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China threatens Botswana’s diamonds

First it was the South-China Sea controversy and now it is the impending visit by the Dalai Lama to Botswana, and China is not amused. The Asian giant is telling Botswana to block the Dalai Lama’s visit.

Relations between Botswana and China have taken yet another knock as China disapproves of Botswana’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Botswana and give talk as a guest at a three day conference entitled “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama Spirituality, Science and Humanity”, scheduled for 17-19 August 2017.

Chinese officials at the time of the controversy surrounding the South China Sea had adopted a diplomatic approach to Botswana’s criticism of their country. The diplomatic relations between Gaborone and Beijing which had been simmering for sometime had boiled over last week after Botswana issued a press statement accusing China of imposing “its power over others to make claims because of “its economy or military.”

But on the question of the Dalai Lama, China is very clear, it is uncompromising and “Botswana will pay a heavy price should the renowned spiritual leader be allowed to visit.” Botswana government has insisted that the Spiritual Leader is indeed visiting Botswana but not on official ticket. It states President Lt Gen Ian Khama could attend the Conference should his schedule allow.

Statistics show that Botswana’s export to China grew from US$2.86 million in 2004 to US$65 million in 2009. During March 2017, exports destined to Asia were valued at P2, 177.1 million, representing 53.4 percent of total exports (P4, 076.8 million) hence China accounting for the bulk of the exports. India received exports amounting to P592.3 million, 14.5 percent of total exports during the month. Israel and UAE followed with 11.2 percent (P457.9 million) and 10.6 percent (P431.4 million) respectively, of total exports during March 2017. Singapore and Hong Kong received 9.8 percent (P399.2 million) and 5.3 percent (P215.9 million) respectively of total exports during the period under review.

This is where China is said to be threatening to hurt Botswana should the Dalai Lama be allowed entry into Botswana. Botswana economy is dominated by diamonds, they are the biggest revenue earner. The major commodity exported to Asia is Diamonds, representing 99.7 percent (P2, 170.5 million) of all goods exported to the region during March 2017.

Why does China despise the Dalai Lama so much?

China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist and a political trouble maker, and the history latent in this distaste is convoluted and problematic. The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the traditional religious and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists. He was made head of state at age 15 in 1950, the same year that Chinese troops occupied Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has held negotiations with Chinese officials on Tibetan self-rule with little success. In 1959, he fled Tibet for exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. Over the years, the Dalai Lama has continued to lobby for self-rule in Tibet. Tibetans around the world revere him as their spiritual leader and cultural icon. He has traveled the globe, attending meditation conferences, giving speeches in universities and parliaments, and meeting people from all walks of life, from CEOs to Hollywood stars to heads of state. He received the Nobel peace prize in 1989.  Overseas, the Dalai Lama is a celebrated figure. In China, he is a despised troublemaker.

Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has in the recent past called for introspection on the bilateral cooperation between Botswana and China to see how best they can move ahead in the journey of strategic partnership.
She had observed that 40 years signified a period of maturity hence the expression ‘life begins at 40’ and said this was an opportune time to reflect on the successes and challenges so that the two countries could chart a path to long lasting beneficial relations.

Speaking at the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Botswana and China in Gaborone on February 10, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr Pelonomi Dr Venson-Moitoi said Botswana admired the great strides china had made in recent decades. China and Botswana relations can be traced to January 6, 1975 when the two countries formally established diplomatic relationship, which unveiled a new chapter for friendship and cooperation between the two.

For over 40 years, China-Botswana relations have been developing soundly and steadily on the basis of their traditional friendship, and the two countries’ peoples have benefited from the expanding cooperation in various fields. Growing economic and trade cooperation has served as the driving force in boosting bilateral ties between the two countries and the total trade volume between the two countries has jumped from less than US$ million in early 1980s to US$343 million in 2013, which is almost 700 times increase.
China has become the second largest consumer of Botswana’s diamonds; consuming 15 per cent of the total diamond output and said his country’s demand for Botswana’s diamonds is also growing by more than 10 per cent every year.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

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.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

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.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

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.”

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