The newly appointed United States of America (USA) ambassador to Botswana Earl Miller is a diplomat who strongly believes in media freedom and free access to information by members of the fourth estate.
In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday, Miller said that it is crucial for journalists to have access to information when they are seeking it from the relevant authorities. “I have noted that most journalists here complain about a lot of red tape when they are seeking some clarification especially from government public relation officers and other corporate companies,” he said.
Miller who once worked at American embassy in Gaborone as security officer said that it is not necessarily money that is the root of all evil but insecurity which he noted has devastating effects. In Botswana private media have registered their displeasure with difficulties in accessing information from government departments especially when going through public relations officers. Most of them have noted that it is easier to get information from a minister than from public relations officers who are notoriously known for requesting questionnaires even when one is asking for a phone number.
After the arrest of Sunday Standard ditor on seditious charges by government last year, US government through State Department released a press statement condemning the arrest.
Botswana government retaliated accusing US government of double standards with government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay firing from all cylinders. Gaborone called on Washington to put its house to order first. “We are, moreover, of the view that if the government of the United States of America is concerned about the detention of journalists, they might be better placed to deal with current allegations of abuse in their own country, such as the recent alleged assault and detention without charge by law enforcement personnel of the Washington Post reporter, Wesley Lowery, while he was attempting to cover the unrest in Ferguson Missouri, subsequent to the fatal police shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown,” said Ramsay.
When asked about the US relationship with Botswana after the media tiff which led to Botswana withdrawing its statement, Miller was diplomatic preferring to say, “As the United States of America (USA) we are not a perfect democracy but a democracy in progress.” He said that they are still struggling with race issue whereby some people are discriminated on the basis of their color and added that this is still continuing even when they have an African-American President Barack Obama.
Miller, who was the Consul General in Johannesburg-South Africa, from 2011 to 2014 added that Botswana is well known for its reputation for the respect of human rights. “Sometimes the country took a lone stand against some atrocities happening in the continent against the majority and that is very commendable,” said Miller.
Miller, who is the recipient of the Department of State’s Award for Heroism and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Shield of Bravery said that one his main priorities in Botswana is to address regional security issues. According to Wikipedia the FBI Shield of Bravery is presented for brave and courageous acts occurring in the line of duty or within the scope of FBI employment which may extend to major assistance to a task force or undercover operation, grave situations, or crisis confrontations associated with the highest priority cases of the FBI. Other recipients of the award are Special Agent Ronald Eowan Sr and former Special Agent Paul Myers together with Miller it is reported that they spent nearly four years in Indonesia under primitive conditions orchestrating a "highly complex ruse" that led to the arrests of 12 terrorists and the disruption of their network.
In addressing the regional security issues, Miller said that they will continue supporting the region through International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) based at Botswana Police College since 2000 with Botswana government. The academy is focused on fighting transnational crimes including but not limited to terrorism, Narcotics trafficking, financial and cybercrimes.
Another area in which the USA government would like to cooperate with Gaborone is fight against wildlife trafficking and preserving the Okavango delta through sustainable development. Last year US government through their Chargé d’Affaires, Michael J. Murphy expressed their commitment to help in supporting economic growth and rural development in the Ngamiland.
The most critical area that Miller said it will top of his list will be to engage government to address the HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis epidemic in the country. Miller, the former U.S. Marine Corps officer noted that they are happy with the interventions that government is doing to fight the two epidemics and they are ready to assist. Through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) the US government has helped Botswana fight HIV/AIDS since 2000 spending US$ 700 million (over P6 billion).
We are not cutting funding to Botswana
Meanwhile PEPFAR communications officer in Botswana Doug Johnson has revealed that they are not going to stop aiding Botswana in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “What is happening is that Botswana is no longer in an emergency state but need technical assistance especially in helping key persons being lesbians and gays, male circumcision and the fight against TB,” he said.
Johnson was quick to add that their focus is on the vulnerable groups but not on whether government recognizes same sex relationship. He dismissed claims that they are at loggerheads with government especially for their support to Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals Botswana (LEGABIBO) noting that they are only concerned about their welfare. Johnson said that they are part of key persons in their fight against HIV/AIDS.