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UDC Urges Swedish MPs to block Gripen deal

Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) president, Duma Boko has written a petition to the Swedish Government titled Botswana Arms race in the midst of poverty, massive unemployment and social inequality. The petition protests Botswana government’s ongoing and planned military spending.

Boko states that their plea as representatives of Botswana's political parties and civil society is for the Swedish Parliament not to approve the sale of these fighter jets to the government of the Republic of Botswana as it is not in the national interest to do so.

“Our position is that military spending must be kept to the barest minimum, and Botswana's meagre resources should be used to build better infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply, in order attract foreign investment, reduce poverty, unemployment, social inequality and reword labour productivity, especially in the public sector,” he writes.

The UDC leaders observes that since 2008, with the arrival of General lan Khama as Botswana's president, the country's national security' expenditure has been on the increase. He cites the Stockholm International Peace Research (SlPRl), which records that Botswana's military expenditure jumped from US$ 292 million in 1998 to US$ 377 in 2OO8 to US$ 436 in 2015 (at constant 2014 prices and exchanges rates).

“According to the more recent National Development Plan (April 2017-March 2023), Botswana is planning to spend about fifteen (15) percent of its GDP on what is labeled 'Territorial integrity'. lt is estimated thot about half of this will go towards the acquisition of the ultra-modern Swedish mode Gripen JAS 39 fighter aircraft, manufactured by SAAB.”  

Boko informs the Swedish Parliament that Botswana intends to acquire between eight and 12 of these aircraft. He explains that the Gripen JAS 39 aircraft is on ultra-modern and very advanced fighter, even by European standards that military aviation experts say the BDF neither needs nor can afford.


He shares that critics have questioned the wisdom of this intended military aircraft, especially fighter jets such as the Gripen, pointing to the BDF's immediate needs in anti-poaching, border security patrols and peace keeping operations on the continent. While nobody's is against BDF modernization, various experts argue for o multi-role lighter aircraft rather than the Gripen or even the T-50.

“But it is also important to note thot not only the BDF in general, but the soldiers in particular, have much more relevant and even desperate needs. lt is common cause that in many cases BDF men and women lock such basic supplies as new boots and socks, let alone decent accommodation, and live permanently in tents,” observes Boko.

ECONOMY LOOKS REALLY GLOOMY

In the petition, Boko observes that Botswana's economic situation now looks really gloomy. Whilst in 2009 foreign debt stood at 6.3% of the GDP, ii hos now increased to about 16% of GDP, fueled partly by lan Khama military spending spree, official figures pu1 unemployment at 19%, but the accelerating closure of mines and factories is likely to push the figure higher. Youth unemployment now exceeds 4O7", and a fifth of the country's two million people live on less than $2 a day; across the country the ranks of young and embittered are swelling.

According to the UDC leader the impending revision of the SACU revenue-sharing formula will see Botswana's shore-its second largest revenue source after diamonds – decline significantly. Boko says diamond sales – which contribute o third of the country's GDP – have lost their sparkle, declining by up to 30% in market value over two years, according to S&P report published in December 20,l5. Last year, he says, Debswana, a 50/50 venture between Botswana government and De Beers, closed its Damtshaa diamond mine, adding woes to on industry thot hos shed up to 30,000 jobs.

“The Australian copper junior miner Discovery Metals Limited filed for bankruptcy lost year, leaving 450 workers near the Okavango Delta out in the cold, while African Copper closed its operations at Mowana and Thakadu in central Botswana. On August 31 2016, the state-owned BCL – Botswana's biggest copper and nickel mine -collapsed into bankruptcy after enduring three decodes of losses, throwing about 6,000 miners out of work and dealing o heavy blow to the Francistown/Selibe-Phikwe regional economy.


ln a society where the average size of the family is four, the 6000 lob losses mean about 24,000 people have been impacted directly or indirectly by the mine closures. The commercial banking sector, considered more resilient thon others, is seen by the country's central bank as "weakening" because of the general decline of the economy. The financial services sector contributes I 1% of GDP. Ln December 2015, when commodity prices slump began to bite.”  

Boko further blasts Khama for withdrawing P3.5 billion from the Pula Fund, a stabllization reserve created with diamond revenues, to finance a populist Economic Stimulus Package (ESP). He directs the Swedish Parliament to the international rating agency, S&P, which warned in January of this year that Botswana faces a "deteriorating outlook" in 2O17, suggesting a downgrade from A-/A-2 sovereign credit rating could be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Boko adds that since 2011 lan Khama has tried by all means to emasculate, marginalize and sideline a legally established Public Sector Bargaining Council, throwing the country's industrial relations, especially in the public sector, into disarray. Using the old and discredited tactics of divide and rule.

The UDC president says Khama has abused his executive powers to award salary increment outside the bargaining council. “We believe that lan Khama is doing this in order to a the questions thot might be raised at the PSBC concerning unjustified military spending in view of the claim thot the government has no money to pay public sector employees decent wages and salaries.

The foregoing account of Botswana's economic and fiscal position puts into stork relief the flowed spending priorities by the current government, specifically its military spending spree. Botswana is not in a position to engage in this misplaced defense spending.”

WAY FORWARD

Boko says it is clear that Botswana as a country cannot afford this kind of military spending because; Botswana faces serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and extremely poor social and physical infrastructure and poor services delivery. There is an urgent need to address the issue of ever rising unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, which will go a long way towards reducing Botswana notorious high levels of poverty and social inequality, says Boko. He cites that none of these challenges can be solved by the current military shopping spree.

According to Boko, Botswana is not facing any direct external threat and the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fleet of high tech and advanced jet fighters is prohibitive as evidenced by the experience of South African Defence Force. He points out that this will be on ill-advised spending in the face of more compelling national priorities. What is more, this is not even o priority for the Botswana Defence Force, but something driven by the selfish interest of the current Botswana president, who stands to reap a handsome commission through his family company, Seleka Springs, he reasons.

The UDC leader is of the view that this purchase is also unjustified in the sense that it starts on arms race in the region, which is the delight of Khama family; will create o vicious circle of arms race, as some countries want to outperform others, and still, Khama family will be the winner.

KHAMA FAMILY AND THE WEAPONS TRADE

Boko further writes that it is also important to note that Ian Khama's military spending spree is not even indicative of his 'patriotic' or even 'altruistic' credentials. He says it is all about his unbridled selfishness and policy of self-aggrandizement. The President's family has deep roots in the weapons trade.

“President lan Khama and his brothers have, through their military supplier company, Seleka Springs, dominated BDF tenders for decodes, especially during the time when he was Commander of the BDF,” he writes. Boko shares the Minisier of Defence, Justice and Security once revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question, thot Seleka Springs, has acted as agents for several European companies for the supply of specialized military equipment, ammunition and spares.

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Botswana confirms new COVID-19 variant

17th May 2021
covid19

Botswana health officials have confirmed the new COVOD-19 variant, which was first found in India. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has through a press statement informed members of the public that a new COVID-19 variant (B.1.617), first discovered in India. The Indian variant was confirmed in Botswana on 13 May 2021.

According to Christopher Nyanga, spokesperson at the Ministry, this followed a case investigation within Greater Gaborone, involving people of Indian origin who arrived in the country on the 24th April 2021.

“As at 16 May 2021, the B. 1. 617 variant was confirmed in two (2) people. The clients are currently receiving medical care and remain stable with no life-threatening symptoms. The two (2) cases were part of 383 people (both Batswana and some Indian nationals) who were tested for COVID-19. From this number, 43 tested positive, with two (2) showing the B. 1. 617 variant as already alluded to. Contact tracing has been expanded in line with COVID-19 protocols. All contacts and confirmed cases have been evacuated to facility based quarantine and isolation respectively, for close monitoring,” Nyanga narrated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that the Indian Covid-19 variant was a global concern, with some data suggesting the variant has “increased transmissibility” compared with other strains.

Meanwhile in the wake of Botswana’s confirmation of the Indian variant, Nyanga reminded the public of the government intervention to control the introduction of new variants of public health concern into the country. He stated that all those who have travelled or transited through areas of high risk as previously communicated on 3rd May 2021 upon return shall immediately quarantine in a central area to be identified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness for a period not exceeding ten (10) days; Repeat Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test after seven (7) days of quarantine and be discharged as per the outcome of the results.

He said the requirements are complementary to the mandatory requirements of producing on arrival a negative PCR test not older than 72hrs from the time the sample was collected

“The public is advised to remain vigilant and minimize the spread of COVID-19 by following the already outlined preventative measures such as washing of hands with soap or use of a hand sanitizer, wearing of face masks, avoiding crowded places/social distancing and avoiding non-essential movement,” Nyanga said.

The India variant – officially called B.1.617.2 – is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus which have been designated as being “of concern” by transitional public health bodies, with others first being identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.

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Khama lawyers dismiss BDP’s MacD

17th May 2021
former President Lt Gen Ian Khama

The lawyers representing former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, Ramalepa Attorneys have come forth dismissing a response letter penned down by Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) activist MacDonald Peloetletse after he was slapped with a P1.5 million lawsuit for defamation of their client.

Tebogo Tladi, an attorney at Ramalepa, said last week Thursday Peloetletse took to social media to publish a substantively false, wrongful and unlawful statement about Khama. MacDonald Peloetletse’s commentary which was posted on Gabz FM News page reads, “I am a former soldier. Everything former President SKI Khama said here is a LIE. In fact, soldiers suffered more under Khama than under his predecessors.

He actually stole money that the UN had paid to the soldiers who went for the operations and paid them less than a quarter of what was actually due to them.  “Unhappy soldiers took the BDF to court and won, the BDF is still struggling to pay the debts! Khama can fool some people, but not all the people and not all the time.

“In fact many soldiers, serving, retired and those that resigned and were in the operations during Khama’s time get even more annoyed to such disrespectful statements by Ian Khama.” Khama’s lawyer says the impugned statement was published with the intention to injure his client (Khama) in his personality rights, good name and dignity, further indicating that the statement has damaged his good reputation.

“We have therefore been instructed by Client to demand, as we hereby do, that you publish on the same forum a retraction and a full and unconditional apology to Client within three days of receipt of this letter- and that you deliver such apology in a formal letter to the Office of the Former President, Dr Khama. In the event that you have not compiled with this demand by close of business on Monday 10th May 2021, our Client will assume that you have refused to comply with this demand.”

To top it all off, Khama demands that Peloetletse pay him P1.5 million in damages for defamation. “Furthermore, we hold instructions to demand as we hereby do, that you pay our Client damages for defamation in the sum of P1, 500,000.00 within seven days of receipt of this letter.” In the event that Peloetletse fails to pay the amount of damages demanded by Khama, Tladi says they will institute legal proceedings for the recovery of the aforesaid damages.

In his response letter addressed to Ramalepa Attorneys, Peloetletse said that he requests enlightenment and clarification that he be provided with proof that the allegations and comments which they attribute to him were indeed authored by him and that the platform which the comments were placed was not hacked.

“Please also advise if whether your clients has been endowed with a “special particular privilege status” that restricts the citizens of this country from commenting or responding to public statements made by your client in the course of political discourse especially when made on public forum and relate to matters of general public concern. (I trust that your brilliant legal mind is well informed with respect to the jurisprudence in such matters)”.

Peloetletse also said he would like to share with the attorneys a video which was posted on a public forum. “Please listen carefully to the conversations and discussion herein and advice if possibly such discussions form a reasonable basis for a justifiably rebuttal by any Motswana Citizen to the public pronouncements and defamatory statements made by your client about our government (bearing in mind of course a citizens constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression).’’

Consulted for further comment on the matter on Thursday after receiving Peloetletse’s response, Khama’s attorney Tebogo Tladi said the letter doesn’t hold any water. “The only way out for him is to prove the truth of the allegations on his comment or deny publication. He does not answer substantively to the defamation and does not respond to the demand of an apology or payment of damages.

So his letter really contains largely matters irrelevant to the substance of the letter of demand. His response in fact presents no legally cognizable defence at all- it would appear he responded without the benefit of legal advice, which would not be prudent for such an important case. So we will proceed to issue summons and wait to see what defences he will plead in court.’’

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Inside the multi-million Dollar Kazungula Bridge business

17th May 2021
kazungula bridge

Botswana and Zambia this week celebrated the opening of a multi-million Dollar infrastructural project, the Kazungula Bridge, projected to contribute around P100 million annually for Botswana. This project comes after the signing of the 2012 Agreement between the two countries to construct a bridge that would ease movement of goods.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula Bridge will open avenues for improved trade, job creation and economic diversification in both countries. Further, the Bridge will significantly accelerate Southern African Development Committee (SADC) regional integration agenda which Botswana and Zambia are vigorously pursuing.

“By growing our strategic partnerships through this project, we have improved the development and competitiveness of our economies to attract more private sector investment, thereby, supporting our efforts to create employment, especially for the burgeoning youth,” Masisi said at the opening ceremony in Kazungula on Monday.

The Kazungula Bridge comprises a road and rail bridge over the Zambezi River, directly linking Botswana and Zambia. It has One-Stop-Border Post facilities on both sides, which will enhance the operational efficiency at entry points, replicated on both sides of the boarder.

The Bridge was originally conceived as a critical link in the African North-South Corridor under the African Union’s New Partnership (NEPAD) for Africa’s Development programme. It has since evolved to encompass a multimodal transport plan under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

The PIDA programme, which encompasses liberalisation of air travel, rail links, road, water and all other modes of transport has only one objective: to unite the States of Africa in order to foster trade on the continent

“Connectivity of our nations will in no small measure, promote people to people interactions and uplifts their standard of living. I am pleased to state that the completion of this project is a clear demonstration of our commitment to PIDA.”

The 260 million US Dollar Kazungula Bridge was commissioned by Zambian President, Edgar Lungu and President Masisi. President Lungu said the bridge was a monumental effort linking Zambia internally and externally to ease the movement of goods and services.

“I have held talks with my counterpart in Botswana that this project must run daily up to 22 hours as soon as possible and you the technocrats must not play ping-pong with us after making these public procurements,” Lungu said at the official opening in Kazungula.

For his part, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said the project was tandem with the Africa Union (AU) goals and priority areas for Agenda 2063 which called for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

KAZUNGULA FERRY

The new Kazungula Bridge replaces the Kazungula Ferry, a pontoon ferry across the 400-metre-wide Zambezi River between Botswana and Zambia. It was one of the largest ferries in South-Central Africa, having a capacity of 70 tonnes.

In 2003 the ferry was the site of a disaster when a severely overloaded Zambian truck capsized one of the pontoons and 18 people drowned. The accident was blamed on the lack of weighbridges in Zambia to check the weight of trucks.

In August 2007, the governments of Zambia and Botswana announced a deal to construct a bridge at the site to replace the ferry. The existence of a short boundary of about 150 meters between Zambia and Botswana was apparently agreed to during various meetings involving Heads of State and officials from all four States in the 2006-2010 period.

The route for this new bridge crosses the boundary without entering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Zimbabwe already has a bridge into Zambia at Victoria Falls, 70KM from Kazungula. Namibia on the other hand has a bridge into Zambia at Katima Mulilo about 150KM upriver.

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