It is well to note that, before the ascendance of Ian Khama to the Presidency of Botswana, it was a taboo to speak out openly about the affairs of neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe. This was despite the bare truth that the actions of the political leaders of Zimbabwe, in particular Robert Mugabe, were and are detrimental to the welfare of an ordinary Motswana. Botswana has had to play an unavoidable humanitarian role in the whole Zimbabwe situation. We have had to as a nation accommodate our neighbours and do our best to employ them at both professional set ups and within our domestics. We have had to endure their hardships, taking them as our own. We have had to as a country loan Zimbabwe money; some debts are still not yet paid with allegations of some debts having been declared bad. These monies, debts, could have been used to build schools, hospitals and fix our roads etcetera.
This alone gave us the legitimacy to raise our voice and have a view on the affairs of Zimbabwe. We have had to call a spade a spade and decried the lack of better mechanisms to ensure democracy by the Government of Zimbabwe. Of course as a sovereign state, Zimbabwe has in most cases not taken kindly to our calls that things could be done much better in the interest of the innocent people of Zimbabwe by their Government. We have had to at one point literally house the Zimbabwean opposition leader; Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change at the cost of Botswana public funds. Yet in all these, we have been vocally bashed instead of responding to our concerns from an understanding that we are inherently an interested party. We have been accused by our neighbours of all the things imaginary under the earth, yet we have remained defiant that Zimbabwe can and must be governed better. This is a call the South African Government both under Thabo Mbeki and under Jacob Zuma has refused to make. South Africa has continued that Zimbabwean Government should be allowed to transform in its own chosen fashion. The Botswana’s new Foreign Policy assertion has fallen short of describing this notion as nonsensical. Still under President Khama’s Foreign Policy, Namibia has suffered a huge blow when the Botswana Government, in a bid to protect wildlife, tourism and to fight poaching, adopted a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. This policy gives security organs the right to shoot on sight poachers. The Government of Botswana has on numerous occasions not been shy to state that evidence is rampant that most of the sophisticated poachers, who poach mostly for illegal ivory business are foreigners, and in some instances Namibian citizens. This has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. Many Namibians continue to fall ‘victims’ of the anti-poaching unit as the shoot to kill policy remains in force. It is worth noting that Botswana’s economic stand is based on primarily, diamonds, beef and tourism.
By nature, poachers are very dangerous and are known to kill wildlife protection officers on immediate sight as they can’t afford being caught or worse enough being killed by security organs. To enable the effectiveness of this policy, the Government has established the anti-poaching unit. There are allegations flying thick that this anti-poaching unit is a mini-army equipped with all the sorts of latest military warfare equipment capable of launching a civil war. Namibia has in the past decried that shooting their citizens suspected to be poachers was and remains inhuman, and diplomatically straining. These outbursts by the Namibian Government have not had impact in changing our position. It is further worth noting that the Botswana Government under President Khama has maintained a low profile on matters of Swaziland and Lesotho despite murmurs of approval from the international community. This is a definition of a country that has simply crafted a Foreign Policy that says; we engage at our level, at our pace, when we choose to and we shall not be dictated by anyone on how to behave, who to befriend and whom to dislike. Swaziland, which continues to be seen as a dictatorial monarchy by the world, mysteriously remains a friend to Botswana. No explanation has been given as to why Botswana never voices any word of disapproval against these Governments yet she is able to shout out in the disfavour of countries so far away as North Korea and Syria. As the debate on this matter continues locally, regionally and globally, the important part remains that the Botswana’s international relations posture has taken shape and resilience.
Though having chaired SADC, Khama’s Government has never really postured to be taking SADC seriously. Madagascar is one case in point where we simply needed SADC to take a clear position when there was confusion as to who exactly was the state President between Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina. SADC wanted to behave as if it’s a normal situation in Madagascar and Botswana refused to play along and clearly stated its position. Though the position was not popular, it was however as clear and loud position that Botswana does not dance to the tune of SADC – that is where it fits us, we shall deviate from the collective SADC. The inclusion of individuals from countries whose nationals do not require Visas to get into our borders has also been an eye opener. The example of the South Africa Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema is a case in point. Worse enough, Julius Malema, being a Member of the South African Parliament, carrying a diplomatic passport, has been denied a Visa before to enter Botswana. This position is; too brave, too bold and too loud. But at the end of it all, it is a loud voice that one cannot just wake up and decide to come to Botswana as it used to be the case. This is a clarification on foreign relations that; this is our country, you come in here at our mercy, behave at our mercy and vacate at our mercy, and otherwise we throw you out at our will.
Julius Malema had during his time as the President of the South Africa’s African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) made a public statement to the effect that Botswana is a puppet of the west and that Botswana was hosting an American Army base in the Kweneng District. He also then positioned that the ANCYL will be pushing for regime change in Botswana. This was contrary to cordial relations that exists between the ruling Botswana Democratic Party and the ruling African National Congress. The Khama Government responded by placing him on a list of individuals who require to go through Visa application to enter Botswana. Ordinarily, South Africans do not require Visa to enter Botswana. This position also relates that, Julius Malema as the leader of EFF in South Africa cannot at own will enter Botswana, or naturally so, is not necessarily welcome in Botswana whilst the leader of the Africa National Congress is always welcome. All this is new to Botswana and accrue as a legacy formation of President Khama.
The African Union
We have had to speak against the position of the African Union which is advocating for African countries to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) citing that it is only targeting African countries, as since inception only Africans have been prosecuted by the ICC despite atrocities against innocent civilians by developed countries in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria etcetera. Another concern being that some western countries such as the United States of America which are proponents and major financial sponsors of the ICC, they are themselves not signatory to the ICC and thus cannot be prosecuted by the same. Botswana has been brave to state that it does not support the African Union position but rather believes that the ICC can be and should be adjusted to be able to address the concerns raised. Though it is argued that this is just one of the many things that cost Botswana’s Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi her campaign to ascend to the leadership of the African Union, this was, and remains, a bold and brave position as it is seldom the position of any country to speak against the African Union. Not only does President Khama speak against the African Union, he has not attended even a single meeting of the same organisation in all his tenure.
Not only has Botswana under the new President Khama Foreign Policy created enemies, new and odd friends have been made. We have witnessed the strengthening of relations with initially not thought of countries such as South Sudan. The Government of Botswana has even had the opportunity to host the President of South Sudan; Silva Kiir Mayardit. Botswana is still reiterating that shall Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court enter Botswana, he will be arrested on sight and handed over to ICC. The same Khama Government is at the same time befriending and strengthening bilateral ties with South Sudan, a world known North Sudan nemesis. This is yet another indication that when it comes to Sudan, unlike all African countries, Botswana has taken a loud, bold and clear position that it against North Sudanese President and rather friends with South Sudanese President. In the past Botswana will have not taken such a drastic position taken by the Khama Foreign Policy realignment.