Saturday, October 16, 2021

By welcoming Dalai Lama Botswana risks China’s punitive outrage

Irresponsibly under-reported as everybody gets blown overland by the madness blazing at both the Botswana Movement for Democracy and also at the Umbrella for Democratic Change is an unfolding geopolitical tragedy forming right before our eyes.

The visit of the Dalai Lama to Botswana, if it happens will have far more tragic and lasting effects on Botswana than all the tragicomedy happening at BMD and UDC.

Batswana had invested a lot of hopes on the UDC.

But the truth is that the project has faltered on the altar of thuggery, weak leadership and unfocussed coordination.

At the UDC backbiting and bad faith have trumped loyalty, decency and honesty.

After what has now happened at BMD, the leadership of UDC is likely to become more thuggish in its texture and composition.

Batswana are unlikely to give away their country to well-known thugs.

There is a way out; Ndaba Gaolathe should pull out of the UDC.

He should quit the BMD and form a new party.

His BMD and indeed the UDC under current formations have become irreparably contaminated brands.

Gaolathe’s decency makes him a rare breed.

Batswana cherish it, and from the look of things cannot have enough of it.

But he has some serious weakness; attachment to sentimentality.

He believes that by quitting BMD, he will be throwing away the legacy of his late friend Gomolemo Motswaledi to the dogs.

There is some truth it. But under the circumstances the best way to secure Motswaledi’s legacy might be to take some emotionally painful decisions.

This will entail gladly giving BMD and UDC away to the clowns and thugs that broke them for them to own as theirs.

When it was established, the UDC was a political marriage.

In a country with a divorce rate ranging between 80-90 percent, Gaolathe’s departure from UDC will hurt many but surprise a few.

If a new party is formed there is no pressing imperative for it to be aligned to UDC.

The UDC like the BMD has become damaged goods.

Gaolathe has been betrayed by the very people he had been so loyal to.

By hanging on, he risks tainting his own image.

All he needs to do is tell his followers to pack their bags, take the good memories with them and leave UDC. There is still life outside the UDC.

To paraphrase one famous scholar, teacher, politician and humanist, the UDC was never their mother.

The whole thing has become like a dead snake ÔÇô hopelessly useless.

The party’s thuggery will become more and more repulsive as the General Elections approach.

None UDC members will with time find it irrational to entrust the UDC leadership with state power and state resources.

Creating a new movement is a tall order.

But Gaolathe can draw some solace from the achievements of Emmanuel Macron ÔÇô a forty year old Frenchman who in less than two years created a movement that went on to take the world by storm.

Today Macron is President of France, a world power. His movement that he started less than two years ago is a majority in both houses of parliament.

So much for the BMD and UDC! The whole enterprise has become not only a waste of time but also a bad joke. It is distraction to the many serious problems the country currently faces.

By admitting the Dalai Lama here, Botswana has, in the eyes of China committed a cardinal sin, for which it has to pay if not for much else, then at least to be used as an example to anybody who had harboured such ambitions of testing the rising Asian power.

China is a rising superpower ÔÇô proud and aggressive, territorial but immensely fragile.

The country takes serious umbrage when its primacy is tested. And the visit to Botswana by the Dalai Lama is doing exactly that.

By admitting the Tibetan spiritual leader here, Botswana might be trying to reclaim the lost moral high ground of the country’s foreign policy.

The trouble though is that Botswana has chosen a wrong target.

When it comes to the Dalai Lama, China will never allow Botswana to go scot free.

Botswana Government, perhaps belatedly realising the folly of their gamble, has lately been resorting to technicalities like saying the visit is private and that President Ian Khama will not be officiating at the event, much less meeting the Dalai Lama.

They are playing with fire.

When it comes to the Dalai Lama, China will not allow Botswana Government to have it all its own way.

If the visit happens, as it so far looks ever more likely, the ire of China and how it will respond will be much bigger than the last time the two countries collided after Botswana tested them on the South China Sea geopolitical disputes.

To China, the action by Botswana Government amounts to unprovoked diplomatic belligerence ÔÇô nothing more, nothing less!

The Chinese will read a pattern to this.

After the recent public attacks by Botswana Government on China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, the Chinese would hardly believe the persistent disloyalty and nonstop betrayal by a so-called ally.

The natural instinct would be to retaliate.

And China has an array of armour in its arsenal to hit back. They are diplomatic, but also economic.

The country could simply close its Gaborone Embassy and recall a part or all of its key staff back home, before hitting with a litany of economic diplomacy.

It is not yet clear what Botswana wants to achieve by annoying China.

Big powers of the West have all tried it in the past and learnt the hard way.

In 2012, the then United Kingdom Prime Minister met the Dalai Lama.

The result was a sudden freezing of trade ties by China.

In 2010 Norway economic ties with China experienced their worst phase after the Scandinavian country had its awarded Nobel prizes to Chinese dissidents.

By inviting Dalai Lama here, Botswana might indirectly be trying to take aim at China’s human rights record.

But in the overall scheme of things Botswana is not a world player.

Why then is a country that is so insignificant in world events trying to swim against a tide of world events?

Not only is the country punching above its weight, the truth also is that the world has long moved on.

To countries that matter, trade and economic ties with China are much more important than how that communist dictatorship treat its people.

We await Dalai Lama with baited breaths. It is what will follow his visit that will hurt us all.

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