Motlaleng on a hiking trip at the outskirts of Abuja
Marang Motlaleng is the First Secretary (Political and Economic), at the Botswana High Commission in Nigeria. He speaks with Damilola Oyedele on his experience since arrival in May 2010
What part of Botswana are you from?
I am from Gaborone, which is the capital city. But in my country, we believe that nobody is from a city or a town; everybody goes to the city to get a job. We all come from a village. So my village is Serowe, which is home to the first and founding president of Botswana , and he was the chief of my village. I was born in the capital city, started my schooling there, did my national service there, and then I went for my secondary school in neighbouring Zimbabwe. After that I went to the National University in Botswana and studied international relations and human resource management.
Was international relations an initial interest?
As a kid, you do not know what you really want to do, anything interests you. I fancied law, but being from a Christian background and in some African traditions, when you tell someone like your grandmother that you want to study law, they say no; “lawyers are liars, they would defend rapists, it is not a religious profession”. When I was in secondary school, I had a lot of interests in economics, and when I was doing my national service, somebody interested me in diplomacy and I found it attractive.
In Botswana, do you do national service before university?
Yes. We used to have national service before we terminated it. Now we have internship for one year and then get absorbed into the system. I know Nigeria has the NYSC. Just last weekend, I went to the NYSC camp in Kubwa. When you stay in a country for so long, you want to experience everything. I wanted to see what they do in their camp, get a general feel of how it is different from ours. I found it a little militarized, but I like it when compared to ours which was not militarized at all. I saw the discipline and was impressed; it was at the weekend, so they were all in white. I wanted to ask them if I could join for a week, and participate, be in uniform and forget that I am a diplomat and make me fall into parade.
The only thing similar that I experienced while growing up was in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, we had pathfinders and we used to wear uniforms like that and march in parades. I sometimes wish I had joined the army, I like disciplined careers.
How many countries did you serve in before Nigeria?
This was my first posting, but I have lived in Zimbabwe and South Africa where I have some relatives.
How many languages do you speak?
Does that include pidgin? (laughing). Basically, I would say two: English and Setswana which is my native language. The people are called Batswana. Setswana means a language spoken by Swana people.
How much did you know about Nigeria before arriving?
I was quite naive as much as many people in the world are naive about a lot of things. I knew little about Nigeria, I knew about the literature because we read Things Fall Apart, The Great Ponds, and others. We read about kolanuts, pounded yam, cocoa and we thought they were fictitious. I also knew about MKO Abiola, we used to hear so much about him. When I got posted here, I became inquisitive; I learnt it was the world’s eight largest population.
But a few days before that, the former President Yar’Adua passed away. Even my mum started to pay more attention to the news from Nigeria and unfortunately, she got more of the bad stuff and she was terrified. So she drew my attention to the negativities, even my friends knew more of the negative stories and at one point, I was considering rejecting the posting. But three years later, I have a different story to tell. I have many Nigerian friends. I am a different type of diplomat; most of my colleagues only know Abuja and Lagos which is usually their entry or exit point. But at my spare time, I take my chances and I travel, I know the length and breadth of this country.
One afternoon I was at home and I got bored, I decided to drive around, I took the expressway, passed Kubwa, I drove on, came to Zuma Rock and I drove on and I found myself in Kaduna. I realized I had travelled so far, and then I turned back. I have driven to all the communities around Abuja; Bwari, Gwagwalada and others. The longest road trip I took was to Aba with some friends on a weekend. It was a long drive. I have been to Calabar, Port Harcourt, Benin and many others.
What did you do when you went to Aba?
For me, Aba was not much to write home about, but Calabar was great. It was like I was in another country, not in Nigeria. Aba seemed dirty, Abuja is getting congested, Lagos is even worse, but in Calabar, the streets are clean, traffic is easy, the environment is great, it is like an-out-of-Nigeria-experience. If you want to catch some rest, Calabar is a good destination, it is quiet, peaceful and breath-taking.
How do you find the local people when compared to people from Botswana?
I come from a place where the population is just two million, we almost know each other and we are one close knit family; we trust each other to the extent we may be considered naive. The difference here is that because of the large number of people, people do not just open up to each other. Nigerians are like Westerners, people mind their own business but they are very courteous people; they see someone struggling with something, and they assist. They are very friendly and God fearing. For the first time in my life, I come across a people who mention God in almost every sentence. “Thank God, if not for God, by the Grace of God, and others”. In my country we rarely mention God in our conversations. We do not have the traditional dresses like Nigerians, for men it’s the suit and dresses for women.
What else do you do when you are not working?
I am a very sociable person and I like to go hiking with a group. People come with their families and pets to the outskirts, and we enjoy suya and pepper soup with drinks.
What would you be doing if you were not a diplomat?
I like fixing things and cars mostly get broken in these modern times. So if I was not a diplomat, I would be fixing cars. Not as a mechanic as such, a mechanic gets really greasy and dirty, maybe I would be a panel beater. I love to work with my hands. I like art and I like to cook.