‘No more handouts, Zimbabwe making it despite illegal sanctions’ Mrs Sarah Sithabile Molosiwa

May 25 has been celebrated as Africa Day since 1963 at the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and later, the African Union (AU) since 2002.

Ahead of the continent’s Agenda 2063, issues of education, free movement of goods and services, women and youth empowerment, sustainable development and socio-economic transformation have taken centre stage for continental development.

Zimpapers Politics Hub’s Gibson Nyikadzino (GN), had a sit-down exclusive interview with the Botswana Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency Mrs Sarah Sithabile Molosiwa (SSM), who took time to share perspectives on Africa Day commemorations in the context of the Zimbabwe-Botswana bilateral co-operation. Below are excerpts of the interview:

GN: Africa is commemorating the 61st founding of the OAU/AU with a remarkable Agenda 2063. What does this mean within the context of Zimbabwe-Botswana relations?

SSM: I want to appreciate the leadership of our two principals, Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi. They have given us mandates as embassies of our respective countries to make sure that we articulate ourselves as much as possible towards contributing to the two countries’ transformation. My coming here was premised on wanting to see our two governments working hand-in-hand in making Zimbabwe and Botswana to be regional trade and investment centres. We should remember that no one is an Island. 

There are memoranda of understanding (MoUs) that we have signed with Zimbabwe for our bilateral relations and co-operation in various sectors. At the end of it all, these MoUs are meant to address issues of food security, women and youth empowerment and poverty eradication in our communities.

GN: Any measure of these interactions in terms of percentages?

SSM: Between Botswana and Zimbabwe, our interactions have improved since 2018 when our two Presidents came into office that trade relations have been activated, not only in terms of entrepreneurship, but trade diversified through other sectors of the economy; that is agriculture, education, health. The numbers and percentages have not been high, as you know, South Africa within the region is a cosmopolitan and she takes higher numbers.

GN: So, what are the challenges? How can these challenges be addressed to improve numbers and is there a primary sector you can think of?

SSM: I want to say the root-cause of the challenges on the ground is poverty and our governments and in the communities, everyone is willing and ready to find ways of eradicating poverty among ourselves. The only way we can do it is by engaging in ventures that generate income. We see cross-border activities that are mainly carried out by informal traders, they activate trade at that level between the two countries. Though cross-border trading contributes to poverty eradication, it also has its challenges like crime. But you will always find that in homesteads, there are loyal and delinquent children. So, our countries are doing very well to promote trade despite existing challenges.

GN: From what you say, we know women and youth are among those mostly affected. How have you been dealing with their empowerment in Botswana and also at bilateral level?

SSM: Botswana has considered issues that relate to women to be among areas of concern especially in relation to the recent agenda that has been introduced by President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi. These efforts involve policy frameworks, programmes and implementation of projects meant to prop women and youth. We have in our women empowerment, development policy initiatives to benefit unemployed women. But our policies also move along to address issues of gender because we know there are also men who are underprivileged. So, those programs, though focusing on empowerment of women and youth, also consider men.

GN: And at bilateral level?

SSM: There are so many areas of co-operation, collaboration and partnership going on. We have had some interactions with the University of Zimbabwe innovation hub, to acquire machinery that is being fabricated by students and young people here in Zimbabwe. We have procured some and these machines are supposed to be commissioned to support groups of women in rural areas doing value addition in their projects where they are generating incomes. Some of these initiatives have been necessitated through the interaction of our respective First Ladies and we are seeing that women can benefit a lot. Through this, women can change even the status of the economy and contribute towards the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

GN: In Botswana, are women taking part in these initiatives and how do you see it when you make a comparison with Zimbabwe?

SSM: Yes, they are. Women in our country are involved in co-operatives that the Government is also supporting in terms of technical know-how, skills, as well as auditing them and guiding them in business acumen so they can run them properly. For example, they do not necessarily have to migrate to towns, they are doing this at village level so that they are able to earn income. Mothers naturally take care of homes and children, they make sure the family is catered for. So, these programs are meant to make life easier, more comfortable and more manageable for women. Here, we have seen the First Lady, Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa going to the rural areas interacting with all groups of people, encouraging them to venture into several sectors of the economy. There is a gastronomy competition. It has been robust here in Zimbabwe throughout the rural communities. We have seen her engage in Agric4She programmes. When our First Lady (Mrs. Neo Jane Masisi) came to Zimbabwe in February, she said we do not mind being copy cats, so long as we know we are doing the right things.

GN: You now speak within the context of rural industrialisation. Which fields are women co-operatives specialising in?

SSM: Botswana, like any other country, is mainly dependent on agriculture. As Africans, we depend on livestock and arable farming. In that regard, our two countries are very much advanced in ensuring that our communities protect what they have in generating incomes, food security and have better livelihoods. Our governments have robust co-operation and are partnering in programs to sustain our people. In rural villages, you discover there is subsistence farming. We have a lot of exchange programs guided by several MoUs in the livestock sector. This is meant to protect vulnerable communities that are along shared borderlines.

GN: What is the status regarding mechanisms to improve movement of goods and services across the two countries’ borders?

SSM: As governments, we have had in the past few months and during the Bi-National Commission (BNC) in Botswana recently, discussions that were anchored around ways in which the two countries can be able to facilitate free or easy and relaxed movement of goods and services. That alone facilitates trade. Nowadays, we speak of free movement of goods throughout the continent and we have seen this working in other areas and so, we are saying, why not do the same. 

We have seen our Presidents encouraging the free movement of goods, people and services and scrap off all these stringent measures that are hindering people from easily moving across the two countries. By doing so, this will support inter trade and these are some of the areas to increase continental trade. By activating trade, I see our two countries getting ready to be master minds within the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

GN: Where is this urge coming from? Is it just happening naturally?

SSM: Now, we are emphasising the importance of Economic Diplomacy hence encouraging partnerships between the two countries. Zimbabwe is obviously highly advanced in skilled manpower and industries. Had it not been for the illegal sanctions, Zimbabwe would have been far. Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa, and we still can benefit as neighbouring countries, as the Sadc region and bilaterally between the two countries when we partner. We would like to see these industries extending their operations beyond our respective borders. It is possible because we are both endowed with minerals, Zimbabwe has a high-skilled workforce. Why not take advantage of the resources we have and the knowledge-based economy that Zimbabwe has and partner to develop the two countries and penetrate the regional and continental market?

GN: You mentioned getting machines fabricated by young Zimbabwean students. How can our countries tap in these innovations to stimulate economic growth and development?

SSM: I like the mantra by President Mnangagwa of saying “Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo”. We have the same mantra in Botswana, though we use different languages. I believe that our governments are working very hard in making sure that the youth who are our future leaders are not going to just be given everything on a silver platter, but are meant to be creative with the talents they have. This helps them know that they can positively contribute to the economy. We need to use our resources to address our challenges. The way our governments are working nowadays is that even if you are far away from town, you should not feel neglected. You should see life around you sustaining you. That also curbs the issue of migration to urban areas.

GN: How do we address skills flight issues because usually when our innovators become successful, they are attracted by outside countries? What is your advice in terms of the innovation being used in the context of trade among the two countries?

SSM: Botswana has introduced several policy programmes that are meant to embrace the pathways or talents that our youths or any other members of the community have. We see programs that have subsidies, education and training initiatives as part of the support given by the Government, for free. So, those who are willing and creative enough to be able to start businesses are supported by different arms of government, in different sectors. I believe the same also happens in Zimbabwe. I recall President Mnangagwa talking about innovation hubs that are meant to develop and nurture youth creativity so that they may be able to come up with ideas and projects that are embraced by the Government, so they can grow up into viable industries.

GN: In the end, what are you saying to the citizens of Zimbabwe and Botswana?

SSM: Gone are the days when we used to rely on Western countries to give us handouts. Gone are the days when we should be crying about sanctions. Sanctions, whether lifted or not, we want to show those who have introduced these illegal sanctions that we are able, capable, willing and we are going to make it. We are actually making it.

GN: Thank you for giving us time.

SSM: Welcome, it was a pleasure having you around.




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