Thursday, June 13, 2024

There’s reportedly nothing sinister behind secret Botswana-De Beers agreement

An excellent source who has walked the corridors of ultimate executive power for years on end says that contrary to what most believe, there is actually nothing sinister in the highly confidential mining agreement between the Botswana government and De Beers.

The first agreement between the two parties was signed in 1969 after they formed a joint venture called Debswana Diamond Company (Pty) Ltd – “Debswana” is a portmanteau of “De Beers” and “Botswana.” At the time, then dirt-poor Botswana was only three years into its independence and in desperate need of investors. The agreement in question was signed by President Seretse Khama and De Beers’ Chairman, Harry Oppenheimer, and is said to be so highly confidential that on the Botswana side, only the state president has access to it.

Oppenheimer is said to have been particularly fond of Khama – which in one respect may have had to do with the fact that both men had gone to Oxford, the former to Christ Church and the latter to Balliol College. Those are two of Oxford’s 39 constituent colleges. At the time that the agreement was signed, De Beers was mining diamonds in some other countries. From what the source says and solely on the basis of Oppenheimer’s fondness for Khama, De Beers gave Botswana an overly generous deal. Fearing that other host countries that De Beers was doing business in would want a similar deal if they learnt of Botswana’s, Oppenheimer is said to have insisted that the agreement be kept a secret. Part of protecting that secret was limiting access to only one person – the president.

Years later however, questions are being asked about this secret and anomalous agreement. The oddest thing about it is that even the auditor general, who is charged with the responsibility of improving government accountability by auditing and reporting on the government’s operations, doesn’t have access to the agreement. The latter necessarily means that the auditor general has not been able to audit and report on Debswana’s operations for as long as the agreement has existed.

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