A recent research study on China/Botswana relations has advised that President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama should undertake an official state visit to the Peoples Republic of China to enhance diplomatic relations, which already are in deteriorating state.
According to the study titled: “A study on perspectives on how to enhance Botswana – China relations” authored by renowned ex-University of Botswana (UB) Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Professor Frank Youngman an official visit between the two countries is crucial to mend relations and should take place. “Frequent high-level visits of politicians and government officials between Botswana and China should be undertaken, with priority given to a state visit by the President of Botswana to China,” the research study posits.
The research points out that the Chinese are trying hard to get President Khama to visit China. He is the only President of Botswana who has not visited whilst in office. He seems to be not favourably disposed towards China. The study which was released on March 2017 has been duly approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of Botswana.
Where the loathsome relationship started
According to the study, the nature of Botswana-China relations has become much more complex since 2000, under the former President Festus Mogae. The high point in terms of the political/diplomatic dimension came with the then President Mogae’s state visit to China in November 2006 to attend the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit. Although the study indicates that he made clear at the time that he valued the relationship highly, including its economic benefits, he subsequently noted that there were problems in the relationship but these were outweighed by its advantages.
“On our part in Botswana, we are grateful to China for the various projects completed under our joint efforts… This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been bumps in the road; there have been… We have issues to sort out and in that regard we encourage the Chinese to heed our aspirations to hire more of our local workers, to help us further with capacity building, to not consider our countries as dumping grounds, and not to overrun our countries with Chinese businesses…”
The study highlights that problems in the relationship have been primarily in the economic dimension, though Botswana has had differences on a number of diplomatic issues, such as China’s veto in the United Nations (UN) Security Council of a resolution on Syria in July 2012. The research study observes categorically that: “despite active interventions by the Chinese Embassy (including diplomatic activity, media coverage, meetings with Chinese companies, donations to local schools and charities, cultural events and so forth), there is public evidence that the Government’s attitude towards China has deteriorated in recent years.”
It says in early 2013, President Khama gave a newspaper interview in which he was very negative about China. “In the interview the Head of State expressed dissatisfaction with three aspects of relations with China, namely: the poor quality of work by Chinese construction companies on major Government projects; the excessive level of Chinese migration into the country; the fact that Chinese were undertaking economic activities and jobs that could be done by Batswana,” the study states.
The research study states that when asked if other African presidents had similar views Khama responded: ‘they probably won’t say it publicly, but when I’ve spoken to others they’ve expressed frustrations as well,’ he said. ‘People feel that China is now the second-biggest economy in the world. You say things like that, do you really want to upset such a huge power? But there’s no point in having a huge power investing in a country if those investments at the end of the day don’t do you any good,’ Khama reportedly said.
The majority of respondents in the study cited the difficulties that have arisen since 2010 because of high profile problems with Chinese construction companies undertaking major Government of Botswana projects, in particular the Francistown Stadium, the Shakawe Senior Secondary School, the Sir Seretse Khama International (SSKI) Airport and the Morupule B power plant. These projects have had problems of quality, delays and cost over-runs, which in some cases have led to the termination of contracts. Although the problem is essentially economic, the failed constructions projects have had significant political ramifications, especially affecting views within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which did comparatively poorly in the 2014 elections.
Subsequently, in July 2013, in terms of the study, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani spoke critically at a reception for the new Chinese Ambassador and warned him to ensure better behaviour by the Chinese community. “While Government ministers continue to make positive formal statements on the bilateral relations, such as the Minister of Health on Chinese medical assistance, negative views persist among significant state actors about the extent of Chinese small businesses in the retail sector and about the performance of Chinese construction companies on major government projects,” the findings as per the study maintained.
The study mentions a newspaper report of remarks attributed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on July 1, 2015 after returning from a visit to China, including a meeting with her counterpart: Dr Venson-Moitoi said in an interview that government had “drastically reduced”’ retail licenses to Chinese nationals, the research continues. Moitoi is claimed to have said: “retail is a preserve for Batswana and it is an area where we believe that Batswana should have a higher percentage because we are seeking jobs and employment for Batswana,” she said… “We need a spell of cooling in our relations because over the last couple of years, we have had a few projects that failed and thought it was necessary that we spoke at a higher level with Chinese government to express our feelings and ensure that we remove misunderstandings.”
“I had to meet him to inform him that our country suffered because of Chinese companies which did not invest in the country, but only came on contracts to make money and go out after delivering the jobs,” she said. In response, the research study highlights that the Chinese Embassy then gave a press briefing on July 7, 2015 in which, according to newspaper reports, it made public its frustrations with visa and work permit problems, sudden deportations, the insecurity felt by Chinese investors, and the tendency within Botswana to regard all Chinese construction companies as problematic.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation found it necessary to make a press release on July 8, 2015 stating that “relations between the two countries remain excellent and mutually beneficial.” Nevertheless, the study says that a public impression had been created of significant tension in the bilateral relations. This tension it says was exacerbated in February 2016 when the Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations issued a press release criticising approach to its territorial claim to islands in the South China Sea.
“This was regarded by China as a public attack on its core national interests and it reacted with extreme displeasure that the press release was inaccurate and that diplomatic channels had not been followed. Botswana’s Ambassador in Beijing was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and admonished. Undoubtedly, this diplomatic dispute was the lowest point reached in state-to-state relations since diplomatic relations were established in 1975 and it impacted very negatively on political/diplomatic trust between the two nations.” According to the research study, the dispute reflects the wider trends in Botswana’s foreign policy that have emerged during the presidency of Ian Khama, whose personalised and idiosyncratic approach has led to a number of differences with the policies and behaviours of his predecessors.
How Botswana can strengthen relations with China
The question that arises then is what practical measures can be taken by both sides to enhance Botswana-China relations on a continuing basis. This is the problem that the research study addressed. Apart from suggesting that Khama embarks on an official visit to China, the study says the Government of Botswana should develop a coherent and explicit strategy towards its bilateral relations with China. In terms of the economic relations the study points out that the two governments (of Botswana and China) should resolve expeditiously all outstanding issues related to the problems of the Morupule B power plant.
“The Government of Botswana should ensure that existing policies on citizen reservation in the retail sector are enforced and that the two governments should concentrate on restructuring economic relations to focus on investment from China, especially in the manufacturing sector.” Chinese companies, the study says, should undertake skills training, engage in technology transfer, employ more locals (including in senior positions), carry out corporate social responsibility programmes, and integrate with local business organisations.
The findings show that economic issues were viewed as fundamental, whilst development assistance and formal political/diplomatic exchanges constitute important components of the state-to-state relationship. The respondents on both sides (Chinese and Batswana) and across occupational groups agreed that the relationship between Botswana and China is important and they suggested a number of practical measures that could be taken to improve it. “Chinese companies should employ public relations experts and the Chinese Embassy should establish a strong Public Relations Unit,” the study recommends.
According to the study, the Government of Botswana should ensure there is expertise on China within relevant ministry departments and parastatals, and that within the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, a specialised cluster should be formed of staff with in-depth knowledge of China and proficiency in the Chinese language. In addition: “the University of Botswana B.A. in Chinese Studies should be enhanced so that its graduates can provide the capacity that the Government needs.”
The research further states that a think-tank on China should be developed at the University of Botswana to undertake applied research and the Chinese Government should continue to sponsor Botswana media practitioners for training and study visits in China. It was also said that the Government of Botswana and the Chinese Embassy should work together urgently to resolve all immigration issues affecting Chinese citizens. However, the relationship between the two countries will be put to test once more next month when the religious cum political separatist Dalai Lama visits Botswana for the first time, against China’s will.
Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.
These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.
The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”
The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.
“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”
Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.
The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.
Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.
One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.
But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.
One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.
Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.
In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.
Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.
Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.
United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.
According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.
“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.
A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.
Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.
In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”
While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.
Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility. Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.
For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies. European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.
It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.
The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.
“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”
“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.” The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”