Unless you are the Botswana Democratic Party, getting in the good graces of a future superpower this early is a politically smart move. The latter has been motivation for the Botswana National Front, the country’s largest opposition party, to apologise to the Chinese government on behalf of Botswana for the recent controversy regarding a scheduled visit by the Dalai Lama.
In addition to a press statement that the party put out in which it tenders such apology, its Secretary for International Affairs, Nelson Ramaotwana, says that he has personally delivered an apology letter at the Chinese Embassy in Gaborone. The press statement expresses “sincere apologies to the Chinese government for the manner in which the BDP government has handled a friend’s request.” The friend in question is China which requested Botswana to not allow the Tibetan spiritual leader into the country. China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist who is agitating for an independent Tibet.
“Botswana and China have enjoyed many decades of mutual relations that have seen hundreds of our people attend school in Chinese universities, up to this moment. The Chinese government has invested billions of pula in the Botswana economy and continues to be our partners in national development, who have also generously donated to many national projects,” the BNF statement says.
It further places the blame on President Ian Khama for putting “private” before national interest: “Ian Khama only wants to be referred to as one African leader who stood his ground against China. It is a basic truth in International relations that when countries take major decisions they consider national interest. As a nation, we should pause and reflect on what is the cost-benefit rationale of hosting the Dalai Lama.”
The visit didn’t happen and the explanations for that differ. The Mind & Life Institute, a United States organisation which was organising the visit, cited health reasons while Sunday Standard’s own information is that Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi expressed his own misgivings about the visit. From what we learn, the Chinese government was going to impose economic sanctions on Botswana as punishment for hosting the Dalai Lama. China was also said to be lobbying neighbouring states to deny the Dalai Lama’s plane overflight permit. Masisi would have reason to have worried because the sanctions would have had a detrimental effect on the economy at a time that he is about to become president and call elections a year later.
While the visit didn’t happen, Botswana is officially China’s least favourite African country at this point in time. The BNF apology may help assuage hurt feelings in Beijing.