Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Coronavirus cramps Botswana’s diplomatic charm

Coronavirus was last week turning into a diplomatic hot button issue for Botswana and her neighbors as Southern African countries scramble to ward off possible cross border infections.The Speaker of the National Assembly Phandu Skelemani and a number of parliamentarians were last week worried about the possible infection of Botswana through South Africa following reports that the southern neighbor has a confirmed case of coronavirus.Cabinet last week set up a committee comprising health, tertiary, transport and immigration officials which is tasked with protecting Botswana from external threats of the Novel Coronavirus.

South Africa, which shares a number of borders with Botswana has already initiated Operation Corona observation post under which

South Africa’s ports of entry are covered by Department of Health representatives supported by military medics checking for coronavirus.The South African right-wing opposition party, the Freedom Front Plus has however proposed even tighter border controls between South Africa and her neighbors among them Botswana. The party MP Philip van Staden told parliament last week that there is “a real danger” the virus could spread exponentially given the porosity of South Africa’s land borders.Van Staden said “People from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and eSwatini can freely enter South Africa. We need tighter border control…… “Stricter border control is not a discriminatory measure but the health and safety of South African citizens is paramount,” he said adding “securing airports and harbours are not enough”.In the wake of South Africa’s first confirmed case of coronavirus, Botswana cabinet is also moving to improve airport and land border controls.Speaker of the National Assembly and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phandu Skelemani on Friday said Parliament had “not received anything from the Health Minister as far as I am concerned. The situation we are in is worrisome particularly with our neighbour that has confirmed a case particularly as we fly to Johannesburg through OR Tambo if the reports are true.”

This was after Member of Parliament for Selebi-Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse complained that Parliament had not received any correspondence from the Health Ministereven after the first Coronavirus incident was reported and confirmed in the neighbouring South Africa.

Cabinet is expected to brief Parliament and Batswana tomorrow (Monday) on steps being taken to protect the country from the virus which has already infected all continents except for Antarctica.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Unity Dow told Parliament on Friday that “the issue of global emergency and of global interest is on the table.”She revealed that a Cabinet has set up a committee comprising health, tertiary, transport and immigration officials to deal with the domestic health concern.

The Minister of Health pointed out that at the moment, “It is a matter of Foreign Affairs. We deal with internal health affairs.”

The global outbreak is expected to disrupt a number of Botswana’s scheduled international engagements. Koorapetse pointed out that scores  of MP’s are scheduled to visit Maseru for the Pan African meeting and proceed to London soon thereafter. Cabinet is still to decide on the fate of the planned international visits.Parliament also expressed concern over the planned Forbes Under 30 Summit scheduled for April 19-23rd. The Summit, which is President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s brainchild will attract hundreds of participants from 37 countries mostly youths aged 29 and below to help them forge lasting business partnerships and networks. Member of Parliament and former Chief Immigration Officer, Mabuse Pule warned of the possible dangers of going ahead with the summit saying it was conceived before the Coronavirus outbreak and thus was not factored into the initial plan.Assistant Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Karabo Gare however stated that “Where we are at the moment, we are confident and very comfortable that we have everything in place.”“We comfortable and really ready to host the summit.”

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