Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Beyond fighting Masisi, Khama also undermining BITC’s work

On every working day, the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) tries to promote investment and trade. In parallel effort however, former president Ian Khama is undermining work of an agency established by an act of parliament that he personally signed into law in 2012.


In a wide-ranging interview with a South African Broadcasting Corporation TV channel, Khama was asked what the economic impact of his stand-off with President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been. This was an important question because when a former president fights his successor, that indicates political instability – which has been known to adversely affect the performance of the national economy. Khama chose to begin his answer by not addressing the question but scoring points against Masisi. He talked about corruption being “on the rise” and “self-interest” being prioritised over public interest and about the recent state of public emergency having been used to corruptly bypass normal procurement procedures. Finally, he did answer the question though.


“Economically, we are in a bad place. Funds have been squandered,” he said.
BITC, which has international offices in South Africa, India and the United Kingdom, is telling foreign investors something else, something entirely different: “We have zero tolerance for corruption, and we boast a sound legal system and adhere to the rule of law”, “We have the highest sovereign credit rating in Africa by Standards and Poor global ratings”, “We are named the 3rd freest economy in Africa by Heritage Foundation”, Africa’s fourth Investment destination out of 54.”


Khama essentially told his SABC interviewer that Botswana’s long-standing culture of democracy ended with him. He lamented the “wonderful example of democracy on this continent reduced to a situation where the rule of law is being undermined, there is abuse of power. We see human rights abuses as well.” BITC is telling investors the exact opposite of that, stating on its website: “It [Botswana] is hailed as a shining beacon of democracy, stability and peace in a continent renowned for turmoil and instability.”


BITC also manages Botswana’s brand and in executing such role, has to tell investors and the world about what a wonderful place Botswana is. Khama told SABC something else. He revealed that once when asked what foreign country he would relocate to, a foreigner acquaintance of his named Botswana because it was such a wonderful place to live and do business in. That person has reportedly changed his mind after Masisi took over.


A former president, son of a world-famous couple, darling of the west and social media influencer, Khama commands far greater power, reach and influence than BITC. What he says gets far greater media attention than BITC can ever hope for. Khama currently has 493 159 followers on Facebook and BITC has only 56 674. On any day, CNN, BBC and Sky news would choose a Khama story over a BITC story and as happens, nowadays, that Khama story would undermine what BITC tells the world about Botswana.


The former president also said something deeply unsettling in the SABC interview when he was asked whether he is “destabilising Masisi and the government of Botswana.” Rather than challenge the premise of the question, he tacitly confirmed that he was indeed doing so.
“I am doing that within the confines of the law,” he said.


No foreign investor would want to spend their money in a country that is being destabilized by its former president.

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