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Khama on a joy ride to Chile

Publishing Date : 07 August, 2017

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

While the private media was consumed by fake news propagated by authors of the scandalous Tholwana Borethe President Seretse Khama Ian Khama undertook a three day state visit to Chile in South America. 

According to state media the President is accompanied by Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Vincent Seretse, and Sadique Kebonang Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology, and Energy Security.

Statements coming from government enclave are couched in typical diplomatic language coupled with phrases that are frequently recited to evade the truth about relations between countries. According to the state media the purpose of the visit was “To strengthen and broaden the scope of relations between the two countries as well as explore new possible areas of bilateral cooperation.”  There are no specifics in terms of existing bilateral areas of cooperation that are being strengthened.  

We may never get to know the real mission of the visit to Chile. However, given the previous overseas visits to South Korea and Sweden, we have reason to be suspicious. Khama’s recent overseas visits were linked to acquisition of sophisticated military equipment with a potential to trigger an undesirable arms race in Southern Africa. Clearly his visits are informed by his personal tastes and economic interest. Every year the President never misses to attend the meeting of Conservation International where he is a Board Member.  Speculation is that he may serve the organization on a semi full-time basis after retirement.

We must be concerned about the secrecy surrounding such visits. Given the looting of state assets and abuse of public office that characterise the Khama Administration we must demand full accountability by the President.  Needless to say accountability is the highest form of patriotism. A President who prefers to address foreign over local media is clearly unpatriotic. We must get it from him why he undertook such a long expensive visit across oceans. Khama may enter the Guinness Book of Records for being the only democratically elected President who never addressed the local press on issues of national interest.  In the absence of information shared with the public we are left with no choice but to speculate.  

It is worth noting that the President travelled to Chile via the United States of America where he attended a meeting on Conservation and Sustainability hosted by University of Wisconsin. It is not by coincidence that the visit to Chile was planned around the same time as the University of Wisconsin meeting. The President has been criticised for using state resources to satisfy his personal interests. He possibly used the Chile state visit as a cover up to the Wisconsin University excursion.   

Khama is known for his passion in tourism.  Hence he has made it a point that the political head of the sector is someone whom he can trust in protecting his interest.  When he assumed power in 2008 the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism was Kitso Mokailo his confidante from their days in the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).  Mokaila was replaced by Tshekedi Khama who is his younger brother. Apart from Tourism Khama has over the years developed interest in petroleum and diamond trade. In order to safeguard his business interest he strategically positions his close relatives and trusted allies in these sectors.

It is against this background that the visit to Chile must be understood.  It may turn out to be a private business trip funded by the taxpayer. In trying to determine the underlying reasons for the Chile state visit it is important to examine the key features of the political and economic development of Chile. Chile and Botswana shares a number of things in common. Like Botswana Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in South America with a high per capita income, good competiveness, most politically stable, and least corrupt.

However, Chile and Botswana record some of the highest income inequalities. Wealth distribution is a huge challenge in both countries.  There is poverty in the mist of plenty. Surprisingly both Botswana and Chile expressed their commitment in eradicating abject poverty.  Obviously it is a mission impossible.

Botswana and Chile are rich in natural resources especially copper.  Obviously Botswana could learn a lot about copper mining in Chile and how they deal with frequent fluctuations in global market prices.  The timing of the visit does not make sense, coming after the final decision to liquidate BCL. Had the President visited Chile in 2015 it is likely that BCL Mine would still be operational today. The excitement of the Minister of Mineral Resources over Dubai as a potential buyer of BCL and Tati Nickel resulted in overlooking possible opportunities in other parts of the globe such as South America, Chile in particular.  

If the purpose of the visit was to explore possibilities of saving BCL and Tati Nickel mines then the inclusion of Minister Sadique Kebonang was justified. Another reason why Kebonang was part of the large Presidential entourage might have to do with the long awaited Lobatse Leader Park. South American countries have successfully beneficiated cattle by products. They have a huge leather manufacturing industrial base. Of the four Ministers who accompanied the President one can safely say that Eric Molale the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration was just a tourist. He was on a joy ride to occupy excess space in the presidential jet with very little to show upon his return.  

The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is not against foreign investment. However, we believe in the introduction of a law on indigenous economic empowerment which would stipulate that foreign companies that invest in Botswana should partner with indigenous Batswana to impart business skills and also enhance cash circulation in the local economy.  This has the potential to create employment opportunities for young people.

In the end when the cost of the state visit far outweigh its benefit then there is something seriously wrong with such a visit. It is a waste of public resources and an abuse of public office.  The nation deserves to know better.  BCP will continue advocating for the introduction of the freedom of information law to ensure the right of citizens to know in order to make informed decisions.



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?