One of our first chief justices was Nigerian – Botswanan envoy
Botswana, a landlocked country in southern Africa, was one of the poorest countries in the world with only 22 college graduates and 12 kilometers of paved roads when it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. But over the past half century, t
I have not even explored the business community, civil society and academia because part of my brief is not only governmentto-government relations but also trade, investment and culture
Daily Trust: What is the state of NigeriaBotswana bilateral relations? Ambassador Pule Mphothwe: The state of our relations is very good. Nigeria played a huge role in the development of Botswana a few years after independence in 1966. Then, Botswana was among the poorest countries, with a few social infrastructure. The few schools available then were set up by the missionary churches. Botswana basically depended on assistance from friends like Britain, as the country was a former British protectorate, United States, Russia, China and other international partners. In Africa it was Nigeria. It helped Botswana in terms of human capital, providing teachers, lecturers in the university and judges. One of our first chief justices after independence was a Nigerian. But Nigeria played even a bigger role in the liberation of southern African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola and other African countries. Nigeria was regarded as a Frontline State in the struggle for African freedom. Our relation has been good over the years. But they can be improved because now we talk of economic diplomacy. DT: Which area do you think should be strengthened? Amb. Mphothwe: Botswana is a developing country. In the context of regional integration of Africa and as we advance relations from political to economic, trading and investment is a very good area of exploration. For example, Botswana is well known for diamond, beef and tourism. Traditionally, the market for our diamonds, beef and tourism is Europe. Botswana has some of the best beef in the world and is good for tourism. We have about 150,000 elephants, the largest in the world. But we need to widen the market to Africa. Before the discovery of diamonds, agriculture played an important role in Botswana economy, just like Nigeria before the discovery of oil. We need to develop this sector more to diversify our economies. The area which is very topical in Nigeria now is cattle ranching. Our herders had adopted the system of ranching for a long time. They can come here to share best practices with their Nigerian counterparts because it is not good for cattle to be roaming long distances.
DT: What do you think of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement which aims to boost intra-African trade? Amb. Mphothwe: Botswana belongs to one of the oldest customs unions in the world - the Southern African Customs Union established in 1910. For us we see ourselves in relation to others, exporting our diamonds and beef to buy oil, chemicals and other products we need. It is a very small country, we cannot see ourselves in isolation. We decided to be part of the customs union from which we get revenue. Being part of the union has contributed to our development. So, the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is coming at the right time. I will say it is overdue. Though of course different countries have different levels of development, and there is that infant industry protection, that if you open up the market quickly, there is a risk that the local, small industries would lose and not be able to compete. But it is very important that African integration is given the strong impetus and AfCFTA is coming at the right time. The question of whether it is overdue? Definitely, it is, but there may be reasons it took such a long time. We support the agreement because we see ourselves in relation to a larger international community. But we need to consider the fact that countries have diverse levels of development, some have to be given a little bit more time to put in place regulatory frameworks to be able to compete well. DT: How would you describe your stay in Nigeria? Amb. Mphothwe: I feel very privileged and humbled to be given an opportunity to serve in Abuja because aside Addis Ababa, Abuja is a very important diplomatic posting in Africa. It has a large diplomatic community and all the international agencies are here. I’m very proud to be given the opportunity to advance the relationship between our two
countries because Nigeria is a very important country in Africa. I don’t know if Nigerians know this but for us, it is a lot of admiration. As long as Nigeria is getting it right, there are chances that smaller countries like Botswana will also get it right. DT: What is your perception of Nigerians?
Amb Mphothwe: Nigerians are very industrious. I have not known anybody who has been to Nigeria, studied or lived here and was not impressed about the country. But I have met a few people who have never been to Nigeria and have a negative perception of the country just because a few people are giving Nigeria a bad name. However, this is not limited to Nigeria, it’s everywhere. But in Nigeria, there are more good people than bad ones. For me, Nigeria is a very vibrant place. A lot of diplomats are here in Abuja. I have not even explored the business community, civil society and academia because part of my brief is not only government-to-government relations but also trade, investment and culture. The opportunities for collaboration are limitless. So far, I have really enjoyed my stay.
Botswana’s High Commissioner-Designate to Nigeria, Ambassador Pule Mphothwe