Perhaps it would be unfair on Vice President Slumber Tsogwane to blatantly state that he purposefully misled parliament but part of the information that he relayed to it last week is demonstrably false. Whether or not he is the original source is what complicates this issue.
Tsogwane was tackling an electoral-promise question posed by the Serowe South MP, Leepetswe Lesedi, on an apparent deal that President Mokgweetsi Masisi struck with The Walt Disney Company, the world’s biggest entertainment company which is based in the United States. The company operates entertainment resorts and is renowned for world-class entertainment and excellent customer service standards.
Ahead of the 2019 general election, Masisi told a Botswana Democratic Party meeting in Gaborone that he planned to turn Gaborone into an international tourism and leisure destination.
“We have struck a partnership with Disneyworld as a company,’ the Botswana Gazette of March 9, 2019 quotes him as saying. “They focus on making people happy and bringing tourists. I want tourists in this country. Visa restrictions are out. They will be issued on arrival.”
Around this time, Dorcas Makgato, who is now Botswana’s High Commissioner to Australia, was the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry. The Gazette quotes Masisi as saying that he had asked Makgato’s ministry to re-categorise taxis in order that the industry can have added value.
“I am very committed to making Gaborone an international venue centre and this will bring revenue to our country.”
More than two years later and well past a do-or-die election, no concrete results have come out of the reported Disney deal. The latter prompted Lesedi to ask Tsogwane to give the house a progress update on this deal. However, what the Vice President said didn’t tally with what his boss had two years ago. In Tsogwane’s telling, the relationship with Disney would have been confined to customer care training but never got to see the light of day because the company “said” that it doesn’t do business with governments.
That the US company doesn’t do business with governments is demonstrably false but with the Disney report not having been made public, one can’t ascertain what the author actually says.
Disney does business with governments. In 2011, the company partnered with Shanghai Shendi Group Co., Ltd. of China (which is 100 percent state-owned) on a Disney resort project in Shanghai. The company is a conglomerate of three companies (Shanghai Lujiazui (Group) Co., Ltd., Shanghai Radio, Film and Television Development Co., Ltd., and Jinjiang International Group Holding Company) which are all owned by Shanghai’s local government. Seven years after such partnership, the immediate past US Attorney General, Bill Barr, would state that Disney’s founder, Walt Disney, “would be disheartened to see how the company he founded deals with the foreign dictatorships of our day.” Barr also accused Disney of giving the Chinese government a role in managing the resort.
Disney has also partnered with the government of Saudi Arabia. In May last year, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, acquired a stake in The Walt Disney Co. The Fund bought more than 5 million shares in Disney, which it valued at just under $500 million. Established in 1971 by royal decree to provide financing support for projects of strategic significance to the national economy, the PIF is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. It invests funds on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Disney has also done business with the Botswana government itself through Cresta Marakanelo hotels. The government has a stake in Cresta through the Botswana Development Corporation, which is the majority shareholder. Through Disney’s Cultural Representative Programme, representatives from different countries live and work at a Disney resort near Orlando, Florida. Some Batswana in the hospitality industry have benefitted from this programme. Americans are perfectionists and the programme certainly gives participants exposure to first-class perfectionism that they can’t get here at home.
“You get to meet customers from all over the world and are required to offer first-class customer service,” says a former beneficiary, who works for a Cresta hotel and has benefitted from this programme.
Unfortunately, once back home, most beneficiaries of this programme dumb down their customer service standards to the Botswana level, essentially cancelling out all that Disney education.
Tsogwane an unfair advantage in this matter in that he can wave it from his desk as he debated. However, the story he told has plot holes. Why would Disney say that it doesn’t do business with governments when evidence that it does is in the public domain? And why would a company that doesn’t do business with governments open talks with someone (Masisi) whom it knew very well to be the head of state?
What Thursday morning also revealed was that the VP is intent on changing the meaning of simple English words with neither the knowledge nor consent of the Queen.He complicated his case by seeking to redefine “deal.” As quoted in the Botswana Gazette, Masisi used imprecise language that gives him some wiggle room. As used in “We have struck a partnership with Disneyworld”, the word “partnership” doesn’t necessarily mean “deal” because such partnership could be part of a negotiation process to strike a deal. On the other hand, the Vice President tied himself in knots by confirming that a “deal” was struck – then boldly misrepresented what a deal is. He made the impossible claim that to “make a deal” and to “sign a deal” are two different things, prompting laughter from some MPs. Away from politics, the VP is a businessman himself and it is unlikely that he has ever spoken of a deal to drill a borehole in context that ambiguous.
While the Disney deal was never signed, one has to wonder why the government would cross an ocean with 10 seas to ink a customer service training deal when the Okavango Delta and Zimbabwe are only a few hundred kilometres away. Staff at hospitality establishments in those places (notably the Delta which hosts Hollywood royalty) have extremely high customer service standards and are horrified by what they see happening in Gaborone.