The last three years were something of an oxymoron for outgoing French Ambassador Laurence Beau – ‘bitter-sweet’ !
Her arrival in Botswana in 2019 – her first posting to an African country following her numerous forays in Latin America, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and South East Asia – coincided with the national elections.
For Laurence, it was an “exciting time” as she got to meet some of the critical stakeholders in the country’s political, social and economic landscape, she told me in an interview at her residence Tuesday this week.
Then followed a period when the government was ushered in and she got to meet all the ministers and key governance personnel. But this moment of bliss and normalcy was short-lived when like a lightning bolt Covid-19 struck the world and scuppered all plans!
New ways of communicating had to be devised in order to get on with the business of diplomacy and soon, Laurence and her team at the embassy had to adapt to digital communication.
Indeed where there is a will there is a way – Laurence attributes the fruitful developments in the bilateral relations between France and Botswana to the support she received from her Paris-based Botswana counterpart, Ambassador Mustaq Moorad.
In fact, both countries will be celebrating the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations which Laurence says are “rich, trustful, diversified” and based on the shared values of respect for the rule of law, democracy, and multilateralism.
To highlight some of the accomplishments of this relationship, Laurence mentions the visit of President Dr Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi and First Lady Ms Neo Jane Masisi to France in November 2021 as well as the visit to Botswana by a delegation of five (5) French Members of Parliament in March this year.
She says these are a testament to the “strong and blossoming relationship” and assures that her embassy is committed to growing it across all sectors.
Other indicators that she cited during the reception to mark Bastille Day include the MoU signed in July 2021 in the field of agricultural cooperation; the partnership with the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Botswana; donation of anti-Covid Pfizer vaccines; an MOU signed in March 2022 in the area of jewellery; culture and cooperation in environment and biodiversity.
The French envoy is happy that in the economic front, French companies have shown strong interests in the renewable energies sector in Botswana – with two companies already firmly involved - following the release of the Integrated Resource Plan for energy last year.
Laurence says that France is committed to positively contributing to the energy mix in Botswana citing Botswana’s abundant natural resources - wind and sun - that can generate renewable energies, and ultimately jobs and revenues.
In fact, she believes Botswana will in future become a hub for energy export in the region. As for economic cooperation, Laurence lauds the leaders of France Botswana Business Club for helping French companies that wish to invest in Botswana and Botswana companies that wish to partner with French counterparts.
In fact after Masisi’s last year visit to France a MoU was signed between MEDEF International and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) on the 4th of May 2022 to facilitate growth of trade and Investment between the two countries. It is envisioned that this MoU will contribute to the diversification of Botswana’s economy and the development of the local labour market.
Laurence says that another opportunity for French and Botswana companies to discuss and exchange business and innovative opportunities will be presented by the fourth edition of the Ambition Africa Forum, a high-level business forum dedicated to Africa due in October in Paris.
To demonstrate its feminist diplomacy, the embassy launched the PISCCA Grant to fund civil society initiatives in the area of Women’s empowerment and the fight against GBV this year.
Laurence insists that achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and empowerment of women, and respecting the fundamental rights of women are a priority for “France and me personally”.
Another milestone, which Laurence basks in is the cooperation in the field of archaeology and museums through which a Botswana National Museum delegation visited France at the invitation of geo-archaeologist, Doctor Laurent Bruxelles.
To corroborate the importance of this partnership, Director of the National Museum Stephen Mogotsi was on hand Monday when the Alliance Francaise de Gaborone had organised a farewell session for Laurence, to testify.
It is hoped that this cooperation will lead to further areas of partnership in tourism and science. In sports,, Laurence said they have partnered with Botswana National Olympics Committee ahead of the forthcoming Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games slated for 2024.
And of course, Laurence would be amiss if she omitted to mention the new director of the Alliance Française in Gaborone, Ms Angélique Saverino in the area of cultural and linguistic cooperation and the president of the AFG Committee Mme Kelebone Skelemani, wife to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Phandu Skelemani for their efforts in promoting the French language and culture in Botswana and SADC.
Laurence Beau is taking up a new assignment as Ambassador in New Zealand, but although sad t be leaving Botswana, which she feels honoured to have served, she is happy that she will be closer to her family.
She says she will sorely miss all the pristine and unique places that she visited in Botswana during her extensive travel and camping from Seronga and Tsodilo hills to Pandamatenga, from D’kar and Tshabong to Bobonong and Mmadinare as well as the Trabsfrontier Park.
Her wish for Botswana is to believe and have faith in its people and resources. And in her own words, “Ce n’est pas un adieu mais un au revoir”, that is “it is only goodbye until we meet again”!