The best of British

Leaving your home country to start a new life in a faraway, relatively unknown land is not an easy thing to do.

However, having spent time working in Somalia and Afghanistan, Botswana would seem a relatively tame posting for the United Kingdom’s Katherine Katy Ransome.

Last February, Ransome succeeded Nicholas Pyle as the British High Commissioner to Botswana. Currently a third of the way through a three-year appointment, Ransome has embraced her new role with vigour and commitment.

Voice Reporter PORTIA NGWAKO-MLILO recently caught up with the High Commissioner to find out how she is adapting to life in Botswana.

The best of British

Q. You have been in the country for a year now, how have you found it so far?

A. Time is flying which is always a good sign because it means you are enjoying yourself.

Last year was particularly fascinating It was a good time to start because the country was celebrating 50 years of independence and the focus was much on that.

Q. Was it your first time to come to Botswana?

A. Yes it was. I knew about Botswana and did research before I came here because that is what I do when it’s my first time to visit or work in a country.

It was quite exciting when I finally set foot here for the first time.

Q. You have worked outside the UK before. How does Botswana compare with the other places you’ve been?

A. One of the key things is some of the countries I have worked in had conflicts.

I worked in Somalia, Madagascar and Afghanistan where there was political unrest.

It was nice to come to a country where there were no such issues – I think that is one of the key differences.

Q. It is you first job as head of mission. How easy or difficult is it?

A. This is a very difficult job compared to the ones I have done before.

These kinds of jobs are always demanding and as a country representative you are leading the bilateral relationship so equally my counterpart High Commissioner in London would say the same.

You have to cover a vast range of issues and be knowledgeable on a broad spectrum of things.

People want to talk about trade; the next minute it’s visa policies, scholarships and international politics, the UK’s views on things at United Nations and human rights council.

You need to do a lot of reading and preparation.

Q. What do you like most about your job?

A. I like meeting people – you have to like people in this job. I think you have to also be open to listening and learning. What I love with Botswana is people will talk to you, engage and debate with you. I get to meet fascinating people from different experiences and really enjoy that part of my job.

Q. What are some of your highlights so far?

A. The ongoing women in politics training. Last week when we were celebrating it was great and there was a real sense of achievement.

I felt it was really fun. There are few female ambassadors – I think it is important to be out there and showing people that these kinds of jobs are accessible to everybody.

It is not a risk having women in those positions and it is not a risk having women in politics because we are capable and competent.

Similarly, everything around the 50th anniversary last year was a wonderful experience.

It was fantastic to have visitors from the UK to represent Her Majesty the Queen.

It was a lot of work and challenging to have such visits but it was great to celebrate with Botswana.

Q. What engagement did parliament have on women in politics training programme?

A. We work with political parties but it is very important to indicate that this is not a political party project.

It is about women who are in politics.

We have a good support from parties and Dumelang Saleshando has shown a lot of support.

Honourable Botlogile Tshireletso has been a wonderful advocate for women in parliament and, when we kick-started this project last year, she was motivating participants.

That shows a passion and hunger to have more women in parliament.

Q. What are the challenges women in politics say they face?

A. Generally the things women have talked about have been attitude towards women in authority and also the financial side of it for running campaigns.

Also finding the balance between work and family.

Q. What are your plans with regards to your mission and what are you hoping to achieve during your time in Botswana?

A. One of the nice things about this role is you get quite autonomy in deciding what you want to do.

In terms of the mandate, it is to continue to maintain or improve the bilateral relationship as the ambassador.

We also have a big trade focus at the moment and are looking at how to increase and improve trade in both imports and exports to and from Botswana.

It is not just about investors but also about potential barriers to trade or looking at the environment.

Our trading relationship at the moment is set by the European Union and, with the UK leaving the EU, we have to see who will be looking at the bilateral relationship between the countries.

Q. Africa has been perceived as the ‘darkest continent’. What is your opinion on that?

A. There is a lot more to Africa than those perceptions.

It is a very vibrant continent, with a lot of young people, great culture, great music and art amongst others.

Some countries’ economies are booming – there is such potential and really great things happening.

For things like drought and climate change you need to understand the impact and what we can do together to mitigate those issues.

Q. Talking of climate change, how does the UK help Botswana?

A. We contribute greatly to Green Climate Fund and engage through that.

It is something that each country can bid into to access the fund.

It covers a number of issues, including climate change and energy.

So we may not run a specific programme but when you access international funds, you access British money.

Q. What is your general impression about Botswana?

A. It is a really interesting country, with very interesting history and culture.

Every event I go to, it is lovely to see traditional dancing – it shows people are proud of their culture.

It has great people, active and very energetic with great ideas and we meet wonderful people applying for scholarships.

I haven’t travelled around a lot but soon I will be doing it to get to know its other parts far from Gaborone.

It is a beautiful country!

Q. What lesson do you think Botswana can learn from developed countries like the UK on issues of unemployment?

A. Unemployment is a big challenge here. One of the things I think Botswana is doing well is understanding what is perhaps the drive of it by looking at developing the private sector.

There are quite a lot of jobs provided by the public sector, which is a great employer but not necessarily a generator of jobs – most jobs are created in the private sector.

There are lots of people in the government and across the parastatals and organisations involved in business looking at how to best diversify the economy and create employment opportunities.

We are already working with Botswana and I think there is more we can do.

It is always difficult to crack that issue of how to create employment but Botswana has an educated work force.

The basics are there, it’s just helping create those jobs.

The country needs to encourage more investors to create jobs, which is part of the vision 2036.

Q. Do you think the death penalty is necessary?

A. In the UK we do not have the death penalty and we engage with a number of countries to encourage them to look at whether the death penalty is serving a purpose in their country.

It is for them to decide whether it is something they want.

I think for us, we would encourage countries to move to moratorium death penalty and countries to look at whether it is something they want to keep.

If it is something they want to keep and also if you have a death penalty that is followed, that your rules and procedures are robust to protect human rights and you follow those rules properly.

Q. What is your opinion on media freedom and do you think access to information is necessary?

A. It is important for people to be able to understand how the government works, what it is doing with your money and tax.

Freedom of information is something that we have found very useful, especially for journalists.

In our act we have certain exemptions but you have to prove why you want it rather than the other way round and you can refer any disagreements to the Ombudsman.

I think it encourages you to be open and transparent about what you are doing.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday. What are your plans for the weekend?

A. The Kenyan High Commissioner is hosting us for lunch – all women ambassadors and some women in leadership positions.

On Sunday I have visitors who will be joining me for lunch at my house.

It will be a classic roast of some sort.

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