Words that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Gladys Mokhawa, said five years ago have come back to haunt her.
Speaking during an April 2017 panel discussion at the University of Botswana where she taught international relations, Mokhawa said that Botswana didn’t need a codified foreign policy.
“Foreign policy is not necessarily built on something, but practical examples of what is taking place at the time. States act in a pragmatic manner,” Mmegi quotes her as saying at the panel discussion.
At the time, the president was General Ian Khama and some had raised concern about statements that he made about other leaders as well as on controversial international issues. Going back to the administration of his father (founding president Sir Seretse Khama), Botswana had always been extremely cautious with what it said in public about foreign leaders and affairs. Being the trailblazer that he was, Gen. Khama upset the applecart, publicly attacking everyone from Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) to Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) to Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya). As soon became apparent however, Khama was highly inconsistent in his criticism of foreign leaders. While he would attack Mugabe for autocracy, he never once attacked King Mswati of Swaziland for his own autocratic tendencies.
It was against this background that some reiterated calls that Botswana should codify its foreign policy in order that what a sitting president said conformed to such policy and would thus be consistent. Mokhawa didn’t feel such policy was necessary, telling her audience that the status quo was serving the country well. However, there was a plot twist in 2019, when she joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Deputy Permanent Secretary. She has since been promoted.
Earlier this year, Mokhawa appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and was quizzed on the development of a foreign policy document that her minister, Dr. Lemogang Kwape, had earlier announced to parliament. Her response was that her ministry planned to write down and distribute Botswana’s policy positions on issues of international affairs. She added that the latter would be particularly useful for MPs who, as diplomats themselves, attend international meetings where they represent Botswana.
Earlier Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Mephato Reatile, had complained that Botswana’s MPs were clueless about the country’s policy position on a whole host of international issues and were routinely outclassed by their foreign counterparts at international meetings. By way of example, he said that when issues such as the independence of Western Sahara and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories are debated, MPs from other countries are able to competently articulate the policy positions their respective countries have taken.
“But in Botswana issues of foreign affairs are confidential,” said Reatile, using, in reference to “confidential”, the Setswana idiomatic phrase “phithela kgomo ya serotswana.”
He added that in the circumstances, Botswana MPs are all too often reduced to regurgitating the general and insubstantial position that they would have chanced upon in the media. Reatile warned that the danger of what currently obtains is that an MP attending an international meeting outside Botswana might unwittingly express a position that contradicts one the official one.
Last Thursday, Gaborone Central MP, Tumiso Mangwegape-Healy, asked for a progress update on the drafting of the foreign policy. In response, Kwape said that the drafting was complete, that the draft was undergoing “due diligence and validation” and that the Ministry hopes to publish the draft later this year.
First complaining that the process has taken seven years now, the Sefhare-Ramokgonami MP, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, then turned his guns on Mokhawa – silencer attached. While he didn’t mention Mokhawa by name, Gobotswang gave as much detail as to compromise the identity of the person he was talking about. He said that the drafting process was being overseen by someone who in her writings (he didn’t mention the panel discussion) has asserted that Botswana doesn’t need a codified foreign policy. On the basis of the foregoing, the MP raised doubt about Mokhawa’s commitment to the process of producing a document that she has publicly stated is unnecessary.
Mokhawa has also tied herself in knots in another but related aspect.
In an academic paper that she co-wrote with Professor Bertha Osei-Hwedie, she lavished praise on a man whose conduct she now has a big problem with – Khama. In the paper, which is titled “Continuity and Change: The Influence of the Presidents on Botswana’s Foreign Policy”, the authors write that Khama’s “most notable personality traits” include “political efficacy, army training that has adorned him with professionalism, discipline, technical and strategizing expertise; adherence to the rule of law; philanthropy; and Paramount Chief of the largest tribe in Botswana, the Bamangwato. His expectation of other people’s behaviour is largely a result of his firm belief in discipline.”
They assert that Khama and his predecessors “have been guided by the same core principles that have guided foreign policy behaviour, since independence. These include political tolerance, democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and rule of law for achieving peace, security and stability, and commitment to international cooperation.” They describe Botswana as “a strong supporter of international law and courts, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has offered to arrest any African leader wanted by the Court for crimes against humanity, especially, those of Sudan and Kenya, another departure from the African Union’s position on the ICC.” Khama had indeed offered to do so.
Appearing before the PAC four months ago, Mokhawa sung a completely different tune when Bobonong MP, Taolo Lucas, asked her whether the Khama-Masisi “skirmish” was not tarnishing Botswana’s international image. In the course of such skirmish, Khama has alleged that Masisi rigged the 2019 general election and is therefore an illegal president.
Making clear the fact that she couldn’t make any pronouncements on the skirmish, Mokhawa said that as the custodian of Botswana’s international image, her Ministry was gravely concerned about the “utterances” that Khama has made about the country. She revealed that as part of the damage control exercise, officials at the Ministry have had to “continuously reassure other countries” that Masisi was properly elected and that Botswana remains a vibrant democracy.
During the 2017 panel discussion, Mokhawa stated that there was nothing wrong with Khama’s rooftop diplomacy. He continues to use that diplomacy against Botswana itself and in the process, has created a PR nightmare for Mokhawa.