Economic questions key to Africa’s media freedom debate

BG Reporter
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Benoit Catusse Benoit Catusse

The Embassy of France in Botswana hosted a reception on Thursday this week to celebrate the media community in Botswana and reaffirm its constant and unwavering commitment to the freedom of expression and protection of journalists.

According to Benoit Catusse, the Economic, SADC and Press Attaché at the Embassy, the initial idea was to organise the reception on May 3 to coincide with the World Press Freedom Day but this could not be.   Catusse said the French Government believes that Media pluralism and the freedom to share critical analysis are key to a democratic, free and fruitful debate hence the reception to “improve journalism in Botswana” by providing a physical platform that allows journalists to network, get to know each other, exchange contacts, or even discuss further collaborations. The reception comes at a time when the local Editors Forum is slamming political parties for their indifference towards the media on account of a controversial report codenamed ‘Tholwane Borethe’ which enjoyed wide publicity last year in the local press but was dismissed as ‘fake’ by some quarters. Botswana Congress Party has since asked the Police Service to investigate whether editors published contents of the report in the full knowledge that it was false or not.


Diplomatic, Political and economic relations

France developed a warm and cordial relationship with Botswana, since 1966 within the framework of a balanced and sustainable partnership. The relationship was strengthened by the opening of an Embassy in Gaborone in 2001. The two countries according to Ambassador of France to Botswana, His Excellency Pierre Voillery, share similar positions on most issues on the international agenda such as support of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but also hold the same attachment to democratic values.

This friendship has been cemented over the recent past years by official bilateral visits between the two countries. Ian Khama, then President of Botswana visited France in June 2015 while two months later, Ségolène Royal, then French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, visited Botswana to prepare the COP21 UN climate change conference. There have also been high level visits by ministers Tshekedi Khama and Thapelo Olopeng last year to France while a delegation from the French Senate came to Botswana in May 2017 and in March 2018, the French senator Olivier Cadicalso came to Botswana for meetings with the authorities.

France has also recently welcomed the decision by the government of Botswana to open a diplomatic mission in Paris within the coming months. France and Botswana also share economic ties. This was evidenced by the establishment of the France-Botswana Business Club in 2013. This club gathers French companies working in Botswana as well as local companies that are willing to network and exchange with the French business community.

In May 2017, the Embassy of France to Botswana, together with BITC and De Beers, successfully organised the first France-Botswana Business Forum. This event allowed French and Botswana business communities to debate around economic and commercial links and explore further collaborations. At government level, the Ambassador of France to Botswana signed in July 2017 with the Botswana Minister of Finance and Economic Development the amendment of the France-Botswana Tax Agreement, which will take Botswana out of the list of non-cooperative states. This will ease investments between France and Botswana. In education, France and Botswana are committed to promote the French teaching in Botswana. French remains the only foreign language that is taught in Botswana public schools: almost 100 instructors teach French in more than 40 schools. Besides, other private institutions also propose French classes for their pupils.  In 2008, France and Botswana signed a Memorandum of Understanding containing a section for education and promotion of the French language. The MoU was revised in 2015 in order to identify the potential ideas to improve French teaching in Botswana schools.  The Alliance Française de Gaborone is the main institution in terms of French teaching in Botswana. It was created in 1980 and has promoted the French language and culture in Botswana for more than 35 years. Every year, several hundred people from all nationalities attend French classes at Alliance Française. It also hosts cultural activities which the aim of promoting exchanges between France and Botswana on a mutually beneficial basis. In collaboration with the Embassy, Alliance Française de Gaborone organised several cultural events during the Francophonie Week in Gaborone (18th – 25th March 2018). Amongst them was a reception at the Residence of France during which the prize-giving ceremony of a writing competition proposed by Alliance Française to some public schools took place.  The Alliance Française will soon have a new site, thanks to the government of Botswana which gave a plot to the association. The construction works have already began and by next year there should be a modern and beautiful French cultural center in the heart of Gaborone. Catusse says the new site will allow Alliance Française to grow and to work more effectively for the benefit of Batswana. The Embassy of France to Botswana develops contacts and exchanges with all spaces of the civil society in Botswana. For instance an annual reception takes place at the Residence of France on the 8th of March on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. This event gathers all the actors working to eliminate gender-based violence and to promote women empowerment. 

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