Botswana High Commissioner to Namibia Duke Lefhoko has called for cool heads to prevail while investigations over the killing of two Namibians by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) for allegedly poaching in the animal-rich Chobe National Park continue.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Botswana Guardian from his base in Namibia last week Lefhoko said he took to heart recent remarks attributed to the Namibian Minister of Defence, Charles Namoloh who dismissed reports by some Namibian media that the two men who were killed were innocent and unarmed fishermen.
Namoloh who was addressing the 22nd Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security argued that fishermen do not carry guns. “Are fish so difficult to catch that one needs a gun to catch them these days,” he was quoted. Lefhoko concurred with this saying fishermen fish with nets not guns.
The incident has created tensions between the two neighbouring countries with Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula having gone on record to launch a veiled attack on Botswana over the deaths, saying the killings were ‘unfortunate’ and that they could have been avoided.
However, Lefhoko maintains that there are no tensions between Botswana and Namibia saying the tension is just a media creation. “We still do joint patrols and still share information to diminish cross border crime,” he notes. The high commissioner noted that joint-investigations are ongoing and thus emotions should not be allowed to destroy this.
“The media will not strain the relationship between the two governments and people. Let the professionals do the investigations and when the findings are out the facts will be looked at square in the face.”
Botswana Dry Port in Walvis Bay, Namibia
Despite being the first country to be offered land by Namibia in 2006, the Botswana plot in Walvis Bay remains undeveloped, while other players who came later - Zambia and Zimbabwe - have made good progress. Lefhoko says preparations are at an advanced stage.
Government has directed the Botswana Railways to bring the project into fruition and according to the high commissioner the BR tender committee and Board will meet this month to take a decision on the contractor. “An announcement will be made in December with regards to the contractor,” he said.
Trans-Kalahari rail line
The proposed Trans-Kalahari Rail Line between Botswana and Namibia intended to transport coal for quite some time now and according to the envoy Botswana’s minister of transport Nonofo Molefhi will host his Namibian counterpart before the end of this year to check on the progress made so far. “This is a bilateral project so it requires us to harmonise our resources,” he said. The project is expected to cost around US$10 billion.
Citizen economic empowerment (CEE)
During his tenure as MP for Shoshong Lefhoko is remembered for his fierce debates advocating for citizen economic empowerment. Complimented by the then MP for Palapye Boyce Sebetela, Lefhoko was always uncompromising when he debated the matter. “We have a rich government but poor citizens,” Lefhoko once said.
This is because, he said at the time, the Ministry of Finance controls the national budget but is not committed to citizen economic empowerment. In 2007 he moved a successful motion on citizen economic empowerment, which was adopted by Parliament and subsequent to the adoption of his motion the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning produced a CEE Strategy.
This year parliament debated and adopted the CEE policy. “I am grateful that parliament finally approved the policy albeit after a long time,” he said, adding that the policy gives him gratitude because it addresses the issues he raised while MP. However the envoy is worried that capacity building is not standing out in the policy, arguing that it is a prerequisite of any CEE.
But he took solace in the fact that there is a policy in place and any deficiencies can be addressed during implementation. Lefhoko feels that government will now not have a piecemeal approach to CEE noting that initiatives such as the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) are just a chapter in CEE. The high commissioner would however not want to take credit for the development of the policy saying all credit should go to vice president Ponatshego Kedikilwe. “He planted that seed on me. The credit belongs to him more than to me.”
Lefhoko is cagey about his political future. He could not say whether he will challenge Phillip Makgalemele for the Shoshong constituency or not during the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections dubbed Bulela Ditswe to be held next year. “It is too early to make a pronouncement,” he notes, adding that the party first has to announce the dates for Bulela Ditswe.
“That decision will be made at the appropriate time. I am currently a civil servant serving at the pleasure of the President.” He said he will consult with elders in the constituency and that is when he will decide whether to contest or not. Lefhoko, who was the MP for Shoshong, lost the seat after being defeated by Makgalemele (a new entrant to politics at the time) in the party primary elections prior to the 2009 general elections.