THE OBSERVER: Congratulations to the Government of Botswana

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 08 March 2016   |   By Simon Gabathuse
President of the Republic of Botswana Ian Khama President of the Republic of Botswana Ian Khama

The Republic of Botswana has taken an international relations stand on the recent Uganda elections where the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni has once again been returned to power. After more than 26 years of ruling Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has again returned to power in what many countries in the west have called ‘an election characterised by irregularities and violence’. African states as usual have gone quite, turning a blind eye and with some without shame congratulating a regime that has just been ushered through violence and unconventional means. This is typical of African nations. Years ago, when the Zimbabwean President, Robert Gabriel Mugabe unleashed terror on his people and on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), our African brothers saw it all good. South Africa, for example - seen as a super power of Southern Africa - proclaimed that the elections in Zimbabwe where open, free and fair. The then President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, refused a report by his own observer mission that he had sent to be his ears and eyes. He was to reason that his observer mission had gone beyond their given terms and references. Botswana openly refused to accept the election results and the rest is history. We have also at the expense of the tax payer housed Morgan Tsvangirai here in Botswana. We were simply presenting whose side we were.

Though there is nothing wrong with such a stand and position, it becomes too difficult to effectively and uniformly sustain because it is a not in a blue print format. It is dependent on the emotions of a current government. To make matters worse, it is decided by a sitting president. I am mentioning this to show that though at times we shoot far way from the goal posts, we do have times that we have shot straight into the goal posts, scoring victories not only for ourselves but for Africa and humanity. These are victories that will be our cushion in future when we need intervention from outside forces for we are nothing but an outside force yet with so much power. Though we are at times not appearing to be in control of our foreign policy, we do in certain instances make sense. The beauty of it is that we are able to speak against atrocities against our fellow African brothers as we did with various other African states including Zimbabwe, Burundi etc. We have more importantly been able to do all these when our African brothers had gone silent for reasons best known to them. 

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Though we do sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot as is the case with the recent Botswana – China diplomatic row, in some instances we do make sense. But one will definitely be impressed if we could develop a clear foreign policy that is not dependent on arising friendships. It is very old school not to have a blue print defining a foreign policy focus. Countries relate for specific and deliberate purposes including but not limited to military strategic points, point of sales, information sharing, economic trades, history and various interests. There is nothing wrong with any of these. What is not however conventional is not opening up your interests as country to the global community yet expect the global community to open up their interests to you for purposes of bargain. Botswana remains to be viewed with high suspicion because of several things. A failure to have a clear cut foreign policy is one of those things that will keep away potential friends and potential economic allies. 

The USA, for an example, is clear that it will cut any military aid to a government that takes over the running of a country through a coup. Whether that is real or perceived is a discussion for another day. What is important, however, is that such a drastic decision to cut ties with any given country is not left to an individual as is the case of the Republic of Botswana where such a decision is left to the State President. And there is no binding policy. We heard a fruitful and democratic debate after a coup that ousted the then President of Egypt Mr. Hosni Mubarak. The American citizens where debating that their foreign policy - the American policy - dictates that in a case where they are as a country giving military aid to a country; in the event of a military coup in such a country, such aid should be stopped. Though such American military aid did not stop, it opened up possibilities and realities of debate as some Americans argued that; stopping the Egypt military aid will mean putting Israel, an American ally, at risk and hence putting American lives at risk. Whether these matters are real or perceived, what is important is that there is a blue print guiding them and hence there is some form of a democratic dispensation to protect or to denounce. Ours is a space of not knowing which direction to run in the event of fire because the sign posts do not show anything; they are blank. 

It is hard to understand why Botswana was making pronouncements on the South China Sea. Such a matter could in many ways jeopardise our existence as a country. We trade in diamonds and the Chinese are consumers of not only our diamonds but also of our tourism. This, therefore, means that we are dependent on the Chinese government and her people to fund our national budget. The Chinese government is in a huge way dependant on the South China Sea for income. It is this income that trickles down to Chinese citizens and ultimately trickles down to Botswana Government to fund all necessary developments. It is against this backdrop that the argument that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by pronouncing negatives about the South China Sea holds water. 

Because we are funding our national development budgets largely from diamonds consumed by Chinese, we are dependent on them. It is not a question of wanting or not wanting to be dependent on them, it is a point of reality. Our national budget funds everything from health, education, rural development, safety and security, home affairs to defence. In failure to fund our health we are dead. In failure to fund our safety thugs take over. In failure to fund our rural development we don’t have the infrastructure to globally belong. In failure to fund our education, our productivity and development ends here. In failing to finance our defence we are then exposed to attacks. We have as a country made friends in the past 50 years of our independence. But we have also made enemies who are waiting for an opportune moment to enjoy a payback time moment. We should not deliberately and in full view of our enemies push those who could help us maintain our sovereignty away from us. 

In the matter of Uganda what is also beneficial is the milestone we are setting as we hold the current chairpersonship of SADC. Our voice is key in deciding the opinion of SADC and indeed the show of discipline and maintenance of law and order. We can’t take it away from the government of Botswana that such a position was in line with what we stand for as a country and that such a position resonates well with the view and feelings of the majority of citizens of the world. Bravo the Republic of Botswana! Let this be the beginning of good things to come in our foreign relations policy. 

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