I am sure you are all as disappointed as I am that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was at the last minute unable to travel to be at this conference in the interests of his health. I am sure you all join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery, and it remains my hope that upon his ability to embark upon international travel he will visit Botswana in the not too distant future. This I have communicated with His Holiness. From our local perspective we believe that the Tswana cultural concept of Botho has universal meaning and value. It is our indigenous understanding that Botho is about maintaining the social harmony of a community by fully acknowledging and respecting the humanity and human needs of each and every individual living within it. In this respect, Botho dovetails with the Biblical Golden Rule that call on us to “Do unto others as we would wish them to do unto ourselves”. I am pleased to note that in its focus on the universal value of Botho, this dialogue has brought together distinguished individuals from within Botswana, the wider African region, along with individuals of note from around the world. I am thus confident that this gathering will be fruitful in its endeavour to explore the interface between Botho and broader global perspectives on how to build a more peaceful and harmonious global society that ensures the dignity of all. It is my profound belief that such common values of democracy, peace and harmony, which are embedded in the values of Botho, can serve as a signpost to arriving at a more just, as well as peaceful world. Sadly, the world as we currently know it, is still faced with many challenges which are bred from negative and divisive tendencies towards intolerance and oppression leading to marginalisation and violence. Human trafficking, slavery, racial, religious and ethnic intolerance still exist even today. Political intolerance which ushers in divisions in society and even violence which also in some cases sees the intimidation and arrest of opposition leaders is unacceptable. Too many around the world still live in environments where freedom remains an aspiration rather than the norm, fed by a lack of democracy and violation of basic human rights driven by self-interest, greed and corruption including by leaders and governments. That is why Botswana is a strong advocate of the International Criminal Court that seeks to hold those implicated in crimes against humanity accountable, including leaders. We also have calamities, especially natural disasters that bring about a lot of despair and suffering. Often times, we seek spiritual guidance to address many of these challenges, especially the need to be compassionate and help others in times of need. We in Botswana have tried to inculcate this desire through including such values in our long term Visions.
The recently ended Vision 2016, spoke to the values of” A Compassionate, Just, and Caring Nation.” The consequence of which was a snowballing effect on initiatives aimed at assisting the less privileged in our society and the world over. Our just commenced Vision 2036 goes further in its core pillar for Human and Social Development which affirms that: “Botho will be the cornerstone that guides our lives in the future.” The Vision further asserts that true human development will only be realised by addressing the spiritual, as well as physical wellbeing of our people. It therefore affirms this as its primary goal. Consistent with what I see in the Conference programme, Vision 2036 further commits us to ensuring that marginalised population groups be empowered to positively contribute to their own and the nation’s development. We shall thus also continue to strive for a society where all men and women have equal opportunities to actively participate in the economic, social, cultural and political development of their country and beyond. Most importantly of all, we shall do our utmost to ensure that we have a safe and enabling environment for our children to grow into productive and responsible citizens of our country and the world. Given the above, it should be clear that the values to be considered over the next three days lie at the centre of our own nation’s vision of how to move forward. Your presence here is therefore most timely and welcome. No individual or nation is an island. We can each be enriched by the perspective of others even when discussing those values, we cherish as our own, because the love of humanity knows no political or sectarian boundaries. Before I conclude, I wish to acknowledge the fact that Mind & Life is committed to showcasing a discourse on Botho, as well as to also expand its work and historical conversations to include the African perspectives and voices for the first time. Additionally, your commitment to some of our fundamental values such as human rights and democracy is also well documented. In this respect, I am actively working on hosting a Summit of Noble Peace Laureates in Botswana. To this end, I hope that His Holiness will be able to come to Botswana another time. We, in this regard, look forward to welcoming you all again. To those who seek to frustrate Democracy, Freedom and Justice, which is everyone’s birth right whichever part of the world you are from, let me conclude with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ which even though from a different faith, His Holiness the Dalai Lama would subscribe to: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use, and persecute you.”
President Ian Khama was speaking at the opening of The Mind & Life Conference on ‘Ubuntu/Botho – A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity’ in Gaborone on August 17.