President Ian Khama’s celebratory mood was dealt a serious blow when his colleagues within the SADC region snubbed the country’s golden jubilee celebrations on Friday. Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had early in the week refused to state the number of Head of state they were expecting. Only Mozambique and Swaziland were represented by the heads of state while Cuba and Namibia sent their vice presidents and Zambia was represented by the minister of foreign affairs. BOT50 organisers had early this year revealed that they are expecting more than 10 heads of state to attend the celebrations. Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia and Tanzania are the only countries within the SADC region which have gained the golden jubilee status. On Thursday morning, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe cancelled his trip Gaborone though he had earlier confirmed attendance. His cancellation is seen as arising from the recent utterances by President Khama in which he called for his retirement on basis of old age and failing policies. Khama told Reuters that Mugabe should step aside without delay for the sake of Zimbabwe and the region, comments that "shocked" officials in Zimbabwe. "The government of Zimbabwe is shocked by this uncharacteristic behaviour on the part of President Khama. It is taboo in African etiquette and diplomacy," Zimbabwe's Information Minister Chris Mushohwe said in a statement. "We sincerely hope that this will be the last time Botswana's leader opens his mouth to bad-mouth President Mugabe and fellow African leaders. Why should President Mugabe be removed from office unconstitutionally as President Khama's sentiments seem to suggest?" hit out Mushoshwe.
Zambia, which celebrated their golden jubilee last year, send its Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba. During the Zambian golden jubilee celebrations President Khama delegated former Presidents Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae. The foreign dignitaries that attended the celebrations included presidents of Mozambique Filipe Nyusi, King Mswati III of Swaziland and King Letsie III of Lesotho. Namibia’s vice president Dr Nickey Iyambo, Cuba’s vice president Mr Salvador Valdes Mesa, Former president of Namibia Hefikepunye Pohamba, former president of Nigeria Gen. Dr Yakubu Gowon and US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield as well as UK’s Prince Andrew and King Leruo Molotlegi of Bafokeng from South Africa. Some political pundits have said that the snubbing was inevitable as President Khama has failed to attend a lot of Heads of State meeting in Africa and beyond. Political analyst Anthony Morima said the absence of both regional and continental heads of state is a clear indication that Botswana has been absent in the foreign affairs through its head of state. “It shows that our relationship with our fellow African leaders is not cordial as President has seldom visited other countries and or attend both regional and continental meetings,” observed Morima.
Meanwhile, Batswana didn’t seem to be affected by those missing from the guest list as they went fully out to enjoy the moment across the country. The country was in a fervent mood as the nation united in celebration of the golden jubilee in grand style. For two days the National Stadium was filled to capacity as people from all walks of life donned in Botswana national colours to enjoy ceremonial proceedings. On the independence eve, the nation broke into song and dance enjoying cultural performance and retreat ceremony by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). The cultural performance took the crowd through the history of the country – from being one of the poorest in the world to be one of fastest developing in the world. There was deafening silence when an actor mimicked the speech by the first President Sir Seretse Khama made 50 years ago. The engaging drama was well choreographed. It was when they started to narrate the modern history of Botswana that spectators broke into ululations as they related well with the events.
The performance by local artists especially Scar, Franco and Charma Girl, Jeff Matheatau and Maxy took excitement to the highest level. It was Dr Vom’s performance that had everyone on feet; singing and dancing his famous song ‘Tsaya thobane’. Even President Ian Khama danced along. Independence Day celebrations started slowly with a parade by BDF followed by the arrival of the roving torch. The crowd went wild when over 7000 school children performed the Chinese callisthenics showcasing the history of Botswana. BDF Air force raised the bar when their jetfighters flew past; the crowd broke into ululation. In his address to the nation, President urged Batswana to think what they can achieve as nation. “As we celebrate our progress over the past fifty years, let us further contemplate what we can and should achieve if we continue to work together towards overcoming our current challenges, while building a society that delivers a dignified life to all,” he said. He urged the nation to work hard to achieve more.