By Thobo Motlhoka
The French Ambassador to Botswana Pierre Voillery has acknowledged President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi’s forthrightness in his engagement with the media taking a veiled swipe at former President Ian Khama.
Addressing the media at his Official Residence in Gaborone on 7 February Ambassador Voillery acknowledged President Masisi’s contrasting attitude towards the private media.
During his presidency, Khama had a blatant disdain for the private media.
“Politically speaking, I think 2018 was an exciting year for you with the first press conference addressed by the President of the Republic in 10 years,” he said.
Khama has somersaulted on his disdain for the private press finding refuge in the same media usually to spin his frustrations with the administration of President Masisi
“I assume 2019 will be even more thrilling as the country is heading towards general elections. I sincerely hope the media at large will be part of the campaigns and pass on information to the people come election date,” the diplomat urged.
Voillery said the media has an important role to play in assuring the people can be informed and vote in full knowledge.
“I am not worried as I read newspapers every day and I know you will do some good work. The freedom of the media is a topic that matters to me a lot” said the ambassador.
He said freedom of the media is crucial for democracy and good governance. Botswana, the Ambassador said, is a well-known example of good governance partly because they can operate freely.
“Certainly there is room for improvement like everywhere, but believe me, and I am talking from experience, the freedom of the media in Botswana is remarkable and commendable,” he said.
Voillery also reiterated the French government’s ‘constant and unwavering commitment’ to press freedom, to the freedom of expression and to the protection of journalists worldwide.
“My country is committed to promote the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.”
He said France had ratified all main international legal instruments on human rights in which freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined.
Former President Khama never addressed the local media in his capacity as President over the ten years of his presidency. His only engagement with the media on local soil was in his capacity as the SADC Chairperson when the 35th Ordinary Summit which took place in Gaborone on a Tuesday August 18, 2015.
He had just taken over from former Chairman and then Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, and as such had to host the mandatory press conference which most of the local press missed out on following his deliberate decision to move it forward from the pre-arranged time slot.
It has been the norm that a sitting Chairperson of SADC hosts a post summit media briefing. Even the then government spokesperson Dr. Geoff Ramsay could not confirm whether Khama would indeed address the media. “Nothing is definite in this world,” Ramsay told our sister publication the Sunday Standard then.