Botswana has adopted silent diplomacy on South Sudan as a civil strife rages in Africa’s new nation.
Botswana has been known to issue media statements to register its protest over what it perceived as unwarranted political situation or developments in other countries since President Ian Khama took office in 2008. Contacted for comment on Friday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani said he was outside the country and therefore was not in a position to state Botswana’s stance on the war torn country. “Since I’m not in the country, I’m not sure if those at the office have something to say regarding the issue. Besides, if I were not on an official trip outside the country I would be on leave.” said Skelemani.
The Minister confirmed that his Ministry has not issued a statement stating its position on the matter except the one that was issued late last year when government suspended its mission to send volunteer workers and internship students to South Sudan following an outbreak of a civil war in that country. Local critics and those in the continent have since accused Botswana of pursuing what they called roof top diplomacy or a silent diplomacy and questioned whether its foreign policy was ethical or not.
Describing South Sudan as a new and fragile state, University of Botswana political scientist, Professor Zibani Maundeni said Africa’s new nation needs support instead of ‘condemnation’. “They need our support and guidance. Even if Botswana were to release a statement it should not condemn South Sudan. Remember that they had a long history of war. If you condemn the country you will make things more complicated for South Sudan itself,” said Maundeni. He reiterated that as a fragile country, South Sudan needs the support of Africa and the international community.
On the list of countries that had been criticized by Botswana are neighbouring Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Iran, Libya, Syria, and Kenya. In 2008 Botswana publicly criticized Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for stealing the vote and in 2013, it labelled the election as a circus; though the country would later distance itself from former Vice President Mompati Merafhe’s statement. Sometimes being the only African country to take controversial stance on the African country, Madagascar’s Andre Rajolina was not spared Botswana tongue lashing as he was accused plotting a coup d’├®tat.
At the height of the Libyan political unrest, Botswana summoned the country’s ambassador before it severed ties with that country. Late last year, Skelemani also summoned the Ambassadors of China and Russia resident in Botswana. Specifically, the Foreign Minister reminded the two envoys that, as Members of the UN Security Council, and charged with the responsibility to ensure international peace and security, they should be seen to be concerned about the plight of the Syrian people. Critics have also argued that Botswana’s foreign policy is inconsistent because it has never condemned countries such as Swaziland which have been accused of suppressing opposition parties and abuse of human rights.