A president, some mishaps, Zimbabwe and German christmas cake (Stollen) for tea

Gaborone Travel Blog

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Road in front of the guest house

It is Wednesday, April 30: I just returned from the two days workshop on “Access to Justice: Feasability of sustainable Legal Aid and Alternative Dispute Resolution Systems in Botswana”. It was a major event, even headed the news in the radio last night! Botswana will finally get a legal aid system and this workshop that was organized by the Attourney General’s office and the Law Society of Botswana was the kick off meeting for creating a system that fits the Botswana legal framework. It was really exciting to be a part of it.


Let me start from the beginning: On Tuesday morning, I headed to the office by foot to be there around 7:30 AM so the centre’s driver would have a chance of getting us to the venue, Botswana’s most distinguished hotel, The Grand Palm, by 8:00 AM.

Me, Mary and Clifford
On my way to the office there was a Motswana walking in front of me. When she turned half to look at something I thought I recognized someone from the office. So, I called out “Dumela Mma” (the obligatory greeting) and approached her. She greeted back and we chatted about the weather and some Setswana phrases until we reached the office and the lady continued on her way! She was not working there…I was so embarrassed to have approached her in the first place. She however waved and said “Go siame”, which basically means good-bye and it was nice meeting you. I have not told anyone at the office! ;)


At work everyone was already busy and the director told me the whole schedule for the workshop had been rearranged and by the time we’d get there, the president would already be speaking and we wouldn’t be allowed in. She said this happens all the time in Botswana, major changes of schedule right before the meeting. On our way, we were looking at a draft press statement condoning the Chinese arms shipment to Zimbabwe and urging southern African states not to let the weapons pass their territory, also commending the Government of Botswana for its role in demanding a fair election.


We arrived at around 8:10 AM and the president was not there. I was introduced to a couple of people, among them the Attourney General of Botswana, Dr. Molokomme, a striking lady with an NGO background who had worked as a judge before taking that job. She was the host of the venue and it turned out she really stayed for almost the whole of the two days, often intervening, asking questions and really wanting to know how to move forward. I thought that to be most extraordinary compared to other such conferences I have attended. Someone in that position normally does the usual introduction and then is never to be seen again…


The president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama (picture here), arrived and we were all asked to stand for his entry. He is lean, sporty person, who looks a bit like a boy. The choir of the Attourney General’s office (yes, they have a choir!) sang the national anthem, a solemn piece, you can listen to it here. It was very moving to hear the whole auditorium joining in, stupendous voices. The president then opened the workshop with a remarkable speech that showed his interest in achieving results and admonishing the participants as follows:


“…To return to the general subject of workshops, let me sound a word of caution. In some quarters, a certain amount of cynicism and weariness has set in among Batswana, that such workshops and meetings are wasteful talk shops for public servants and professionals who are out of touch with reality. I therefore hope that you will do everything in your power to dispel such perceptions, by developing realistic and action-oriented recommendations….”


I found that quite remarkable, because having attended many conferences over the years, I oftentimes left them asking myself what the result, what the achievement of it was.


Well, to say this right away, the first day was not really different from other workshops I had seen. But, this was going to change on the second day.


After the president, the minister of justice and the attourney general had spoken, we adjourned for tea. While the others were leaving the ballroom, I stayed on for a bit and talked with my colleagues and then left the hall for tea. Everyone was standing around in groups and I approached the tea stand. No one was there, so I asked an employee there to give me a cup of tea. She hesitantly obliged and when I turned around with my cup of tea in my hands and looked at the crowd, I saw no one else was having tea…I approached my colleague Mary and asked whether I had done anything wrong. She said, no, no, Batswana don’t like tea very much. I asked her whether I should have waited for the president to leave, and she said, no, she doesn’t think so. Then she did something which I thought was awfully nice: she got herself a cup of tea also and then we stood somewhere a bit detached from the rest and hidden from view. When we saw the presidential motorcade leave the compound there was something else noticeable: everyone was hastily approaching the tea stands…another faux pas. No one seems to have taken it against me, but still, I would have preferred not to commit it.


The meeting proceeded with speakers from Botswana (including the director of Ditshwanelo), government officials and speakers from various other southern African nations, among them Zimbabwe. Something that really struck me. Here we are, and we all know what is going on in Zim and what has been going on there for so long now, and still there is a chief magistrate and one from the legal aid directorate in the ministry of justice to present their system of legal aid. Talking to Mary and Mma Mtunzi, my superior, over lunch, the whole destitute situation there was a topic for over an hour! People are frustrated with the government’s of southern African states reactions. But still, the members of the government are treated like equal partners in the development of practices. It is hard to understand, but I suppose that is just how it is when it comes to state relations…and here’s what I learned about Robert Mugabe: His father is unknown but probably Sudanese, his mother is a Ndebele, not from the majority tribe that he has been employing as his support to rule. He has been castrated many years ago and so his wife’s children must have been fathered by others, rumours say his bodyguards. Although he had the last one to sleep with his wife executed. He had a very humble African lady as his first wife, but she died very early and he then married his concubine which is not half as accomplished as the first wife was who is said to have had a positive influence over him…so much on all that…J ??


I had a chance to talk with the Executice Secretary of the Law Society of Botswana, Patricia. They are compiling a reference book on different legal aid schemes and we talked about the possibility of me writing a piece on the German system, which, based on the civil law system, is quite different from the common law approach with legal aid boards etc. We will have to work out the details, but it would be really nice if I could be of assistance.


I skipped dinner for a ride with my German flatmate Regina to the shopping mall to do some grocery shopping and buying another shirt for the next day (I only brought one business shirt, foolish as I am). The rest of the evening was spent like any other evening: having an early dinner, talking a bit, reading a bit and then go to bed early, because the mattress here is so awful, I tend to get not much sleep each night…


Today, the second day of the workshop, we listened to more speakers. During the first tea break I could hardly contain myself from laughing out loud because they served German Christmas cake (Stollen, for those who are familiar with it) with the tea. I think I never had stollen in April before. It was delicious, but felt quite strange. After the break we were subdivided into working groups and were to present recommendations and remedies for a legal aid scheme. I participated in the group that focused on the inclusion of non-governmental actors and it was a lively discussion. I think this really enhanced the whole workshop, because we came up with some serious recommendations and so did the other groups.


For lunch, Mma Mtunzi and I were joined by two extraordinary people: Ms. Mary Chisanga of the Southern African Legal Assistance Network based in Zambia, a network for all NGOs involved in providing legal aid, and Mr. Clifford Msiska, the founder and director of the Paralegal Assistance Services Institute based in Malawi, an institution providing basic legal services for prisoners in several African states including Kenya, Benin and Malawi. They are two extremely likeable persons, with a lot of charisma and a great sense of humour and the work they do is so incredibly important for their countries and regions. I encourage you to check out the websites and see what they are doing. We further discussed Zimbabwe, which is a constant issue here. I am learning so much from them. Some think that the state is at the brink of collapsing and soon there will be civil war, the presidential contender is not really liked, but the general opinion seems to be: anything is better than Mugabe. You can see me (in my new €8 shirt bought at Woolworth’s) with them in the attached photo.


At the official photo op on the lawn of the hotel, I got to stand beside a very humble man from Kenya, the co-founder of the University of Botswana’s law faculty who is now retired and returned to Kenya to be a farmer, known to everyone around as Uncle Jeff. Once he learnt that I am from Germany we chatted for a bit.


The workshop concluded with closing remarks by the chief justice of Botswana and then everyone took off and headed into a prolonged weekend since tomorrow will see labour day celebrations and Friday is off. I took so much material from the whole venue and learned so much about the differing approaches to legal aid. It was really impressive.


I am to march along with the paralegal staff of Ditshwanelo propagating domestic workers’ rights tomorrow for a Labour day march…the start is at 6:30 AM! OMYG. I really thought about declining, but on the other hand this might be an interesting way of getting to know more people and better know my fellow workers. Also, they promised me two T-shirts. How could I have said no to that? J


How am I feeling tonight? Pretty exhausted but thrilled to have been at this workshop and to have met Mary and Clifford. There was so much to absorb and I might need some time to process it in my mind. I am really happy with my colleagues and how Ditshwanelo works and where they are active. But looking at the watch now, it’s already ten past nine and I need to get up at half past five tomorrow morning…L So, good night unto you all… 

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Road in front of the guest house
Road in front of the guest house
Me, Mary and Clifford
Me, Mary and Clifford
photo by: Niki-Travelfan