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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.

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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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Politics

May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation

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British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.

This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.

READ MORE | Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.

The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.   

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Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

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May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions. 

In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.  

The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.

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Current Affairs

A Tale Of Two Presidents And One Phone Call To Freedom

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A month before South Africa’s elections, one of the country’s leading political figures exposed a number of his former comrades for corruption with evidence to the Zondo Commission on State Capture. It was box office material, yet just another eventful period in the turbulent life of Robert McBride – guerrilla fighter, policeman and death row prisoner.


Robert McBride has one of those faces full of character that looks like it has endured life as much as lived it. A glance through his tough years of struggle yields a list of reasons why: five years on death row to screams and tears of the condemned; scores of beatings over decades; shooting his way out of hospital; years of the shadowy and violent life of an underground guerrilla fighter.

McBride was born in Wentworth, just outside Durban, in 1963, and grew up amid racist insults and violence. It swiftly politicised him and he was taken into the military wing of the African National Congress where he carried out sabotage with explosives.

Even by the standards of the desperate days of the gun in South Africa, McBride’s political activity is remarkable. In 1986, McBride fought his way out of an intensive care ward in a bizarre rescue of his childhood friend and fellow fighter Gordon Webster. It happened at Edendale Hospital in Durban where Webster lay, with tubes in his body, under police guard.

McBride posed as a doctor, with an AK47 hidden in his white coat; his father, Derrick, was dressed as a priest with a Makarov pistol under his cassock. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard, in 1999, that hospital staff cheered them on and held back an armed policeman as the McBrides shot their way out, pushing the wounded Webster to freedom on a trolley.        

Thirty-three-years on, McBride went into battle again for his beliefs, this time with words and documents, against a more insidious and formidable foe than armed police – corruption. He gave evidence before the Zondo Commission, in Johannesburg, springing from his days as head of IPID, the independent police investigators.

He spent more than four days on the stand – longer than most cricket matches last these days. He told of missing police evidence, claims of sinister moves to remove corruption busters and the misappropriation of money, under a cloak of secrecy, by the crime intelligence agencies.    

“People don’t like me because of my anti-corruption stance, their dislike of me I wear as a badge of honour. Those who dislike me for other reasons, it is a free country and you are entitled to your likes and dislikes. I have no problem with you. But wherever I am, I will do my work and will always be against corruption. I understand how corruption affects the ordinary man and means there is so much less to go around,” he says.   

To give a little more context, McBride’s erstwhile job went with unpopularity. The head of IPID is a post that politicians, plus probably more than a few disgruntled policemen, wanted him out of. They ended his contract and he assures me he is going to court to get his job back. His stance may give clues as to why some wanted to see the back of him.

“I have spoken loudly every time I have seen something wrong and raised unpopular issues. Some of the issues we picked up early on was police involvement in cash-in-transit robberies… The looting of police funds, the corruption, the wastage and the leverage, we then began to understand it; the leverage that some policeman have over politicians… Any criminal syndicate that is operating requires police to help them otherwise they will be found out in the normal course of events,” says McBride, the month before the hearing.

“Rogue activity by certain elements in the prosecuting authority, the willingness to prosecute people for non-criminal acts and unwillingness to prosecute when there is a pile of evidence…We will also speak about the abuse of state funds, the abuse of power by the police by negating investigations. Most of our evidence is backed up by court papers, evidence and affidavits,” he says.

Many activists who saw the nasty, ugly, side of the struggle often are the first to come down, hard, when they feel freedoms they fought for are being abused. You could argue McBride, an intelligent thinker, is very much one of them.

You could also argue that McBride has been cut adrift by many former comrades and demonized as the Magoo’s Bar bomber – the 1986 car bomb on the Durban beachfront that killed three and wounded scores. Others, on both sides of the South African struggle, who issued orders, or did worse, are undisturbed and anonymous by their swimming pools. Any regrets? I ask.

“It’s like asking me ‘do I regret living in a free and democratic country’, the answer can’t be yes… We would have preferred that things went differently. If you are in an armed struggle, you are the cause of hurt to other people and as a political activist, as a revolutionary you can defend that and justify it.

“But as a human being, you know that when it concerns other people, it is not the right thing to do to cause the hurt of other people. I have expressed myself as a human being on this, not because I was trying to elicit any sympathy or anything; I have never asked for redemption, I have never asked for forgiveness. Those who know me know what I am about and those who understand the circumstances in the early 1980s when we became active; those who are old enough to remember that was what the circumstances were.”

Those circumstances recede further into the darkness of memory of democratic South Africa every year, yet, in the minds of those who suffered, it stays pin sharp. McBride spent five years on death row, in Pretoria, after being sentenced to the gallows for the Durban bombings.

He reckons the prison hanged more than 300 prisoners in this time. Through the cell door, he heard the condemned screaming and crying as warders dragged the condemned along the passages to their fate. The hanging warders used to bring back the bloody hoods from the gallows and force the next batch of condemned men to wash them.

In May 1990, the sun shone as hope visited death row in Pretoria. The prison management summoned McBride and a group of fellow condemned activists, to the main office at the maximum security prison. Each were given green prison jackets – the garb of special occasions. Warders drove them, in a van, to a distant part of the prison and all feared they were either going to be executed or allowed to escape and shot in the back.

“We were told not to talk and then we were put in this big room with a steel of security around the room and after about 45 minutes the former president (Mandela) walked in and it was the most beautiful sight on earth; the greatest feeling ever and when he walks in, he says: ‘Ah, Robert! How are you!’ As if he knew me forever. It was the most important meeting I had in my life. It was like a God-like environment. He gave us a rundown of negotiations and what can be expected and that we must not worry, we must be patient and sit tight, he knows all of our backgrounds and will do his utmost to get us released and we will never be forgotten.”

It took more than two more years, in the shadow of the noose… until a fateful Friday. September 25, 1992. McBride will never forget the date.

“Round about half past four in the afternoon, I got a call to come to the office, I didn’t know what it was about, and when I came there, the head of the prison said: ‘You have a phone call’. It was my first phone call in prison. On the other end of the line was comrade Cyril Ramaphosa and he says: ‘Hi chief’. I keep quiet and then he says: ‘Monday’. I say: ‘What’s happening Monday chief?’ He keeps quiet, then he says: ‘You are going home!’ There was a bit of a smile you could feel in his voice,” says McBride with a huge smile on his face.

Long after Mandela had completed his long walk to freedom for his country, McBride was to yet again hear the click of a prison key and feel the pain from a warder’s boot.

It was the summer of 1998 and in Maputo, the sea was warm and the prawns were hot. The police in Mozambique picked up McBride, then a high-ranking official in foreign affairs, on alleged gun running charges that appeared to be trumped up to us journalists. We scoured the streets of the capital, for weeks, in search of witnesses.

McBride argued that he was on an undercover operation for the National Intelligence Agency trying to uncover gun runners who were flooding neighbouring South Africa with illegal weapons and fuelling crime; a counter that eventually set him free.

Despite this, McBride spent six months in the capital’s notorious, grim, Machava maximum security prison, where he told me violence was meted out.

I covered that story for many months and came within a split ace of interviewing McBride in his cell. We spent hours plying the Portuguese-speaking warders with beer and the story, through an interpreter, that we were friends visiting from South Africa and we just wanted to say hello. We told them our friend was a big man in South Africa.

“He is a small man now,” smiled back one of the warders icily.

We convinced the guards and as they moved towards the prison doors, keys in hand, our cover was blown. One of the not too bright colleagues from our TV station strolled into the prison waving his press card.

“Hello Chris!” says he. The none-too-pleased prison guards threw us out.

I had to wait more than 20 years for my interview with McBride.

A phrase I always remembered from those many hot, crazy, days in Maputo was a quote we got from the late presidential spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa when McBride went behind bars yet again.

“He is a tough guy who can look after himself,” said Mamoepa.

The Zondo Commission and scores of corrupt policemen last month found out how tough.  

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