As early as now, it is easy to tell that the controversial Dalai Lama visit to Botswana is not generating as much enthusiasm (and money) as the organisers had hoped.
The three-day event had originally been planned to take place at the world-class University of Botswana’s campus indoor sports centre which has a seating capacity of 6000. Sunday Standard learns that charges for use of this centre range between P65 000 and P100 000 a day. The venue has since been changed to the much smaller 300-seat amphitheatre at Botho University. However, the language that Mind & Life Institute, the United States organisers, use online doesn’t suggest that anything is amiss: “Sorry, tickets for this event are no longer available. All seats have been sold.” It certainly is easier to sell seats for the Botho amphitheatre than the UB sports centre. The organisers say that additional tickets might become available due to cancellations and that tickets must be purchased by July 31. Regarding the change of venue, a statement on Mind & Life Institute Facebook page says that “this change was a collaborative decision among the Mind & Life Institute, the University of Botswana and Botho University to ensure an atmosphere of meaningful human connection on scale with previous Mind & Life Dialogues.” It is unlikely Gaborone residents will agree with the statement that “Botho University is located near the original venue.”
The three-day event kicks off on August 17 with former Vice President, Ponatshego Kedikilwe participating in a session that will be moderated by UB’s Professor Lily Mafela. While the organisers’ website says that President Ian Khama will give the opening address, it remains unclear whether that will indeed happen. A statement from the Office of the President says that Khama will meet the Dalai Lama and that “his attendance of the conference, for the official opening or otherwise, will be determined by his schedule.” The Dalai Lama will speak on the final day of the conference for only two hours, between 1300 and 1500. His talk will be titled “Healing Our World Through Compassion.”
As the Dalai Lama saga plays itself out, the Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, has a lengthy question pending in parliament. He has asked the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation to explain the government’s position on One China Policy. He wants the minister to state “if government in its foreign policy recognises One China Policy and to explain its understanding of what it means and/or entails regarding South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet (and the Dalai Lama) inter alia: what mutual benefits are there in Sino-Tswana relations; to what extent is the government involved in the Dalai Lama visit, who in the state is involved in their private and/or official capacity; which state buildings and other resources will be used to accomplish the mission and what is the specific role of His Excellency the President, his office or officials; which country in Africa, known to the government, which is a friend to China has ever invited the Dalai Lama and never suffered consequences of negative effect on relations; is it in the best strategic national interest for the Dalai Lama to visit Botswana for whatever purpose, if this would not be acceptable to China and hence China retaliated by suspending all diplomatic and other relations; and what is the role of the United States of America government, its people or agencies in the Dalai Lama visit to Botswana.”
The organisers tout the visit as “Dalai Lama’s only destination in Africa.” China is very unhappy with Botswana’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama into the country and has indicated that it will punish Botswana.