Friday, May 20, 2022

Debswana splashed millions to fight Basarwa campaigns

Debswana Diamond Company paid Hill & Knowlton public relations company millions of Pula for lobbying in the United States during the controversial relocation of Basarwa from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to fend off what it called “malicious campaign” by Survival International (SI).

The lobbying was done at the same time that evictions were happening inside the CKGR.

According to the United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) files, Debswana spent more than $2.2 million (over P20 million) on lobbying in America through Hill & Knowlton between January 2001 and May 2002.

FARA is a United States law that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

The files however show that the amount Debswana paid to Hill & Knowlton Brussels office is unknown but it is believed that millions of Pula were also channeled towards the PR firm’s bank accounts.

Responding to The Telegraph queries this week, Debswana spokesperson Esther Kanaimba-Sekai said that Debswana has never been involved in the Gope project nor “have we ever been involved in the re-location of Basarwa communities.”

While she confirmed that Debswana contracted Hill& Knowlton to fend off the campaigns by UK based human rights organisation Survival International which waged the campaigns on behalf of Basarwa, Kanaimba-Senai declined to state how much Debswana paid Hill & Knowlton for its services across the globe.

“The amount of money used in the campaign is governed by customer-client agreements and therefore remains confidential. Debswana utilized the services of Hill & Knowlton, a global public relations company,” she said.

Kanaimba-Senai said at the height of campaigns against blood diamonds which began with a report by NGO Global Witness on Angola in 1998 and was sustained into the early 2000s, Debswana embarked on a global awareness creation drive to counter negative attitudes towards diamonds elicited by these campaigns.

“The Debswana campaign targeted all key audiences in the United States, Japan and Europe, where most of our diamonds are sold, by promoting the “Diamonds for Development” message.┬á

The campaign also aimed at ensuring informed debate and greater understanding around the diamonds and development issue as well as to enhance Botswana’s profile as a model for Diamonds for Development,” she said.

In 2004, the PR firm boasted that its international “information campaign” generated support for Debswana among members of UK Parliamentarians, Members of the Japanese Parliament “and Members of the European Parliament, as well as numerous media outlets”. According to Hill & Knowlton, political delegations from all four regions visited Botswana to meet with former President Festus Mogae and other government ministers. Moreover, “President Mogae made trips to Brussels, London, and Washington and met with government at the highest levels. This has resulted in significant political support for Botswana and its diamond industry”.

Reports indicate that it is very unlikely that Hill & Knowlton Brussels office was not involved in this international campaign given they were best placed to gain direct access to the politicians and European Commissioners approached by Debswana and President Mogae.

Asked how Hill & Knowlton Brussels was involved in this campaign which appears to have been coordinated from Washington, the Brussels office said: “None of our current staff worked on the Debswana campaign. In the circumstances, it is difficult for us to provide you with specific information that goes beyond what is already on our website”.

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