How Mogae, Merafhe enjoyed a night of Geisha and Karaoke

08th August 2017
Oscar Motswagae Source:The Midweek Sun

I thank you very much Ambassador Onishi for your kind words of congratulations. I also wish to kindly request you to convey my deep felt appreciation to His Majesty the Emperor and the Government of Japan for this special award. It means a lot to my wife and I. It has been seven years since we left Japan, but we still have very fond memories of our stay in your beautiful country.

The kindness and great courtesies extended to us by both the government and people of Japan will never be forgotten. When we left here to go to Japan in July 2005, it was never to win special awards like this one, but to work hard for our country that we so much love. We saw great opportunity in helping Botswana come much closer to Japan. We had identified four areas that we believed offered low hanging fruits for stronger relations, namely, increased government-to-government cooperation; tourism; education; and the protection of the environment.

My predecessors, Rre Tebape, one of the best Ambassadors this country has had, had done a lot to sensitise the Japanese about Botswana, but a lot still needed to be done. Most of the Japanese people’s knowledge about Botswana was still low. At that time, Japan, then the second biggest economy in the world, did not have a resident Embassy in our country-a country that was a beacon of hope and democracy in Africa; one of the best managed economies in the world; a country that was second to none in respecting human rights and the rule of law and; the envy of many in fighting corruption. We therefore decided to make it our number one mission to ensure that Japan opened a resident Embassy in Gaborone before our tour of duty was up.

We committed ourselves to showcasing the very best of Botswana in order to demonstrate to the Japanese that they could not afford not to be in our country.What we thought was particularly more important, was to get the Japanese to see the inside of our human character as a nation, and, in this endeavour, since we could not take the whole nation of Botswana to Japan, who better to use than our leadership, the then President, Rre Mogae and his Cabinet Ministers. We took calculated measures to ensure that the Japanese got to know them well, and, not as Africans as was the norm at the time, but as Batswana. Some here will remember the Botswana Week Event that we staged a few months after we arrived in Japan graced by the presence of Rre Mogae and four members of his Cabinet. A lot of work was done and fun had at this event.

I may get into trouble for revealing some of the things, but I know that President Mogae is very forgiving. He is not a retributionist. We had been in Japan for a few months then, and had come to understand and appreciate the culture of the Japanese, particularly how this nation of very hard working people relaxed after hectic hours and days in the offices. With this clear understanding, we decided to organise a late night dinner and entertainment for the President, his Ministers and a group of very influential Japanese Parliamentarians. Those familiar with Japanese culture would know that such entertainment would not be complete without the Geisha and Karaoke. I was obviously taking a big risk.

As the night went on, I got seriously worried that I was going to be fired, particularly after one of the Geisha walked over to Rre Merafhe, may his soul rest in peace, touched him on his tummy, and asked, “when is the baby coming?” As you all know, Rre Merafhe was well endowed in the area that was being touched.Needless to say, the dinner was a great success. There was a lot of singing and dancing, by all present, though Rre Mogae did not partake in this, but I know he enjoyed the dinner. It was his Ministers who belted out popular songs like Shambala and so on, and got down in dance.

This dinner, and the informal one that Rre Mogae subsequently hosted for the same group of Japanese parliamentarians when they visited Botswana later that year, played a significant part in convincing the Japanese to open an Embassy here. What also helped was that, every other month, we would ask the then President to meet, here in Gaborone, with this or that Japanese delegation. No matter how junior or small the delegation, he always welcomed them. I also remember this one time when I so much wanted a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister to close the deal on the Embassy, but each time I made a request, I was referred to a junior Minister. The former President may not be aware that I used his good offices to open this door that kept on closing on my face. Japan so much wanted our support for a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations.

Knowing this, I successfully lobbied our Ministry Headquarters to change, in favour of Japan, a decision that had already been made by Government. I then drafted a letter, for signature by the President, addressed to the Japanese Prime Minister, expressing our support for Japan’s candidacy. Rre Mogae signed the letter and sealed it in an envelope with the Presidential seal as I had requested.When I received it in Tokyo, I contacted the Foreign Minister’s office and indicated that the instruction was for me to personally hand deliver the letter to the Minister. I spent more than an hour with the Minister, drinking tea and chatting about what a wonderful country Botswana was. The Embassy opened its doors in Gaborone in 2008, and the rest is history. In the area of Tourism, I must say my predecessor, Ambassador Tebape, had already done the spade work.

We worked hard to build onto what he had achieved. On realising that the Japanese women love diamonds so much, we decided to approach the De Beers office in Tokyo to ask them to link their promotional activities with Botswana. However, they gave us a long story about diamond aggregation, and that doing so would compromise their relationship with the other diamond producing countries. But we did not give up. By continuously seeing Japanese women wearing sparkling diamonds at receptions and other events enticed me to befriend the Head of the De Beers office in Tokyo, and that was the beginning of a long lasting and fruitful relationship. His office funded many of our tourism activities. One of the memorable things they did was to sponsor a big Japanese movie star to visit Botswana, in the company of a group of television, magazine and newspaper journalists.

But, before the actress could agree to travel, she requested for something in return. She wanted to be appointed Botswana’s Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism. The idea appealed to me because it meant that the Embassy would have a long term relationship with this actress. I therefore sent a recommendation to my Ministry Headquarters in support of this request. When I made follow-up a few days later, I was asked to give the Ministry more time to consult. A week later I was told that the consultations would take time, and that since this had never been done before, the Ministry would have to go to Cabinet with a proposal. I knew from experience that when a government official mentioned Cabinet, it meant months and months of waiting, and time was not on our side. I must mention here that when I was working with Ambassador Legwaila (Joseph) in New York many years ago, I learnt from him what it meant for an Ambassador to have plenipotentiary powers. So, I took a decision to use those powers and appointed Ms Rei Kikukawa our Goodwill Ambassador.

I never made any follow-up with headquarters thereafter, and they never came back to me. Even when the lady visited here and presented herself to President Mogae as Botswana’s Goodwill Ambassador, nobody asked who appointed her. Ms Kikukawa contributed immensely to our efforts. This is one of the reasons why we now see groups and groups of Japanese tourists visiting Kasane and other places, particularly during tourism peak seasons.

In education, our tenure saw a dramatic increase in the number of student exchanges. We got the University of Botswana and BIUST to enter into student exchange programmes with a number of universities in Japan, and, we succeeded in convincing the Botswana Ministry of Education to sponsor students to study at tertiary institutions in Japan. The very first student to benefit from these scholarships is here with us today, Mr Rese Pheresi, a graduate of Ratsumeikan University and now working for Standard Chartered Bank in Gaborone.

On environmental conservation, the first ever photovoltaic/solar power plant funded by the Japanese Government in Africa is located here in Gaborone. Some here may be aware that high-middle-income countries like Botswana do not qualify for Japanese Government grant financing for infrastructure projects. The story of how we succeeded in securing financing for this power plant is for another day. Your Excellency, I can go on and on about our experiences in Japan, but l think I should stop here. However, before I conclude, let me acknowledge the important role that a few people amongst us here today played in moulding my career in the diplomatic service, making it possible for me to receive this award.

When I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992, I was very fortunate to get a posting to go and work with Ambassador Legwaila at the Permanent Mission of Botswana to the United Nations. It is Ambassador Legwaila who developed the diplomat in me. Ambassador, this belongs to you. Please allow me to keep it for you in my house. I also wish to recognise Rre (Ernest) Mpofu. When I was transferred back to Botswana from New York in 1998, I was again very fortunate to work with Rre Mpofu, and there is a lot that I learnt from him. To me, he ranks up there for dedication to the development of this country. He is a true patriot. Finally, I have to express my gratitude to my dear wife. You are one of the smartest people I have known. My success is your success, and I would not have done it without you. *Motswagae is Former Ambassador of Botswana to Japan (2005 – 2010) and the latest recipient of Japan’s second highest Honour, the Order of the Rising Sun in Gold and Silver Star which was conferred on him last week Wednesday in Gaborone by Japan’s Ambassador to Botswana, H.E. Masahiro Onishi.

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