It was an enchanting Thursday night. Diplomats of all hues and colours mingled freely with Chiefs, Ministers, public officers, lawyers and the hoi polloi to celebrate the birthday of a foreign sovereign – Japan’s Emperor Akihito, who turns 83 this December 23.
Seldom does this happen, considering our condescending attitude towards Monarchies. Except for our deference to England’s Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, we hold in lowly esteem this anachronistic system of governance – little wonder then, the extent to which we have usurped diKgosi of their powers!
Yet, last Thursday provided a rare opportunity to confound this attitude, only if temporarily. Nestled in the heart of Gaborone’s Extension 11 suburb just behind the Parliamentary Village along Kgalagadi Way is the official residence of Japan’s Envoy to Botswana, His Excellency Masahiro Onishi who had gathered a decent crowd for a reception and buffet dinner in honour of His Imperial Majesty’s birthday.
In usual Japanese finesse and attention to detail, the venue was manned by attendants from the gate into the yard right through the foregrounds, on the foyer of the imposing two-storey building all the way inside the house and outside the back gardens.The atmosphere was alluring. Japanese peoples are sticklers for time-keeping. By 630PM everything had been set. Guests had already arrived and others were scurrying their way into the yard, conscious that their hosts abhor late-coming with a passion. Scattered in the gardens, the guests made small talk as they sipped and enjoyed drinks while waiting.
Former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe and former longtime Minister of foreign affairs Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe graced the event. The white hairs on their heads glimmered against the night lights as if to affirm the wisdom of their ways as they sat side by side to absorb every moment of the proceedings, reliving their past in retrospect.
After all, Kedikilwe and Dr. Chiepe enjoy the same honour that was recently conferred on Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi - the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun! Former Ambassador to Japan, Oteng Tebape, who was however not in the crowd, is yet another beneficiary of the same Honour but in Gold and Silver.President of the local chamber of commerce – Business Botswana- Lokwalo Mosienyane and his wife could be seen chatting and networking with local investors and foreign dignitaries. Motor-magnate and longtime ruling party purse-keeper, Satar Dada was also in the crowd.
Former Bank of Botswana Governor and current coordinator of a programme designed to revitalise the SPEDU Region, which includes the ailing copper mining town, Selibe Phikwe, Linah Mohohlo was radiant in her flowery dress and pinkish top as was Mma Nametso – the country’s third First Lady, Barbara Mogae who lazed in the gardens with Matlho Kgosi, wife to DISS boss, Isaac Kgosi, as if at home.The royal couple, Kgosi Puso Gaborone and his wife was equally stunning in their outfits and not to be outdone was the fabled economist, Keith Jeffries and his wife! There were also the young and vibrant legal minds – Nametso Dire and Outule Keatimilwe from Salbany & Torto and Armstrongs & Associates respectively.
Pule Mphothwe, the newly appointed Director of Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Affairs – freshly arrived from a six-year diplomatic stint in Tokyo, Japan was there as was old hand at the job, Clifford Maribe. Indeed, foreign affairs was well represented. The press corps darted around clicking away at their cameras to compliment the legion of Japanese ushers all donned in their traditional garb (Yukata) who watched after the guests’ every care. Madam Sae Onishi, wife to the Ambassador welcomed guests with a curtsying gesture and smile.
And then the Ambassador, Masahiro Onishi took to the podium to regale his guests first about the Emperor’s health describing him as “still fit” as a fiddle even at 83, and then about Japan’s diplomatic and commercial relations with Botswana. Onishi revealed that they plan to invite Botswana public officers to Japan next year for training in public service reforms. In the two years three months since his appointment, Onishi has worked tirelessly to improve trade and commercial relations between Japan and Botswana. In fact, just recently – end of October – he led a joint investment promotion mission with BITC’s chief executive Letsebe Sejoe to market Botswana’s investment potential.At the end of his speech, he was followed by Acting Foreign Minister, Eric Molale who paid tribute to Japanese way of life and work ethic, revealing in the process that Botswana was emulating these attributes by introducing the Kaizen (continuous improvement) system in its public service.
Molale also announced that his government would be applying for funds under the Japan/Africa development framework - TICAD VI. He said Finance minister Kenneth Matambo’s ministry was coordinating efforts to identify projects for funding under TICAD VI, for which Japan has pledged US$60billion towards Africa’s development in the next three years. And not only this, in a separate interview Molale, who incidentally had led the Botswana delegation to Nairobi, Kenya for TICAD VI summit, revealed that Botswana would be hosting the TICAD VI follow-up meeting next year.
In fact the end of their speeches the two men proposed toasts to the continued heath of President Khama, Emperor Akihito and the continued strong relations between the two peoples before they conducted the ‘Kagari wari’ ceremony of breaking the barrel containing the Japanese rice wine, (Sake). And the party began!!