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20 May 2019

By Richard Moleofe

Wake me up in the middle of the night and quiz me on anything regarding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I will jump out of bed and get a good score. From my primary school days in the early 1970s, I surely recall a lot of things that have been business for this ministry.

If you write the history of this country, there is no way you can avoid mentioning the work of this ministry. In fact our past history that occurred during the years of liberation in southern Africa involved the ministry so immensely.

I can recall the Kalahari Desert nuclear debacle of 1978 when Dr Gaositwe Chiepe was minister in this office. It was tough! Intelligence information had reached our shores and it indicated the intentions of the apartheid government of South Africa to test a nuclear bomb in Botswana.

One of the earlier works done by this ministry was the historical visit of President Seretse Khama to North Korea in 1975. When arriving in Pyongyang, Seretse was mesmerized by the Korean children to musical tunes in Setswana his native language. I wish Radio Botswana could play that song for us again so we can reminisce on our historical diplomatic achievements.

What on earth did Seretse Khama go to do in North Korea of all countries in South East Asia? I still want to access the files in the archives and see what exactly prompted this visit and what we achieved from the trip. By the way, declassifying information hardly ever happens in this country and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that such notes are still not available to the public eye after the trip happened forty-four years ago.

I like the way Americans work in their country. Classified material gets into the public arena after a given period. And it is automatic; no one has to debate whether this or that has to be declassified.

The Belgians have a law that allows the declassification of any form of information after forty years have elapsed. Belgian officers came out to the open and confessed their involvement in the killing of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. After forty years they were now covered by automatic amnesty. It’s not a good thing to go to the grave with your secret, something that many like to do here.

One of the significant works to be performed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to convene a meeting between P.W Botha and Kenneth Kaunda in no-man’s land near the Tlokweng border gate. These were the Heads of State of South Africa and Zambia who had to come face to face on some diplomatic talks.

Unity Dow is the third woman to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before her were Dr Gaositwe Chiepe and Ms Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Chiepe did extremely well at this office.

Several African countries have had several female heading this ministry. President Idi Amin of Uganda had appointed a woman to that position. She will go down as the most beautiful African diplomat Africa has ever had. She was picked for her looks and not her brains.

For Unity Dow, it is all smooth sailing as this country has not gone through any tough diplomatic turmoil since she took office. Imagine Dr Chiepe had to go to New York to make a presentation to the Security Council on the plans South Africa had put in place to test a nuclear bomb in our country.

The current Minister of Foreign Affairs needs to leave a legacy at this office. One of the things the minister needs to change is the way we get people posted for diplomatic positions and especially as ambassadors. The way things are done at this ministry leaves a lot of career diplomats frustrated. They have no clear path of progression in their career because of political interference.

There is need to have a straight quota for the way diplomatic posts are dished out between politicians and career diplomats. I would suggest two thirds of posts for career diplomats and the remaining one third can go to politicians. The thing is, politicians are not usually educated in the realm of diplomacy and some of them just lack the fire to drive a diplomatic mission.

One beautiful morning I arrived  at Tlokweng border and I immediately zoomed to the head of the queue and got served leaving behind droves of crowds that stood in the line. I did not have a diplomatic passport but at the time I was temporarily immobilized and was confined to the use of crutches. In the line was Mr Pandu Skelemani, former minister at this ministry. I took a closer look at his passport and he was using an ordinary passport like mine. I mean, this is a man who has worked tirelessly for this country and he deserves better treatment.

In fact I make my recommendation to the minister that; please get Mr Skelemani a diplomatic post. He was very instrumental during his tenure as minister in your office. He is “Mr Tell it like it like it is.” I remember how he used to express himself about how things were going in Zimbabwe.

Truly speaking, look at some of the missions abroad, the heads of missions there can in no way compare to Mr Skelemani. Please give this man a job. This is nothing satirical, I am serious about this honourable minister and I expect a call from your office as part of the feedback.

By the way, while Skelemani was still on the queue, zoom past Tshephang Mabaila with a diplomatic passport. How on earth does such a thing happen? Mabaila is a known diehard supporter of Khama and I urge the minister to do some cleansing in the area of the issuance of diplomatic passports.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one ministry that does a sterling job in government. I am writing this from the Middle East and it is this office that helped me to get visa. That’s what we need you for as citizens of this land; to serve the ordinary citizen and to project our country’s image abroad.

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst

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