interviewBy Austine Odo and Suleiman Bisalla
The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa which became independent after British rule on September 30, 1966. Covered by the Kalahari Desert with a flat land of up to 70%, it is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast. A country of just over two million people, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in Africa when it gained independence with a GDP per capita of about US$70. It has since transformed itself, becoming one of the fastest-growing economies in the world to a GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita of about $14,000. The country is the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. It has held free and fair democratic elections since independence. Recent media reports alleged widespread maltreatment and high handedness of Botswana authorities against Nigerians resident in that country, culminating in a purported deportation of 300 of them in recent times, but outgoing Botswana High Commissioner to Nigeria Clifford S. Maribe in this interview disputes the allegations, saying the report was concocted to cause tension and damage existing cordial relations between Nigeria and his country. Excerpts:
Your Excellency, you have come to the end of your tenure after three years of working in Nigeria, what is your impression of the country?
I must say it has been an enjoyable and very enriching experience. We have made many friends here who have received us with open arms. We've had the opportunity to enjoy Nigerian cuisine and Nigerian culture and entertainment. We've also seen the different parts of the country and seen that Nigerians are very friendly people.
Relations between the two countries have been excellent as reflected in the two state visits by the two presidents. We have also had other exchange visits at other levels.
There has also been an increase in the number of Nigerian tourists to Botswana, as seen from the number of visa applicants at the embassy. We can see Nigerians exploring that part of Africa as tourists. These are things we encourage people to go and experience, the food, the culture, just as we are experiencing here like the Abuja Carnival. So I can summarise my tour to say it has been quite successful.
What about your impression of Nigerians residing in Botswana?
By Botswana standard, we have a big Nigerian community there. When President Jonathan visited, he had the opportunity to address the Nigerians who live there and I think the around 2000 Nigerians who reside around the capital Gaborone attended that meeting. Relations with Nigeria date back to the early years of our independence.
Nigeria was one of those countries which extended development assistance to us. We were a very poor country then, some of our leaders attended schools in Nigeria. Nigerian experts also went to Botswana to teach. We have Nigerian experts and businessmen who live and work in Botswana.
Has the presence of this Nigerian community been of any negative influence on the people of Botswana?
No, no, they are friendly people. Just recently for example, we had a group of people who travelled there, you may wish to ask them, we are very friendly people too.
We asked that question because there was a recent report of Botswana authorities refusing to renew residence permits for Nigerians, leading to the maltreatment and deportation of 300 of them.
We saw that report, and what I can say is that the number, the 300 quoted was exaggerated, it is a false number. We have done our investigation and found out that not more than 20 of them were deported since the beginning of this year.
You see, deportations happen in every country. Even Nigeria here, I know some nationals of other countries are deported if they engage in unlawful activities.
We have some people who applied for permit with false information to obtain visa. For example if you come and say you are an investor and it is discovered that you are not an investor during investigation or when you are asked to show your factory or company location then it is found that you are a street trader, that is not what you are given the permit for. So those are the kind of things we encounter--people saying they are investors and turning out to be street traders.
Those activities are reserved for locals, we do not want such investors, we cannot call Nigerians to go and invest in Botswana as street traders, no. We want investors who will generate or create opportunities for our people, as much as investors who come from Botswana will not be encouraged to come and become street traders here.
These are things that locals should do. When somebody comes to open a factory here he is welcome, which is the kind of investment we want.
So if somebody comes to say I will open a factory and employ 20 people and you later find that the same person is operating from the booth of a second hand car, and this is what he says he is doing, just moving around selling small items, that is not what the permit is issued for, and it should not be renewed because that person is not carrying out the activity that he claimed to be. This is the situation that some of those people found themselves in and got deported. And of course when you are deported from a place you will not be a happy person but you broke the law and this kind of action has to be taken. If a Botswana person comes here and breaks the law we will have no quarrels with actions like this when taken.
Before visas are issued, if an applicant claims to be an investor, is there no investigation by the embassy to establish the truthfulness of such claim?
Of course there are such investigations but human beings are human beings, you go and arrange things to say you have N10 million in a bank account, we ask you to show us proof, you go and show us proof, may be a friend deposits N10 million in your account and you bring that us then we think you actually have that amount of money, but when you go after getting the visa you return that money to your friend, now you no longer have N10 million in your account.
That means you don't have that money you said you had to invest. So these are things that some people do, and you can see that these activities are carried out by people who have some other motives other than what we expect from them. You have to follow the law when you are in a country, you follow the laws of that country, and you cannot go about breaking the law and say you don't expect to be punished. Even the citizens who break the law are punished.
If our people come here and break the law we expect the Nigerian authorities to take appropriate action. Deportations in Botswana are not directed at only Nigerians. There were people from Zimbabwe, India or even Britain. If you engage in an activity which deportation is the punishment, then you get deported.
If they are being deported, why put them in chains and treat them like criminals?
Well, this must be put in proper perspective. You see, before someone is deported, he is given a notice, and then they disappear and will not be found. Some people when they get the notice voluntarily leave the country, no harassment.
But for somebody who decides to hide and is then caught, has to be taken and escorted out of the country. If you do not want that, when you get the notice, you voluntarily leave. For instance, one of those mentioned in the report is now going to live in Canada, we are not going to take him to Canada, he is voluntarily going there. But if you decide not to move voluntarily, then you will be removed. And when you are removed there are some measures that are put in place, like putting somebody in handcuffs, I don't know about the leg chains, I've never actually seen that but if that is the measure the immigration officials or law enforcement agencies put in place they do not do it only to Nigerians, this is something that applies to everybody who is deported, whether you are from Nigeria, UK, South Africa or Zimbabwe, it is not directed at Nigerians as that report tried to portray. The report I must say is a misleading report that someone just wanted to portray friction between Nigeria and Botswana. That doesn't exist.
Are you right now putting measures in place to ensure that impostors are not given visas to avoid a repeat of this?
As I said, we have hundreds of applicants and they are issued visas to visit the country. Of course, there are requirements that should be met, we ask them to provide the information and things needed to process the visa, and if they meet the requirement they are issued visa. It's simple.
What is the current volume of trade between Nigeria and your country?
At the moment the volume is low. In 2007 for example it was a little high. We had $2million, mainly from areas of machinery. The figure later dropped in 2008 because of economic recession, but from 2010 we saw a little peak again. 49 per cent of vehicle parts manufactured in Botswana come to Nigeria and 37 per cent of other goods are exported to Nigeria. From this end there is still very little that go to Botswana but we are trying to encourage trade between the two countries.
We would of course for example want petroleum products from Nigeria. We need petroleum products and this is one of the areas that we have been actively working on at the embassy--to try to source petroleum products from Nigeria. It could be in form of crude oil so we go and process or refine somewhere, or as the government here is trying to revive some of the refineries, if they produce enough, we could buy refined petrol from here.
There are many other products that we can buy. Also from our side, we could sell beef to Nigeria. We export a lot of beef to Europe so why should it be the Europeans enjoying your brother's beef? It is one of the best beef you can find in the world. We want to export it to Nigeria.
Talking of food, what is your favourite Nigerian food?
Yes, Egusi soup, I also tried something the other day called Moi-moi, it is very delicious as well. I've tried okra soup too and I like it with pounded yam, eba and other dishes. I'm going to miss them.
Do you recall any particularly negative experience that may linger on in your memory as you depart? And can you compare the Nigeria you have seen with the Nigeria you used to hear of before coming here?
I can't recall any negative experience. Of course, before you come to Nigeria, outside there is a very big negative perception of Nigeria but you come here and see that the picture painted in your head about the country is very wrong. You have outgoing, friendly, welcoming people here who are hard working as opposed to the kind of picture painted outside, so these are some of the things you come and see for yourself. But it is something I will take away and explain to people--that no, the picture people try to paint is wrong. Of course, there are challenges, just like in any other developing country. You have infrastructure that you are still working on, like the power sector, and security challenges that I think the measures government is putting in place are measures directed at dealing with these challenges and I have no doubt that sometime in the future government will succeed in dealing with them.