Thursday, November 30, 2023

In 2000, a now 98-year old Motswana man was working 24/7 in a still-warm war zone

If the Democratic Republic of Congo has anything resembling peace and normalcy, then it is because a still sprightly, 98-year old Motswana man played a key role to bring about such outcome.

In his book, “A Sacred Cause”, Philip Winter recalls his first meeting with Archibald Mogwe, “a gruff man then not far short of 80, who, like QM, had been educated in a mission school in South Africa in the 1940s.” It is unclear why the writer decided he would call Sir Ouett Ketumile Joni Masire “QM” but that is what he calls him in a book that provides an insider’s account of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (ICD) between 2000 and 2003.

Fire started by Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga (“the all-powerful warrior who because of his endurance and inflexible will to win will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”) was still raging when a new man, Laurent Kabila came into office courtesy of an AK 47 barrel. (Yes that name is long but we are trying avoid the position that the Botswana Guardian found itself in for not addressing the Fourth and Former President of the Republic of Botswana, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama by his full title.) The Organisation of African Union (renamed African Union) brought in Masire to facilitate peace talks between warring sides in what in 2000 was Africa’s largest armed conflict. Winter was himself brought in as aChef de Cabinet ÔÇô which to an untrained English ear might title might sound deceptive because at this point, Masire had no cabinet and Winter was not cooking gourmet food for anyone. As Masire’s Chief of Staff, Winter saw it all in the book tells it all. However, for purposes of this article, our interest is in Mogwe whose legacy was celebrated at a ceremony that was attended by no less personages than President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane and other cabinet ministers.

In the book’s introduction, Winter recounts being picked up from Cresta President Hotel by Malatsi Malatsi, Masire’s head of security, and driven to Parliamentary Village where the Facilitator’s Office as being set up. Mogwe joined the interview the next day and after an exchange over an unspecified duration, Masire posed a question to his former foreign minister and envoy to the United States: “Well, Mr. Mogwe, what do you make of Mr. Winter?”

“Sir, he’s like all consultants ÔÇô he talks well but I don’t know if he can do anything,” the book quotes Mogwe as saying.

Winter would have done a good job because three years later, Masire would tell him that while he was initially not sure that he needed a Chef de Cabinet, “I am glad I got one.”

Winter worked very closely with Mogwe whose first assignment in mid-2000 was to fly out to New York and address the United Nations Security Council. Then he was off to Libya where winter encountered him in a tent waiting to see Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi.

Winter writes: “With little ado, he left Libya and flew through South Africa to Botswana. His wife Serara handed him a suitcase of clean clothes and he took off straight away on a direct flight to New York, composed his speech on the plane and delivered it without a hitch, complete with a line inviting the ambassadors of that controversial body to visit Botswana and sample for themselves its famously tasty beef. Men half his age would have struggled to cope, but, in his eightieth year, he seemed unfazed, complaining only that by the time he arrived in Botswana, after 24 hours of travel, he was stinking and sorely in need of a shower and clean clothes.”

Mogwe’s next assignment was to go on a tour of DRC’s 11 provinces in the company of Professor Mohamed el Hacen Ould Lebatt, a former Foreign Minister of Mauritania, who had been recommended by former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali who now worked at theOrganisation International de la Francophonie. The goal of Mogwe and Lebatt’s countrywide mission was to meet civil society and help them designate their representatives to the ICD. Winter’s own experience of the civil society in that country was that “it had become the main means of provision of education and health services in the face of a government system which taxed the populace but provided them with nothing in return.” In addition to three officers from the Kinshasa office, the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en R├®publique d├®mocratique du Congo, seconded a young Lebanese woman to interpret for Mogwe.

The team spent two months visiting 19 cities and towns that the book lists, meeting governors, international organisations, religious leaders and civil society representatives.

“The exercise was, as far as we could tell, unprecedented,” Winter writes. “More than once the team was told that this was the first time their local interlocutors had ever been consulted about anything by people coming from Kinshasa. Certainly no Congolese politician had been able to tour the whole country and consult constituents on this scale for a very long time.”

But there were stumbles along the way. The team suffered from malaria and exhaustion; there was lack of aircraft fuel and morning mist prevented early take-offs; Mogwe had to rush back home for the funeral when his brother died; and progress stalled when the team’s aircraft insurance ran out. From the consultation process, a list of 54 locally-chosen civil society representatives were designated and at the time Winter wrote his book, most of them were part of the government. The next phase of the process was a more daunting task of designating political party representatives whom, as Winter recalls, “presented an even more taxing exercise for Messrs. Mogwe and Lebatt than had civil society.”

The book highlights one difficulty of dealing with this lot when it came to organising the ICD in Addis Ababa. On the basis of uncertain funding, an unknown-quantity venue and preparations that the parties and the ICD’s own commissioners had to make, Winter wrongly assumed that 90 days would be a realistic duration for the Dialogue.

“The delegates booed. One by one they haggled over figures ranging from fifteen to fifty days. Rre Mogwe came to my rescue and pointed out that it had taken sixty days to organise the preparatory meeting and even that had had to be postponed. Was it not worse to set an unrealistic date that could not be met than to recognise that the amount of preparation that would be needed? Professor Lebatt proposed sixty days. The haggling stopped at 60 days.”

Four days before Al Qaeda attacked the US, Mogwe and Winter met the Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. They had had wanted to meet his boss, Colin Powell but he was out of the country. Armitage told the pair that in addition to the US$1 million the US had already contributed to the mission’s costs, another US$500 000 was available. After that meeting they certainly had reason to celebrate and that evening, a compatriot of Lebatt took them to the last Washington D.C. restaurant he should have taken them to. The restaurant provided a belly dancer to entertain guests after their meal and it appears that she interacted with them a little too closely – literally.

“Rre Mogwe bore the scarlet scarf she draped across his head with great fortitude and managed to look quite unruffled. The two Batswana bodyguards were intrigued,”
Winter says in the book.

In the end the ICD managed to set up a transitional power-sharing government and paved way for the 2006 elections. In that regard, Masire and Mogwe’s mission was accomplished but the bigger goal of bringing sanity to the DRC continues to be elusive.  At a time like this when the Second and Former President’s beautiful creation called Botswana is developing blemishes, boils and warts courtesy of heart-stopping antics by the Fourth and Former President, a self-described patriot, the introduction’s last paragraph has an apt message: “This book is therefore dedicated to the long-suffering people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the hope that their leaders will be able to learn from the example of Sir Ketumile Masire and his fellow-countrymen, whose successes are little known but whose respect for principles deserves to be understood and emulated by any who might lay claim to leadership in this continent.”

It might be hard for some young people to believe this but there actually was a time when, working alongside their former aides, genuinely retired Botswana presidents put out fires in Africa – not start them here at home while acting innocent. This was just one of the many reasons that motivated half the cabinet to descend on a Hildervale farm and celebrate the legacy of a man who helped his former principal put out Africa’s largest inferno.


Read this week's paper