The Diamond Information Center had a dinner this past weekend, hosted by actress Julianne Moore, with guest of honor former Botswana President Festus Mogae. The dinner was partly in response to the concern that celebrities may stop wearing diamonds at awards shows, as too much flash may seem “inappropriate” in a recession. Mogae, as he explains below, was there to let them know of the importance of diamonds to his country.
I attended the dinner, and will have full report in an upcoming JCK. But beforehand I interviewed Mogae, who recently won an African leadership award. Some excerpts below:
President Mogae, why did you come to Hollywood for this event?
I was invited by Juliane Moore, when she toured South Africa, and I jumped at the idea. She pointed out that not much is known about diamonds, and least of all, about Botswana.
I hope to answer any questions regarding diamonds and assure the American consumer that when they buy Botswanan diamonds, they are putting food on people’s tables and providing education for children. They are providing anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS.
Are you worried that, with the recession, people will feel wearing diamonds is frivolous?
I hope to assure Americans that, when they buy diamonds, the people who benefit from their purchases are in far worse shape than they are. Botswana is the largest producer of diamonds by value and we are also the country most dependent on diamonds. Diamonds provide almost 50% of government revenues. The diamond industry employs 20,000 people in Botswana.
When people purchase diamonds, they are helping people who might otherwise starve, and preventing a recession in countries that are doing far worse than global powers like the United States.
Do you think Hollywood has painted a distorted image of Africa, and ignored success stories like your country?
It is right and proper that the world’s attention should be pointed towards negative things, but in the case of Africa it results in a very distorted perception. They talk of Africa as if it is one place.
How is the downturn in diamond demand impacting Botswana’s industry?
Things are bad. Activities have been downsized. Some of the mines’ production has been suspended, and workers have been given indefinite leave although they have not been retrenched. They will be almost zero new revenues for the government. We are trying to cushion the negative impact, but it is a huge challenge.
You know many of the world’s leaders. What is your read on the current global economic crisis?
We are all hoping that, given the measures that have been taken by the various governments, the impact will become apparent by the end of the year. Full recovery will likely take four to five years.
As an African, how did people respond to the election of an American President of African heritage?
We were euphoric. We thought the election of a black president would happen some day, but it happened earlier than expected.
Bush may have been tragedy for the American people, but he was actually one of the best presidents in American history for Africa. We expect the current excellent relations with Sub-Saharan Africa will only be improved.