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Friday, 19 April 2024

Inside the Botswana-De Beers cagey lobola talks

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Men clad in government enclave synonymous black suits, mostly politicians and bureaucrats, are entrusted with dowry negotiations over the most precious treasure to be discovered on this country’s soil, diamond, and that has been the case for decades.

Since a diamond has proved to be more than just a precious stone,  the stakes on the table of these negotiations are higher-the atmosphere pressured with a strong concoction of politics, the economy, business interests and secrecy-but Motswana is closed outside the big walls of intrigue. At the end, inside the boardroom, it is business and De Beers skillful negotiators versus a bunch of bureaucrats trying to juggle their hats of confused colors laden with politics and business interests.

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Two former ministers of minerals who got to sit on the table across the masterminds brought by the mining giant, De Beers attempted to put WeekendPost into the negotiation room of secrecy by a startling flashback. All agreed on these diplomatic words, that De Beers was “accommodative” and “engaging” and this contradicts all the popular notion of the big mining multinational being ‘Big Brother’ and swaying negotiations to its needs.

Former minister of minerals Eric Molale in 2018 said in the meeting of Government and De Beers, “we sit down and come up with an agenda (heads of argument) and we discuss the heads of arguments further.”

“I have been in these meetings. De Beers actually is accommodative contrary to perceptions. The reality is that we do not actually negotiate as business persons but as people in a weaker position,” said one former minister in an exclusive engagement.

Minister of minerals Lefoko Maxwell Moagi led the recent negotiations which had an outcome of extending the Botswana-De Beers deal to next year. A De Beers communication this week said, the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers Group have agreed to extend their existing contract for the sale of Debswana’s rough diamond production until the end of 2021. The communication further says the agreement was originally due to expire at the end of 2020. The extension, which will extend the terms of the existing agreement, will provide further time for discussions regarding the contract renewal.

While this publication chose not to unmask the two former ministers who unveiled the nature of negotiations with De Beers, a former minerals minister, David Magang, who waged war for diamond beneficiation against the mining giant, exposed this country’s relationship with De Beers as one sided, hence brewing strong the perception that Botswana veiled under a raw deal. Magang even dedicated several pages to put up the toxic picture of Botswana-De Beers deal in his 2008 memoir, “The Magic of Perseverance.”

“I racked my brains to understand why government was so submissive in its dealings with De Beers. Was this the result of our being in awe of them? Simply because they were DE Beers? If so then we were the only ones of our kind who were so subservient. Namibians for instance, after independence immediately began to bend De Beers to their will,” writes Magang in “The Magic of Perseverance.”

Magang further writes that it is illusory in an arrangement where half of the Debswana Board consists of its representatives, the Botswana Government can say that it has reasonable safeguards against unfair play on the part of its partner. “…The indigenous people on the board are just too far removed from De Beers Centenary in Switzerland, let alone De Beers Consolidated Mines in South Africa, where strategies to profiteer at the expense of you-know-who are mapped out and kept under lock and key,” Magang writes.

Former editor for diamond journal, Idex, Chaim Even-Zohar, in an article for his publication in 2008, being reminiscent of Magang’s presentation at a diamond conference in London, said the former cabinet minister told off De Beer much to the chagrin of the company’s representatives in the audience.

Calling for beneficiation, which Magang said made him a laughing stock among peers at cabinet and parliament, he told the audience, according to Even-Zohar, that Botswana needs a, “new, free-standing international competitive cutting factories in Botswana.”

Even-Zohar said Magang lashed out and said Botswana, “will not accept the burden of acting as the swing producer and buffer stock for the industry.”

“Being in the audience, I realized at once that Magang had committed political suicide. De Beers was, in those days, so omnipotent in Botswana that no one got away with challenging their policies, which were basically the law of the land,” wrote Even-Zohar under a title, “David Magang: Mutineer Turned Visionary.”

According to Magang’s book Even-Zohar told the former minerals minister that he (Even-Zohar) knew as early as February that Magang would be shunted to another ministry.

After decades of fighting that ended in political suicide for Magang, in 2013 De Beers moved its sightholder-sales operations to Gaborone from London and that was part of a decade-long deal which has been extended by one year to further negotiations.

“The extension makes sense. These are negotiations between partners and there is need for time to conclude the issues between the parties,” said a cabinet member who spoke to this publication briefly.

While most credit Magang’s ‘magic of perseverance’ for beneficiation, saying his legacy lies on the deal which will again go back to the table next year December, one cabinet minister is not fully satisfied.

“What simply relocated were buildings and a few individuals. Beneficiation has totally failed. The real reason business and skill remained in London. De Beers employed Batswana in preferential positions such as HR, PR or accounts, but not anywhere near the core business,” said a former minerals minster who sat on the negotiation table with De Beers.

A former cabinet minister’s statement reiterates Magang’s stance at the time of writing his book that the indigenous people on De Beers board are not really close to De Beers high level or central decision making processes.

But it is a case of being in a big money diamond business deal while one is either a mere politician or bureaucrats, according to a former cabinet minister who was part of the negotiations when they started, they do not actually negotiate as business persons but as people in a weaker position.

“In Botswana our negotiation team comprises of PS minerals, PS Finance, BoB governor, attorney general and one or two people outside government. These are not necessarily business persons even if they may understand the industry. At the end of the day, it matters not that you are talking about diamonds, copper, etc. You need a business person, tried and tested in the art of negotiating dealing to be part of the team. These don’t have to be from government or the diamond sector necessarily. It a business deal at the end of the day,” said another former minister.

One senior cabinet minister said in the new deal he expects Botswana to increase government stake in De Beers and to take greater share in synthetic diamonds, a share of 50 percent.

The senior minister said Botswana government negotiators should insist on this country being a part owner of all intellectual property development in element 6 and De Beers related development. “All equipment used and developed by De Beers and used exclusively in the diamond process and value chain is owned specifically by them to the exclusion of Botswana government,” he said.

In 2018 De Beers CEO promised a good deal for Botswana. “This is a 50 year old partnership that will continue. But we are not going to divulge details of the negotiations because they are confidential. We are not going to be rushing and we are going to come with a package that will benefit us all-a win-win deal,” he told journalists.

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Nigerians, Zimbabweans apply for Chema Chema Fund

16th April 2024

Fronting activities, where locals are used as a front for foreign-owned businesses, have been a long-standing issue in Botswana. These activities not only undermine the government’s efforts to promote local businesses but also deprive Batswana of opportunities for economic empowerment, officials say. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has warned of heavy penalties for those involved in fronting activities especially in relation to the latest popular government initiative dubbed Chema Chema.

According to the Ministry, the Industrial Development Act of 2019 clearly outlines the consequences of engaging in fronting activities. The fines of up to P50,000 for first-time offenders and P20,000 plus a two-year jail term for repeat offenders send a strong message that the government is serious about cracking down on this illegal practice. These penalties are meant to deter individuals from participating in fronting activities and to protect the integrity of local industries.

“It is disheartening to hear reports of collaboration between foreigners and locals to exploit government initiatives such as the Chema Chema Fund. This fund, administered by CEDA and LEA, is meant to support informal traders and low-income earners in Botswana. However, when fronting activities come into play, the intended beneficiaries are sidelined, and the funds are misused for personal gain.” It has been discovered that foreign nationals predominantly of Zimbabwean and Nigerian origin use unsuspecting Batswana to attempt to access the Chema Chema Fund. It is understood that they approach these Batswana under the guise of drafting business plans for them or simply coming up with ‘bankable business ideas that qualify for Chema Chema.’

Observers say the Chema Chema Fund has the potential to uplift the lives of many Batswana who are struggling to make ends meet. They argue that it is crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose and not siphoned off through illegal activities such as fronting. The Ministry says the warning it issued serves as a reminder to all stakeholders involved in the administration of these funds to ensure transparency and accountability in their disbursement.

One local commentator said it is important to highlight the impact of fronting activities on the local economy and the livelihoods of Batswana. He said by using locals as a front for foreign-owned businesses, opportunities for local entrepreneurs are stifled, and the economic empowerment of Batswana is hindered. The Ministry’s warning of heavy penalties is a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to eliminate fronting activities and promote a level playing field for local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s warning of heavy penalties for fronting activities is a necessary step to protect the integrity of local industries and promote economic empowerment for Batswana. “It is imperative that all stakeholders comply with regulations and work towards a transparent and accountable business environment. By upholding the law and cracking down on illegal activities, we can ensure a fair and prosperous future for all Batswana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merck Foundation and African First Ladies mark World Health Day 2024

15th April 2024

Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany marks “World Health Day” 2024 together with Africa’s First Ladies who are also Ambassadors of MerckFoundation “More Than a Mother” Campaign through their Scholarship and Capacity Building Program. Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation emphasized, “At Merck Foundation, we mark World Health Day every single day of the year over the past 12 years, by building healthcare capacity and transforming patient care across Africa, Asia and beyond.

I am proud to share that Merck Foundation has provided over 1740 scholarships to aspiring young doctors from 52 countries, in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Embryology & Fertility specialty, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Emergency and Resuscitation Medicine, Critical Care, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Neonatal Medicine, Advanced Surgical Practice, Pain Management, General Surgery, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Internal Medicine, Trauma & Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Neurology, Cardiology, Stroke Medicine, Care of the Older Person, Family Medicine, Pediatrics and Child Health, Obesity & Weight Management, Women’s Health, Biotechnology in ART and many more”.

As per the available data, Africa has only 34.6% of the required doctors, nurses, and midwives. It is projected that by 2030, Africa would need additional 6.1 million doctors, nurses, and midwives*. “For Example, before the start of the Merck Foundation programs in 2012; there was not a single Oncologist, Fertility or Reproductive care specialists, Diabetologist, Respiratory or ICU specialist in many countries such as The Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea, Burundi, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Namibia among others. We are certainly creating historic legacy in Africa, and also beyond. Together with our partners like Africa’s First Ladies, Ministries of Health, Gender, Education and Communication, we are impacting the lives of people in the most disadvantaged communities in Africa and beyond.”, added Senator Dr. Kelej. Merck Foundation works closely with their Ambassadors, the African First Ladies and local partners such as; Ministries of Health, Education, Information & Communication, Gender, Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art in building healthcare capacity and addressing health, social & economic challenges in developing countries and under-served communities. “I strongly believe that training healthcare providers and building professional healthcare capacity is the right strategy to improve access to equitable and quality at health care in Africa.

Therefore, I am happy to announce the Call for Applications for 2024 Scholarships for young doctors with special focus on female doctors for our online one-year diploma and two year master degree in 44 critical and underserved medical specialties, which includes both Online Diploma programs and On-Site Fellowship and clinical training programs. The applications are invited through the Office of our Ambassadors and long-term partners, The First Ladies of Africa and Ministry of Health of each country.” shared Dr . Kelej. “Our aim is to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people by building healthcare capacity across Africa, Asia and other developing countries. We are strongly committed to transforming patientcare landscape through our scholarships program”, concluded Senator Kelej.

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Interpol fugitive escapes from Botswana

15th April 2024

John Isaak Ndovi, a Tanzanian national embroiled in controversy and pursued under a red notice by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), has mysteriously vanished, bypassing a scheduled bail hearing at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court in Gaborone. Previously apprehended by Botswana law enforcement at the Tlokweng border post several months earlier, his escape has ignited serious concerns.

Accused of pilfering assets worth in excess of P1 million, an amount translating to roughly 30,000 Omani Riyals, Ndovi has become a figure of paramount interest, especially to the authorities in the Sultanate of Oman, nestled in the far reaches of Asia.

The unsettling news of his disappearance surfaced following his failure to present himself at the Extension 2 Magistrate Court the preceding week. Speculation abounds that Ndovi may have sought refuge in South Africa in a bid to elude capture, prompting a widespread mobilization of law enforcement agencies to ascertain his current location.

In an official communiqué, Detective Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Selebatso Mokgosi of Interpol Gaborone disclosed Ndovi’s apprehension last September at the Tlokweng border, a capture made possible through the vigilant issuance of the Interpol red notice.

At 36, Ndovi is implicated in a case of alleged home invasion in Oman. Despite the non-existence of an extradition treaty between Botswana and Oman, Nomsa Moatswi, the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), emphasized that the lack of formal extradition agreements does not hinder her office’s ability to entertain extradition requests. She highlighted the adoption of international cooperation norms, advocating for collaboration through the lenses of international comity and reciprocity.

Moatswi disclosed the intensified effort by law enforcement to locate Ndovi following his no-show in court, and pointed to Botswana’s track record of extraditing two international fugitives from France and Zimbabwe in the previous year as evidence of the country’s relentless pursuit of legal integrity.

When probed about the potential implications of Ndovi’s case on Botswana’s forthcoming evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Moatswi reserved her speculations. She acknowledged the criticality of steering clear of blacklisting, suggesting that this singular case is unlikely to feature prominently in the FATF’s assessment criteria.

 

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