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11 Mar 2019

By Richard Moleofe

The Dalai Lama is the Tibetan spiritual leader that many know little or nothing about in this part of the world. He was arranged to come to Botswana for a public lecture a little over two years back from today but the trip was called off as it sparked controversy.

The controversy has come to the fore once again. This comes as ex-president Khama treks to India to attend activities that mark the Tibetan uprising in 1959. It was at the then President Ian Khama’s invitation that the Dalai Lama was to visit Botswana. Apparently his vice president and certain members of his cabinet prevailed on Khama to stop the visit of the Lama.

Going back into history, the conflict between China and the Lama dates back to 1959 when there was a Tibetan uprising which was aimed at achieving independence from China. Remember that this was just ten years after the Communist Party revolution in China.

The failed attempt at power has been a growing wedge between China and Tibet. China strongly believes that Tibet is one of its provinces while Tibet is seeking to break away from the communist country.

The Dalai Lama is based in India.

Apparently Khama has gone ahead with his Indian trip despite the advice from the state. The reasons advanced by the Government of Botswana are that this will hurt our current relationship with China.

When it comes to China, the Dalai Lama is a red line, very much recognising Taiwan.

China is a growing superpower and a key member of the Security Council with veto powers on the international body. Our acts as a country must always be counter balanced with these two important factors in regard to China.

It is very important for us to keep a clean relationship with China as they are critical to our economy as well. Even though we have a serious trade deficit with China, our trade relationship has brought a critical lifeblood as we are able to afford goods at low prices. China is the factory of the world and even the United States of America depends on their products. We as a small country cannot escape the charm of China in all spheres of the economy.

Looking at all these critical aspects between Botswana and China, we need not risk this relationship as we are bound to come out bruised. The government of Botswana has taken a commendable stance regarding the Dalai Lama.

This is not the first time that we as a country have been faced with such serious dilemma. During the years of liberation in southern Africa, Botswana geographically remained at the centre of the conflict. We were buffeted from all directions. Refugees fled into this country because of the prevailing peace and tranquillity.

Those pursuing those refugees were angered by our hospitality and for that reason some of our citizens lost their lives as they were caught up in the crossfire. A good example of that is the Gaborone Raid of 1985 where many lives were lost. The South African commandos killed both refugee and citizen.

Because our country was still economically struggling, the defence budget was as low as it could be and it is for this reason the Botswana Defence Force could not meet its obligation of protecting us from foreign enemies. The government of Botswana took a very tough stance of denying all refugees the right to bear arms. We were prepared to host them as long as they remained unarmed.

This policy of denying the freedom fighters to use our territory as a springboard to attack their countries of origin put us at odds with liberation movements.

In actual fact the policy drove hundreds of refuges to countries like Zambia and Tanzania where they were allowed to bear arms.

At least in private these liberation movements which are now in governments are still considering us sell-outs because of that policy. We were forced to adopt this policy because if we did otherwise, South Africa could punish us by closing the borders. As a country and economy, we cannot survive without South Africa.

If the government of Botswana goes ahead to disregard the position of China on the Dalai Lama, we are bound to experience what we did in the 1980s. Regardless of how true and genuine the Tibet issue may be, we need not risk the little we have by going full speed to support them.

But Khama has been bellicose against Chinese even during his presidency. For what reason this we shall probably never come to know. His current trip to India to meet up with the Dalai Lama is aimed at defying the Chinese government and President Masisi.

Khama was irked by the state visit of President Masisi to China shortly after he took over from him. Masisi wants to dismantle the traditional tourism sector as we know it. By this he would allow the Chinese and the rest of the Asian population to partake in it.

The current arrangement that runs the tourism sector is meant to favour the few white people and their masters in America and Europe. Shaking the establishment is a direct attack on Khama and his friends who have literally come to own our flora and fauna in this country.

We are already seeing attacks from the likes of Derek Joubert who calls the law to cull elephants “Blood Law.” The white beneficiaries would not want the Chinese to take part in the tourism industry as they are known to be game changers in everything they lay their hands on.

The Chinese are a threat to the old establishment. They have the advantage of numbers, and that is what our country needs to come out of a deficit budget. We need indigenous communities to take over the concessions on the Okavango Delta and run them for their collective benefit.

Imagine that there are rooms that cost as much as US$7 000 a night in the Okavango. The poor maid servants that keep up the rooms as pristine as they are get as little as US$100 per month.

The Okavango is situated in one of the poorest districts in Botswana.  Residents cannot show anything for being neighbours to the richest accommodation in Africa. These communities only suffer death as the elephants maraud in their fields.

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst

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