Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Botswana has to emerge out of the diplomatic shadows

Early last week Botswana Government announced that President Ian Khama had nominated Gloria Somolekae as Botswana’s candidate for the Executive Board of UNESCO for the period 2016-2019.

According to government communications, the name of the nominee will be submitted at Botswana’s Embassy in Brussels and mobilization for her campaign will commence. The nomination will take place during the 38th Session of UNESCO General Conference to be held in November 2015 at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris.

As the government press release rightly states the UNESCO Executive Board consists of 58 states.

Nobody doubts Dr Somolekae’s qualification for the job. Stiff competition and contest are however inevitable as many other countries will be putting forward candidates. Such contests will go far beyond Somolekae’s r├®sum├®.
For many of the countries, this is a high stakes, high profile assignment.

Thus countries will stop at nothing to get the trophy.

It is a job that requires much more than just technical qualification.

Diplomatic endurance levels will be put on display.

For Somolekae to get the job a lot of lobbying is going to be required. That lobbying will be done among the voting states, and it is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of an individual no less than the Head of State,
in our instance President Ian Khama.

Under previous similar situations, there have been temptations on President Ian Khama to hold back and in some instances to delegate the lobbying part to his missions abroad. That did not work.

Any delegation to a lesser authority will as it has happened in the past be perceived as demeaning by the countries whose backing is being lobbied.

Additionally, such lobbying, if it is to bear fruits will entail much more than phone calls.

Face to face interactions at the heads of government levels will be required.

This as a fact means President Khama, internationally perceived as reclusive, leaning his home front comfort zone for long travels abroad to meet colleagues abroad whose hospitality cannot be guaranteed.

Recent history on similar applications is however not encouraging.

Recently Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme applied for a job at the International Criminal Court as the President of the Assembly of State Parties (ASP).

The Assembly of States Parties is the Court’s management oversight and legislative body and is composed of representatives of the States which have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute.

Molokomme eventually lost out, not so much as a result of qualifications, but because Botswana could not lobby enough numbers to back Dr Molokomme.

It is instructive that Molokomme and Somolekae are both women.

The two women also share a professional history in the academia.

And both of them are women of letters, with each of them holding a PhD behind a long trail of qualifications that follows their names.

By evoking the Molokomme experience, we are in no way trying to be ominous about the fate that awaits Somolekae.

All we are trying to do is point out that Botswana used to have a unique ability to attract goodwill among nations.
That goodwill extended far beyond southern Africa and indeed Africa.

Those days are however gone.

What little remains is not much more that nostalgia.

It is not that all of a sudden the world hates us.

Rather it is because we have become indifferent and in other instances aloof to the world.

Under the current government, Botswana has chosen to recoil into a shell of its own.
Our President interacts very little with his peers.

Inevitably, the world has chosen to behave in kind.

The task really is to reach out, not just so that as country we could entertain a chance of scooping jobs as those coveted by Dr Somolekae and Dr Molokomme before her, but more because it is only when we network that as a country we can wield some kind of influence over other countries.

As a small country with a small economy, producing nothing over which the world would cease to run if we stopped producing it, the only strongest leverage that we have is our democratic values.

But we over the last few years we been doing pretty little to market these values to the market, which really is the outside world.

Where we once were extroverted and outward looking, we have now become introverted and inward looking. Where we once were engaging and hospitable, we now have become reclusive and xenophobic. Where we once were internationalist and diplomatic outlook, we now have become abrasive, generally isolationist and withdrawn.
Our trademark diplomatic instinct is these days from the rooftops, behaving as if we are a superpower while truth is that we barely have any instruments at our disposal to influence regional let alone world events.

As one senior Canadian politician once told me, Botswana really has over the years been punching above its weight.

He meant it as a compliment. He was referring to a past era, where on account of our values we had become a paid-up member of the world community ÔÇô more often than not playing in big leagues.
That era is gone.

Instead our current leaders often come across as people who have something against the world.

Naturally this weighs down on them and has a psychological effect that drives them to overreach themselves.
The solution is to come down to earth. But more importantly to emerge out of the diplomatic shadows under which as a country we have submerged ourselves.

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