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The People’s President

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Liberia president George Weah

It’s been quite an ascent for George Weah – from international football star to president of his country, Liberia. He was sworn in on January 22 to a crowd of adoring supporters who voted for a change, as well as heads of states and football stars, including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o.

From one of Monrovia’s poorest slums, Weah made a name for himself as a talented footballer at Monaco at the age of 21, and went on to play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 1995. During his illustrious career that ended in 2003 he also led Liberia’s national team. Musa Shannon, a Liberian businessman and former teammate with Liberia’s national team says Weah’s temperament on and off the field was unparalleled.

“He was inspirational and expected nothing but excellence from all his teammates. He was able to get the best out of everyone. He never took shortcuts.”

Considered the choice of the masses, Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his international celebrity status earned him tremendous support from the mostly youthful Liberian population, especially the poor. In the December run-off elections, Weah easily earned 61.5% of the votes over then Vice-President Joseph Boakai.

“He is the people’s president, he is the one they have chosen,” says Shannon.

READ MORE: A New Dawn For Zimbabwe, But Is It Rosy?

Weah’s win marks the first peaceful transition in decades for the Liberian people. “We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process… this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people,” said Weah in his inauguration speech.

Although he moved from sport to politics, the transition hasn’t been sudden, nor without struggle. In 2005, Weah ran unsuccessfully against Noble Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history as the first democratically-elected female African president. Through his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, Weah ran again in 2011 as running-mate to Winston Tubman, losing again to Johnson Sirleaf.

Citing inexperience and a lack of formal education as the main reason for his losses, Weah earned a degree in business and took a seat on the senate in 2014.

“People speak of George Weah as though he doesn’t have a political history, so that if he doesn’t succeed they will say he was new to the game,” says Ezekiel Pajibo, political analyst and human rights activist. “He has been in politics for 12 years and there is no evidence of anything he has done for the Liberian people.”

Expectations are high. Weah promised jobs for the youth and poverty alleviation. Of Liberia’s 4.6 million inhabitants, over 60% are under 25, many of whom voted for him in the hopes of a quick reduction in unemployment.

He inherits a country that has survived two bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003, a fledgling economy and a young population that is largely unemployed. The Ebola epidemic, which killed over 5,000 people, also showed cracks in the healthcare system. The country still does not have adequate running water or electricity since the civil war, and properly staffed schools remain a problem.

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In his inauguration speech, he made a series of promises.

Firstly, he would stamp out corruption. Secondly, he would assist the private sector. Weah says he wants Liberians to stop being “spectators” in their economy while foreigners control the majority of their resources. Thirdly, he will focus on vocational training for the youth.

Promises must be followed by action. His party has been criticized by the opposition for not clearly outlining how these goals will be achieved.

There are also doubts about Weah garnering the same amount of respect from the international community as his predecessor. “He has to exude leadership capability and have presence in front of the international community. Johnson Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa, brought international goodwill towards Liberia. She also had a history of working in development structures. President George Weah has none of that,” says Pajibo.

Weah achieved more than was expected of him as a footballer. Liberians will be hoping he can do the same as their country’s president. – Written by Lamelle Shaw

Politics

IN PICTURES | 1 Year On : Remembering Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela

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In the afternoon on what was a public holiday in South Africa, news started trickling in of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela’s death, of illness at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. She was 81.

On 2 April 2018 South Africa would mourn her passing for the next couple of weeks. As would the world.

Mama Winnie was gone, marking the end of an era, yet in death, rekindling memories of a painful apartheid past, against which she fought valiantly, controversially; the fearless, feisty fighter who famously clenched her fist to rallying cries of ‘amandla’ (Zulu word for ‘power’), had clenched her fists forever.

A hero had departed.

Anti-apartheid activist, politician, struggle stalwart and ex-wife of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, Madikizela-Mandela was known as the Mother of the Nation.

Day six after Madikizela-Mandela’s death, hundreds gathered for a tribute ceremony to honor her at Constitutional Hill, where she was prisoner number 1323/69 when jailed by the apartheid government in the last century.

“It’s really hard to stand here, we are sore. ‘Big Mama’ as we called her, took us by surprise,” said Ndileka Mandela, Madikizela-Mandela’s eldest granddaughter before breaking down on stage, and was thereafter warmly comforted by Graça Machel, former first lady and wife of the late South African president Mandela.

“Winnie was my big sister, I take long to process pain, I prefer to be quiet to feel and understand it. It is too early to process the pain we are going through,” said Machel.

The funeral on April 14; a Saturday morning that brought together tens of thousands of mourners at Orlando Stadium, for the day their Mother would be laid to rest.

The mourners cheered, cried, and stood up raising their fists, chanting and shouting Mama Winnie’s name. At that very moment, blood rushed through our veins.

It felt like the whole stadium was shaking but in reality, photographers were pushing and shoving to get the perfect picture, that historic picture; and it was something we most definitely captured too.

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Bogolo Joy Kenewendo: Dismiss This Beautiful Continent At Your Own Peril

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The exuberance of youth might be just what the doctor has ordered for Africa. There is no doubt that the zest this minister has for her responsibilities will take the continent far. 


Bogolo Joy Kenewendo has hit the ground running in her role as Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, while making history as the youngest person to be appointed in the position. She, however, takes it all in her stride as she has always wanted to impact people’s lives. Kenewendo’s outlook injects a fresh perspective on how she, and her counterparts in strategic positions, intend on enriching a continent brimming with possibilities. She shares her views on education, finance, empowerment as well as traditional practices.

Q. Are you Africa’s youngest minister, and how does it feel to be “a first” in your career path?

A. I’ve heard rumors that I am the youngest but I have no confirmation. It’s been a great surprise and an honor. I was so humbled by all the good wishes and cheers from around the world. I, however, say youth leadership was the flagship of the political independence and revolution, and so it should be for the economic independence revolution that I believe our generation should lead.

Most of the revolutionary leaders who brought Africa its independence were younger and some of the same age [as me].

Patrice Lumumba was 29 when he was, unfortunately, assassinated as Prime Minister. Kwame Nkrumah, Sir Seretse Khama and Julius Nyerere were in their late 30s, early 40s. Graça Machel was 30 years old when she became Minister of Education in Mozambique.

READ MORE | Botswana’s President Denies Report Of $600 Million Loan To Zimbabwe

Q. Why did you choose politics?

A. I have always wanted to do something that I felt could have an impact on people’s lives. I studied Economics and worked as an economist because I believed it was a good choice for those looking to interrogate policy and make informed adjustments to the benefit of all. Where I am at the moment, I get to be part of the highest decision-making body in the country that directly affects people’s lives.

Q. Being young, African and a woman, what does representation mean to you?

A. Representation is very important. We all need to be reminded of what is possible in the world. People from what is termed “backwater villages” need to see the girl from Motopi and be comforted in that you don’t need to come from big cities, or have a “known name”, or be of “a certain age”. If you work hard and represent yourself well, someone will take note. The world is always watching.

Q. Describe your academic/career path and the plans you have for Botswana.

A. I have a BA in Economics and MSc in International Trade and I’m pursuing some more higher learning.

My team and I have plans of making Botswana the startup capital of the region and we are repositioning Botswana as a gateway into the rest of southern Africa.

We are doing so by working on our business reforms, to enable doing business in Botswana and working on a one-stop border post services with our neighboring countries.

READ MORE | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

We are also investing in transport and ICT infrastructure and of course, providing incentives, including a competitive corporate tax rate of 5% in designated and reserved areas, as well as, government offtake agreements with manufacturers who meet government needs most importantly. We offer hospitality that is synonymous with our proudly Botswana culture, all premised on Botho, democracy, accountability and peace.

Q. Africa has a prominent rural population that often has less civic participation because of lack of resources. What would you say to them?

A. Living in a modern economy doesn’t mean we should abandon some traditional ways of engagement and accountability. We should enhance them and demand for governments to notice them for the purposes of inclusivity.

No government should wish for a disengaged population, it’s in their best interest to ensure inclusivity and, therefore, such efforts should be rewarded. In Botswana, the government holds the rural and traditional courts highly and uses them as a key consultative and engagement/ participation platform.

The kgotla system has now been copied and exported by thought leaders, recognizing Tribal Management of inclusivity, a community spirit and ensuring that each gets the chance to voice his or her opinions, every stage along the way. Echoing the true meaning of lekgotla, “I am because we exist,” which in the West is democracy, ‘for the people, by the people’.

Q. Share your highlights and the most challenging moments you’ve had so far.

A. Leading this ministry and working for the people of Botswana is an everyday highlight. Every moment has been quite intense because I’m aware that the hopes of many rely on this ministry and our cooperation with the rest of government.

I thank God every day for the strength, wisdom and joy (especially in the face of adversity) he gives me to do this role.

My first international engagement following my appointment was to chair a SACU Ministers of Trade meeting which had some high temperature issues. There was no easing into the job.

READ MORE | Her Brush With Business

It felt like I was David thrown into the ring, before sizing up Goliath. Fortunately, as it did for David, it went well for me. I am currently coordinating and chairing trade agreement negotiations on behalf of SACU+Mozambique with the UK (to deal with the potential trade disruptions due to Brexit). It is a landmark event and, as a result, so is this agreement.

At home, our investor after-care company visits bring my team and I so much joy as they show us what’s possible – the productive capacity in Botswana. These as well as removing roadblocks for companies and seeing them flourish. In this short space of seven months, we’ve seen great progress and this is reassuring.

Q. What are your economic views of the Africa continent?

A. I am pan-African. I love Africa, I believe in Africa. Some say the ‘Africa rising’ story is no longer valid but I say ‘dismiss this beautiful continent at your own peril’.

I’m hopeful about opportunities, of increased intra-African trade, that will be unlocked by the  AfCFTA [African Continental Free Trade Area] as well as Tripartite Free Trade Area.

Many more African leaders and up-and-coming leaders are alive to [the idea] that it’s only through our cooperation that we can pull ourselves out of our current debilitating state. And to that end in Setswana, we say “kgetsi ya tsie e kgonwa ke go tshwaraganelwa” (Together, we can do more).

READ MORE | The Monk Of Business: Ylias Akbaraly Talks About Secret To Success And Plans To Take Africa With Him

Q. What message do you have for Africa’s girls and women?

A. Never let anyone make you believe that you are not enough.

You are enough.

Public spaces, leadership spaces, money spaces are female spaces too! The most important thing is to ensure we are not comfortable in being the ‘only woman’ at the table. Any space can do with diversity.

Please be your sister’s keeper, send the ladder down, extend a hand (a helping one, even a comforting one, will be most welcome). 

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Botswana’s President Denies Report Of $600 Million Loan To Zimbabwe

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Botswana’s president on Friday dismissed a report that the country had offered Zimbabwe a $600 million diamond-backed loan and said his government had only offered to guarantee a $100 million private credit line for Botswana companies to invest in their troubled neighbor.

Zimbabwe’s secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs was quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper on Tuesday saying Botswana had offered to lend Zimbabwe $500 million to support its diamond industry and another $100 million for the local private firms.

“I want to clarify these reports that we are giving Zimbabwe hundreds of millions in loans. That is totally untrue,” Mokgweetsi Masisi told reporters in Gaborone, a day after visiting Zimbabwe for business and trade mission.

“We are not giving them a single loan. The only thing we gave them yesterday were medical supplies made in Botswana and supplementary feeding worth 2.1 million pula ($197,600).”

There is $100 million credit from private banks in Botswana and Zimbabwe to help Botswana private companies, Masisi added.

“What we have demanded, which we are waiting for, is a letter of guarantee from the Zimbabweans to counter our own guarantee,” he said.

Masisi also said Botswana, which is the largest producer of diamonds by value, would help Zimbabwe with its diamond trade because “it would be useful and strategic for Botswana” as it aims to become a global center of diamond trading.

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Zimbabwe’s diamond sector has struggled since the government kicked out private companies from the eastern Marange fields in early 2016 after they declined to merge under the state-owned mining company.

Relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana have improved following a strained period when Botswana’s ex-President Ian Khama, who stepped down in 2018, routinely criticized Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe for holding on to power for too long.

A military coup in 2017 forced Mugabe to resign, ending his 37-year rule. -Reuters

Brian Benza

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