In the wake of the recent wave of terrorist attacks and associated instances of violence in various parts of the world, including yesterday’s suicide bombing in Nigeria, the recent murders at the Charles Hebdo magazine office in Paris and the subsequent related rioting in Niger and elsewhere, the Government of Botswana wishes to place on record its perspective on the need for enhanced mutual understanding and respect, as well as cooperation, among nations and communities.
In concert with the international community, the Government of Botswana has condemned and shall continue to condemn all acts of terrorism, while further cooperating on a multilateral and bilateral basis with other nations in common efforts to counter trans-national crimes including threats to international peace and security.
Whilst our opposition to all forms of terrorism is thus steadfast and unequivocal, we are however of the further view that governments have an additional responsibility of working together for the promotion of a global climate of tolerance, mutual understanding and respect, which can mitigate unnecessary conflict. Such respect among other things must be predicated on an appreciation of the diversity of cultural and religious traditions and perspectives existing in the world, as well as the need to proactively uphold human dignity across differences of identity, such as those based on race, gender and religion.
Against this background, the Government of Botswana does not subscribe to the recent suggestion being put forward in some quarters that there can ever be a “right to insult” a community’s religious beliefs, any more than it is acceptable to insult on the basis of race or other inherent attributes. In no democracy is freedom of speech absolute. It is rather tempered by an appreciation of the corresponding need to respect the dignity of others.
While we can never condone those who kill in the name of God, neither do we believe it is either wise or acceptable to deliberately cause offense to the religious beliefs of others. In this context we find it unfortunate for any individual or institution to go out of its way to cause offense to the religious sensibilities of others, be it via the media or alternative acts of abuse such as vandalism.
In our view there is rather a need to understand why different communities hold certain things to be sacrosanct. We thus find it unfortunate that some publications would persist in publishing purported images of the Prophet Muhammad, just as we cannot condone the burning of any holy texts or desecration of other sacred objects or places, be it a mosque, church, synagogue, temple or shrine.
In view of this we believe that the need for a broader dialogue on issues of building greater cross-cultural and religious tolerance, as well as ways to combat terrorism, is urgent.
We are also of the view that for the global war on terror to succeed there must be a global appreciation of its shared effects and consequent need for appropriate channelling of resources. In this respect the lives lost to wanton acts of terrorism on the African continent are just as precious as those of victims elsewhere.
To further dialogue for mutual understanding, the Government of Botswana, in keeping with our own cultural and national values rooted in the concepts of Kagisano and Botho, will thus continue to share its perspectives on the above at appropriate fora, including the upcoming meeting of the African Union, where we are prepared to present to others in order to seek regional consensus on the way forward to building an enhanced international framework for global peace, tolerance and understanding.
*Dr Ramsay is the government spokesperson.