Botswana and Namibia have increased significantly. Botswana companies are beginning to see the benefits of importing goods through the Walvis Bay port. This will further be facilitated by the proposed TKR.
The operationalisation of ONE STOP BORDER POST along the Trans Kalahari Highway will further promote trade between and through Namibia.
Namibia contributed 13.0% (758 million Pula; Nam Dollars 1,035,377,680.64) worth of imports into Botswana during the month February 2016. Exports to Namibia were at 16.2% (Nam Dollars 1,412,511.95). The bulk of these imports/exports are diamonds and fuel.
The Trans Kalahari Corridor facilitates movement of goods and services from the Gauteng Province through Botswana to the Port of Walvis Bay, where the Namibian government has allocated Botswana and other landlocked neighbours, a dry port space.
In 2006, Botswana and Namibia and this time, together with other neighbours of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe entered into an agreement to collaborate in the field of tourism. A MoU was signed to establish and develop a Trans-Frontier Conservation area straddling the boundaries of the five countries. The Trans Frontier Conservation Area is a recognition of the importance of collaboration in managing shared natural resources, sharing information on animal movements, joint marketing of tourism and easy access to funding.
This is one area where collaboration is a necessity, being both significant exporters of beef, Botswana and Namibia have had to work together to control the scourge of the Foot and Mouth Disease. In this regard, the countries’ veterinary services are always in close contact with each other.

What according to you are the challenges that are hindering the prospects of the two countries maximising their cooperation?
I see no challenges that hinder the prospects of our cooperation in fact, I can confidently assert that the foundation for closer cooperation is solid. Botswana and Namibia are peaceful and stable neighbours who share a lot of similarities, with mutual respect for each other. Our strong familial connection makes it easy to overcome challenges if any arise. If there are any perceived challenges, they are, in my considered view, structural and do not by any means reflect lack of will.
Having said that, I wish to underscore the fact that the similarities between our two countries compel us to cooperate, collaborate and complement one another. Unlike other countries that need to start off by learning each other’s languages, culture and customs, we on the hand have a head start.

Are there key areas of cooperation in this relationship-Namibia and Botswana- that you are looking to strengthen during your tenure in Namibia?
I do, naturally, have what one may call, “pet projects,”
My wish is to see the Botswana Dry Port in Walvis Bay operating at optimal level and meeting its intended goal of facilitating trade between Botswana and the international markets.

I would also like to see the fruition of our relentless efforts towards the implementation of the Trans Kalahari Railway line project. The appetite of the private sector for this project was aroused by the signing of the Bilateral Agreement on the Establishment of the TKR Project in March 2014.

Enhanced cooperation through, Twinning Arrangements between cities like Windhoek and Gaborone, Walvis Bay and Lobatse, Tsumeb and Selibe Phikwe, holds the key to even closer cooperation at the local level. Through these kinds of Arrangements, we can learn a lot from each other especially in regards to waste management, education, maintenance of infrastructure and governance in local authorities.

Botswana can also benefit from Namibia’s long standing experience in water reclamation. I have recently organised a tour of the Garengoab Water Reclamation Plant for my Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Honourable Kitso Mokaila. I was humbled by His Worship the Mayor’s humility in making time to personally to take the Minister and his delegation on a tour of the plant. Following the tour, the Honourable Minister dispatched a multi discipline technical team to Windhoek to get a full appreciation of the plant.

What do the two countries trade mostly and which avenues do you think can still be exhausted to enhance trade between the two nations?
Botswana recently organised a Business Promotion Mission to Namibia. The Mission, led by the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre sought to introduce Botswana products to the Namibian markets and also establish what Botswana can import from Namibia. I am hopeful that such interventions can lead to a significant increase in trade volumes along the Trans Kalahari. I always urge my compatriots to focus on areas where the two countries can complement one another and not compete.
7.2 I have immeasurable confidence in the prospects of the Trans Kalahari Corridor to unlock bilateral and regional trade potential. I am a frequent user of the highway and always encourage Botswana companies, big and small, to seriously consider using this route which offers a direct link to the Port of Walvis Bay where Botswana has a dry port.

In which areas are people from Botswana mostly interested to engage their Namibian counterparts on the business front?
The business Mission that I alluded to earlier revealed that Botswana business people are interested in dairy products, fish, construction, stationery, motor vehicle lubricants and cements. The list is not exhaustive but this is an indication of what came out during the business mission.
Botswana is the largest producer of diamonds across the world and yields huge revenue from that. What do you think Namibia can learn from Botswana when it comes to putting systems in place to maximise revenues generation from minerals?
Botswana and Namibia, both countries have a historical relationship with De Beers Mining Company. Needless to say, we are both members of the Kimberly Process and through this and other structures we work and advice each other when the need arises. Additionally, the two countries have both built a strong tradition of prudently managing their natural resources for the benefit of their people. I however note that Namibia has recently re-negotiated her agreement with De Beers Mining Company and from media reports the Agreement is very favourable to Namibia. I will be advising my people to benchmark with Namibia.
The Namibian Government last year condemned Botswana for the random shooting of Namibian citizens suspected of being poachers at the Botswana border where two Namibian were shot dead, saying the authorities in that country are too quick to pull the trigger.

What do you make of this view against the BDF?
The issues of cross border incursions are dealt with by existing joint structures which have been established by the two countries. I also know that different levels of these structures meet and consult on a regular basis. I have not, to date, received any reports that suggest that these structures have failed to adequately address allegations of this nature. I therefore prefer to leave all investigations, conclusions and remedial action, if any, to them.

What is the current status of the Trans-Kalahari Railways?
The Project Management Office was established in April 2015 pursuant to the Bilateral Agreement on the Project signed between the Governments of Botswana and Namibia in March 2014. The office is housed within the Trans-Namib Head Office in Windhoek. The operational budget for the office and other operational matters has been agreed on.
The Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting held in Windhoek on 10 March 2016 in Windhoek agreed to the re-scoping of the Trans Kalahari Railway Project (TKR) from a railway line dedicated for the transportation of coal to a multiple commodity railway line; an economic corridor. The re-scoping/rebranding of the project was part of recommendations from the TKR Development Study commissioned by the Government of Botswana in 2014. The Project Management Office has therefore been tasked to commission a re-scoping study on the envisaged economic corridor to guide the Project on the way forward.

Has modalities such as funding and other components which will lead to the actual construction of the railway been finalized?
This aspect will have to await the findings of the re-scoping and the feasibility study of the project.

How do you keep busy during your spare time here in Namibia?
I enjoy outdoor sports of any nature: I run, I gym, I play golf and I travel around your beautiful country.

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