Two of Botswana’s most wealthy men, property-cum-media mogul, Sayeed Jamali and retail tycoon, Ramachandran Ottapathu are not prepared to give up on their attempt to own and operate the national airline, Air Botswana.
Fresh investigations suggest that the duo recently tried to use a roads construction meeting to arm-twist the transport minister into discussing the possibility of taking over the national airliner. Indications are that the duo is convinced it can turn around Air Botswana. Weekend Post is reliably informed that on 6 February 2018 the two businessmen tried to take advantage of a meeting called by Minister of Transport and Communication, Kitso Mokaila to discuss the construction tender of Segoditshane Bridge which was won by Jamali’s company, Universal Builders.
Ministry sources that were at the meeting were “shocked” to see Jamali accompanied by Ottapathu who is not party to the bridge construction tender. During the said meeting, Ottapathu attempted to make a presentation to Mokaila, trying to convince him how the two men can be suitable owners of Air Botswana. However, according to sources, Mokaila flatly refused discussing Air Botswana.
“We called them (Jamali and Ottapathu) to talk about roads. They assumed we would talk about Air Botswana but we declined discussing the airline…we only talked about roads,” said a top official at the transport ministry. As if refusing to give billionaires Jamali and Ram audience to discuss possibility of their Air Botswana take over was not enough, high placed sources at the Government Enclave also revealed to this publication that Mokaila will not give the two an ear on Air Botswana as their initial bid failed. The source authoritatively confirmed that while government is still looking for “suitable investors,” Jamali and Ottapathu have never crossed minister Molaila’s mind as he is “now busy looking elsewhere for more suitable bidders to take over the airliner.”
“Their expression of interest (Jamali and Ottapathu) was not successful and it was over for them. Mokaila stated even in cabinet or intra-ministerial meetings that he is going to improve Air Botswana and make it viable and will not take pressure to talk to any of those whose bids failed. That is the reason why he is re-fleeting. He said we are going to look everywhere for suitable investors and Jamali or Ottapathu’s names were never mentioned,” said a highly placed source at Government Enclave.
Jamali and Ottapathu’s move to own Air Botswana started in February last year, a joint venture proposal through a company called LongLeaf and Weekend Post has seen an initial proposal which was received by the Deputy Permanent Secretary Isaac Moepeng. LongLeaf was among the 17 bidders who coveted ownership of Air Botswana subsequently submitting an Expression of Interest on 28 February 2017. Investigations have revealed that Jamali and Ottapathu made another bid last year September after Wilderness Holdings withdrew from the tender following its success through a Presidential Directive. President Ian Khama has indirect interest in Wilderness Holdings that was given Air Botswana and this caused a public uproar, forcing the tourism operator to withdraw its interest on the national airliner.
Initially LongLeaf wanted to hold 52 percent while government was to own the remaining 48 percent. However in the second bid Jamali and Ottapathu wanted 60 percent of the assets, tangible and intangible “including without limitation; the airline fleet, operation experiences, subject to any obligations contained in disclosed license agreements and all related intellectual property, the other fixed assets of Seller (Government of Botswana), any and all customer lists and the goodwill associated therewith, all free and clear of any security interests, mortgages or other encumbrances.” The second bid or proposal was received by Deputy Permanent Secretary Moepeng who the sources reveal that he “deliberately sat on the bid.”
In the initial bid, Cemair were the favourites to take over Air Botswana according to sources, but Mokaila decided to play hardball as he did not want another controversy like the one which involved Wilderness Holdings. Mokaila would say his intuition was served right as currently 11 out of 12 Cemair planes are grounded by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) over regulatory compliance concerns since 2 February 2018.
Incidentally, this grounding also affected the P3 million per month wet lease agreement which Air Botswana gets from Cemair to use its(Cemair) CRJ-100 jet to run the four times weekly Gaborone-Cape Town route. Air Botswana was forced to announce suspension of the Gaborone-Cape Town route on the eve of Valentine’s Day, a week after SACAA declared grounding Cemair planes. As a temporary measure, all Cape Town ticketed passengers were being re-routed via Johannesburg at no extra cost “until a definite solution has been implemented.”
Latest reports from South Africa are that only one of the 12 planes, the domestically used Dash-8 Q400, has been lifted off the ground by SACAA while Air Botswana’s CRJ-100 and other ten Cemair owned airliners remain on the ground. Since last month, SACAA has to run inspections on the 12 Cemair planes concurrently and it is not known when the Gaborone-Cape Town route will be back on the skies, if at all it will pass inspection.
Sources close to development hinted that Jamali and Ottapathu wanted to capitalize on Cemair’s downfall or misfortune because their attempt to coax Mokaila into selling them Air Botswana came just four days after Cemair’s planes were grounded by SACAA. Sources said during the Segoditshane bridge construction meeting Ottapathu made a short presentation that he should take over the Gaborone-Cape Town route with his 30-seater jet. According to a source, Ottapathu also said he can make Gaborone an international travel hub and introduce a direct flight from Germany to Gaborone. Ottapathu has an estimated net-worth of P5 billion which includes his Choppies net-worth estimated to be P2 billion. Jamali on the other hand’s net-worth is estimated to be around P3 billion.
Meanwhile on Wednesday government announced intentions to refleet the national airliner by acquiring a newly manufactured ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft-with dual-class capacity and more enhancement in the area of performance. A jet will also be added to substitute or add into Air Botswana’s aging fleet.
“Yes we are refleeting. The airline will be well placed to mitigate against the risks of losing its prime routes, which are presently operated by foreign competing airlines. The national airliner will be well-positioned to participate in the process of implementing the open skies policy, as advocated by the African Union,” said Mokaila.
In a brief interview with Weekend Post, Mokaila confirmed the meeting with Jamali and Ottapathu and that he declined talking about Air Botswana. He also said the privatization of Air Botswana is underway and they are looking for suitable investors. On the suspended Gaborone-Cape Town route due to Cemair’s grounding Mokaila reiterated his re-fleeting stance and said the new fleet will help in the future to mitigate against the risks of losing its prime routes like the currently suspended one.
Jamali did not want to be drawn into commenting about Air Botswana, saying his main job is being a builder. Jamali admitted that he was with Ottapathu when they tried to talk Mokaila into discussing Air Botswana but the minister declined. On the other hand Ottapathu denied ever discussing Air Botswana saying “we met the minister to discuss other things apart from Air Botswana.” Ottapathu did not state why he was party to meetings that discusses construction of bridges.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.