Alongside 137 other nations, Botswana has voted to recognise the Occupied Territories of Palestine as a non-Member Observer State at the 193-member United Nations.
Except for Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo which abstained, all other Southern African states voted in support of Palestine. A total of 41 countries abstained, the African ones among them being Cameroun, Rwanda and Togo while Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Madagascar were absent during the voting.
Strangely for a country that lately has taken to making bold pronouncements on international affairs, from the political turmoil in Zimbabwe to the pogrom in Darfur to the civil war in Syria, Botswana has said absolutely nothing about the Israel-Palestinian situation.
Even stranger is the fact that the latter predates all the conflicts that Botswana chose to make public comments on. However, one development that followed the General Assembly vote on Thursday vote should yield some quite interesting developments.
“Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Mohammad Khazaee (Iran) condemned Israel’s prolonged military occupation and illegal policies and practices, including its military raids and attacks against the Palestinian civilian population. Today’s meeting had occurred as Israel had escalated its military campaign against the Palestinians. While the Movement welcomed the Gaza ceasefire agreement, it had called on Israel to end its illegal blockade of the [Gaza] Strip and open all crossing points, in accordance with its obligations under international law, Security Council resolution 1860 2009 and all other relevant United Nations resolutions,” reads a statement posted on the UN website.
The significance of this speech is that Botswana is a member of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement, which it joined in 1970 during the presidency of Sir Seretse Khama. The Movement’s current chairperson is Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the southern African region, that position has previously been held by Kenneth Kaunda, Robert Mugabe as well as Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.
Ordinarily, what the Iranian representative said should reasonably be perceived to reflect the views of all NAM members, Botswana included. However, every indication is that given how it has approached this issue, Botswana will most likely distance itself from what Iran said.
Speaking on Friday evening, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani, said that upon learning that Iran wanted to make a statement, he asked Botswana diplomats at the Permanent Mission in the UN to get him a copy of the statement. That had still not happened at the close of business on Friday and the minister said that he was hoping to get the statement on Monday. As he explained, Skelemani’s main interest in the statement is to determine whether what Iran said is representative of Botswana’s position. That position, as it turns, is unknown and to the precise question of why Botswana has never made pronouncements about the Israel-Palestine conflict when it has not been hesitant to do the same with other countries, Skelemani’s response was that “you don’t just go making pronouncements” and that it would be improper to make such pronouncements when the relevant parties were still trying to work out a solution to the problem.
He also sought to highlight the uniqueness of the Israel-Palestine conflict by pointing out that “that fight is as old as I am.”
Even within the ruling party, Botswana’s inconsistency in condemning the wrongdoing of some countries while keeping mum about those of others has been a source of great consternation. Speaking in parliament a few days ago, the new Mahalapye West MP, Bernard Bolele, called on the government to declare its position on the political situation in the kingdom of Swaziland. The ruler, King Mswati III, has banned opposition political parties and trade unions. In a country where poverty is rife, the king has been accused of misappropriating state funds to bankroll his quite sizeable personal household while his needy subjects starve. With personal wealth that Forbes magazine estimates at US$200 million, Mswati – who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch – is richer than the king of Spain.
On the other hand, at a time that other SADC countries chose silent diplomacy, Botswana raised its voice against the atrocities committed by Mugabe’s government against its own people. Last year, it became the first African country to cut diplomatic ties with Libya when the late Muammar Gaddafi launched a bloody crackdown on rebels challenging his 42-year rule. In his state-of-the-nation at the beginning of the current parliamentary year, President Ian Khama attacked the embattled Syrian president, Assad Al-Bashir, whose no-holds-barred military offensive against rebels has caused thousands of civilian deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands.
However, in addition to attacking Al-Bashir, Botswana has also sent humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians. In his speech, Khama said that his government had “responded to the UNHCR’s call for global support for Syrian refugees.” Skelemani revealed that Botswana donated money (he couldn’t recall the figure off the top of his head, “not a huge sum” but puts it around P100 000) to help Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey.
At a time that Botswana has been simultaneously seeing and not seeing evil when looking at almost the same sight, a process is in train to develop what the minister calls a “permanent guide” that would serve as a blueprint on how Botswana conducts its international relations. He revealed that a team led by the permanent secretary in the ministry is working on the draft document and that once complete and approved by the government, would be made available to members of the public.