Man on a mission

Botswana’s youngest ambassador

In 2014 he was appointed the High Commissioner of the Republic of Botswana to South Africa.

His Excellency, Zenene Sinombe, who professes to be the youngest ambassador to be appointed to such a busy mission recently visited the capital where all mission heads briefed the president about the progress and challenges in their respective country posts.

Voice reporter SHARON MATHALA caught up with the vibrant ambassador for an interview.

Man on a mission

Q. Afternoon your Excellency, being nominated as the youngest ever ambassador surely must have come with its challenges, with some questioning your political affiliations, can you shed more light on this?

Sinombe: You are right madamme, back when I was appointed to head the South African mission there were a lot of harsh questions as to why me, especially at such a young age.

Truth of the matter is that the head of state is the one who chooses head of missions so he’ll be better placed to answer that.

Q. But are you politically affiliated to the ruling party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)?

Sinombe: That question keeps popping up. Naturally South Africa is probably the most strategic partner of Botswana, and politically in the past we have always sent what they call political appointees visa-vee career diplomats because of close relations between ANC and the BDP.

Although the position was used to enhance the diplomatic relation issues, it is not the case with me because I was appointed based on my credentials and past experience at the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Q. What has been some of the issues you have tackled since taking over the position?

Sinombe: I have been with the mission for three years, and we have been hard at work pushing the president’s initiatives, especially job creation with particular emphases on the women and the youth.

We have also been able to push poverty eradication initiatives, largely through attracting foreign direct investment; economic diplomacy is also one key area we focus on.

Q. You recently briefed the President on some of the challenges as well as the achievements your mission has had so far at a closed session.Give us the inside scoop.

Sinombe: The President was particularly concerned with the economic status of the country; especially after the closure of the BCL the Tati Nickel mines.

He instructed all the missions to ensure that they attract firms that are seriously interested in investing in Botswana.

Q. Botswana is known for its stiff laws when it comes to acquiring a visa or a permit to set up a business here, will that not have any negative impact in terms of attracting investors into the country?

Sinombe: I wish to clarify about that we have to guard against immigration, because otherwise Botswana would cease to exist as we know it.

We would be swamped. I do appreciate the need to balance this because we need them (investors) to come to Botswana.

Government has now put in place some reforms, particularly to address that issue, this is to assist potential investors to find it easy to come into the country.

Q. Recently there has been a spate of rather unexpected names that have been added to the list of those that need to apply for a visa in order to enter the country, perhaps the most controversial one being that of Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) leader, Julius Malema and Actor Rick Yune.Is the BDP using its muscle to restrict those that are somewhat affiliated to opposition parties.

Sinombe: The decision to blacklist someone is up to the discretion of the leadership.

This may happen for different reasons. In some case you might find that the said individual maybe suspected to be an international crook or perhaps the concerned individual would have made some unpalatable utterances that the leadership did not take kindly to.

Q. What causes xenophobic attacks time and again in South Africa?

Sinombe: As a country you do not want to find yourself inundated with immigrants, and some of them being illegal.

Such a scenario causes citizens to be disgruntled. Refugees in South Africa are free to work and be in the mix, then they start running all sorts of business and with time the locals got disgruntled. This is largely as a result of having one economy being a lot more industrialized than others. If we were all to industrialize, of course it would not be at the same level, but if we were to all follow this route there would be no such attacks.

Q. Can you give more clarity on how industrialization of all countries would minimize such xenophobic attacks?

Sinombe: People need to make the grass green enough in their own countries to minimize the need for mass immigration.

Xenophobic attacks are a very unfortunate thing and should be stopped at all costs.

The situation really got us on our toes because we have Batswana living in South Africa, especially students.

We had to make sure everyone was safe and it was not easy.

Q. The African Union has stirred a debate for a universal passport for Africa what is your view on this?

Sinombe: In principle the argument is a good one, it needs to be debated, I would be open to any outcome really.

Q. You seem to be a very busy man, how do you balance your duties with family time?

Sinombe: Diplomacy is taxing. I mean South Africa, after Washington has the biggest number of mission in the world, you can imagine all the invitations and activities.

Every other day I am attending events for this and that as well as invitation from the South African government, but most of them I try to attend with the madam and on weekends I spend time with my children.

It’s a good thing that South Africa is a very industrialized country so we always have something fun to do with the kids on weekends, if I am not here in Botswana.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday Mr. Sinombe, how will you be spending your weekend?

Sinombe: I do not really go out a lot to parties and all the like, so I will be travelling back to South Africa and I guess I will do church.

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