He was born in the United Kingdom, he studied in Rwanda. Now he has worked all his adult life in Botswana. At the age of 64, Richard Hartley White is contesting for the Kgalagadi South parliamentary seat on the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) ticket. Will he make it? Read his interview below:
Q: Mr Richard White. Are you British or Motswana?
I am a naturalized Motswana. My family is originally from the United Kingdom. I grew up in Uganda. I studied at the University of Edinburgh where I did Forestry and Wildlife Management.
Q: How did you arrive in Botswana?
I came to Botswana in 1980. Since then I have lived in Tsabong for the last 34 years.
Q: Did you marry a local girl?
I married a Motswana of Tsabong origin.
Q: You and local politics, where do they connect?
My family has always been in love with politics back home in the UK and wherever we lived. My grandmother was locked in prison in 1913 for political activities. She was fighting for women’s right to vote.
Q: Why take part in Botswana politics?
I really like the Kgalagadi district. I have been happy here. I am also concerned about the direction of Botswana politics. The government of the day is increasingly autocratic. There is serious corruption regarding land especially in the allocation process. The land tribunal is not really independent from the Ministry of Lands.
Q: How so?
They still take instructions from the parent Ministry. I have already talked to President Ian Khama about it. He did nothing. We have requested an audience with him but we are told he is busy. By not acting effectively against corruption he condones it in a way.
Q: How does Khama condone corruption?
Look at the Glass factory in Palapye. Ken Matambo did not execute his duties very well. It is clear that the government tolerates corruption. In a different, more serious, country Matambo could have been fired, or better yet called to account for that mess.
Q: What would you do differently, should you be elected?
I want to sort out the corruption issues at Landboard. The board is not independent, because they get paid by the same office that they oversee. The board secretary can fire the board at anytime.
Q: Besides land issues what else do you stand for?
There are many unexplored opportunities in the Kgalagadi district. I want to use my influence as the area MP to advocate for change. We would have policies that are devised for specific areas. For example not every farmer has the means like Neo Moroka. We need to tailor programmes to suit individuals’ needs.
Q: Please give an example.
Many of the people in my district are small farmers, who prefer small stock production. There is a market out there for small stock in the eastern part of the country and next door in South Africa. These people do not have access to this market. We need to facilitate such opportunities for them.
Q: What else?
We are going to promote the citizen benefits of hunting. Right now the hunting ban has affected our constituents because for some it was their sole source of income.Some have resorted to poaching, we want to set up community hunting programmes.
Q: What do people say to you during the campaign?
People are excited that BCP is back in full force. BDP fanatics say they are not happy with the current leadership. I have a lot of support from BDP fans.
Q: What are your chances of winning the elections?
I am certain of a win, otherwise I wouldn’t be contesting. I am squeaky clean and have never been tainted by corrupt practices. I was chairman of the Tsabong Land Board. I used to buy hides and skins from the locals at a reasonable price.
Q: Have you addressed a public political rally?
I am yet to address a rally. I am going to address it in English and keep it brief and to the point. I won’t waste people’s time by attacking my opponents.
Q: Is there a language barrier?
Language is not a barrier. I have interacted with many people who understand English fairly well in the Kgalagadi district.
Q: Many people might not understand why an Englishman is standing for elections in their country. Would you care to explain?
In the UK as long as you are a citizen of the commonwealth you are eligible to stand for political office. As a naturalised Motswana I am eligible to stand. I am within my rights to stand for elections as a Motswana citizen.
Q: What is it that Botswana can learn from Britain?
In terms of setting up a business in Botswana it is cumbersome, unlike in the Britain where things are easier to run. For example it is not easy to own a bed and breakfast in Botswana, you will need to go through a lot of red tape. Botswana is more concerned about infrastructural development rather than human development. For example electricity is a basic commodity these days but the cost of putting up such a structure is expensive. We could be advocating for solar energy as we have more sunlight in this country.
Q: Everybody is talking about youth. What do you have for them?
In my area the government builds a road to Bokspits, but failed to build a road to the Trans-frontier park. Had the government done that I am telling you they would have been economic spin-offs for our young people. The Botswana side is more attractive than the South African side. The youth were going to create employment for themselves along that road. It is a tragedy that our youth are unemployed despite being armed with certificates. We should be looking at what school leavers need after completing school.
Q: Politics is a dirty game, how are you going to play it?
It is a very dirty game. But you can also play it safe and win without playing it dirty. All politicians in Botswana should play the game cleanly. We should respect one another when playing the game.
Q: Will BCP take power in October?
I think we can take state power. Many people are not happy with the ruling party at all. The government has upset workers by not allowing them to vote in the primary elections of their respective parties. So BCP stands a better chance of winning the elections.
Thank you, I need it.