Suomi/Africa
Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland
 
 

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans

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Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

A man of honour

Honorary Counsel Samuel Mpuchane represents Finland in Botswana, and hopes that these two sparsely populated countries can learn to combine their know-how to create new businesses.Recently, he said, “The problem with diamonds is that their market is extremely sensitive. That’s one reason why we have to try to diversify our economy by developing tourism and our other services, and industry.”

A resident of Botswana’s capital Gaborone, Mr Mpuchane, 69, is one of Finland’s over 400 Honorary Consuls abroad. These Honorary Consuls are local movers and shakers who supplement the Finnish diplomatic network. For example, Finland does not have its own Embassy in Botswana.

“I represent Finland, and when they need it I help Finns, with the assistance of the Finnish Embassy in Pretoria. But I can be quite relaxed about this, because I don’t run into Finns very often.”

Lifting the curse of the diamondMr Samuel Mpuchane sees his work as an honour, not a job. “But sometime soon I could still make way for someone younger, if a suitable person could be found.”  (Photo: Juho Paavola - a photojournalist specialised in development cooperation issues)

Botswana became independent from Great Britain in 1966, and developed into a stable and relatively wealthy democracy. In recent years, however, the income from raw diamonds has fluctuated wildly, due to the global financial crisis and the unpredictable demand.

The small African country suddenly became globally significant when the South African diamond market leader, De Beers, transferred first its diamond cutting and sorting activities and then this year also its global sales headquarters from London to Gaborone. Annual sales of rough diamonds are expected to transfer approximately six billion dollars into the economy of Botswana.

Botswana and DeBeers each own half of the diamond mining corporation Debswana. In addition, the government of Botswana owns 15 per cent of De Beers. Now the country will begin to get more revenue, including tax revenue.

“The De Beers move has also revitalised the hotel business and restaurants, as well as raising the international status of Botswana,” said Mr Mpuchane.

Next, Botswana should, Mr Mpuchane thinks, grab an even stronger hold of opportunities to refine other minerals, such as copper and nickel, into finished products. That would reduce the dependency on diamonds (c. 80 per cent of exports) and bring stability to the balance of payments.

“Take copper, for example. The prices for unprocessed ore, or copper as a raw material, certainly fluctuate, but the prices for finished copper products somehow still remain stable,” says Mr Mpuchane.

“I’m not one for partying.”

After a long and varied career in public and diplomatic service, Mr Mpuchane retired from Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in 1990. Since then he has become one of the country’s most significant businessmen, through his real estate, telecommunications, and financial services companies. One of an Honorary Counsel’s most important tasks is to act as a business consultant to Finnish enterprises and investors.

“You could say that I know everything you need to know about doing business in Botswana,” says Mr Mpuchane.

Some of Finland’s Honorary Counsels have not even been to Finland. Mr Mpuchane became familiar with Finland while he was working in London, and then later on when he was Botswana’s Ambassador to Sweden between 1982 and 1985.

“While we were in Sweden we travelled from Stockholm to Finland by boat. The boat seemed to be full of parties and partying everywhere, but I didn’t feel like taking part in them,” Mr Mpuchane remembers, and smiles.

He was chosen to carry out the duties of Finland’s Honorary Counsel on the recommendation of Botswana’s then Ambassador to Sweden in 1993. Honorary Counsels are not paid for their work.

“It is an honour for me to be chosen for this post, and I can continue to be part of the diplomatic community. Not everything can or should be measured in money,” Mr Mpuchane stated.

Parallels found, similarities seen

Mr Mpuchane hopes that the cooperation between Finland and Botswana will continue to grow. One area where growth could take place is in tourism, which Botswana needs to develop in order to diversify the economy. Botswana is full of beautiful unexplored places where tourists can go on safari to escape from their ordinary lives. Mr Mpuchane sees similarities with Finnish Lapland.

“There would be a great demand for ecotourism here in Botswana, and the Finns are really good at that already,” Mr Mpuchane said. Both countries are also large but sparsely inhabited. “Communities are scattered here and there, and we need better telecommunications, which Finland is good at, too. How, for example, can a doctor and a patient who are far away from each other communicate and discuss treatment?”

 

Juho Paavola